The Art of Free Diving
After growing up spending summer by the lake or at the seaside Polish-born Agata Bogusz was always destined for life in the water. But it wasn’t until a scuba trip in Egypt in 2008 that she discovered freediving. The Polish record holder is now based in Bali, with a mission to share the benefits of freediving with others.
Have you always loved the water?
I was always in the water from early childhood. My father was a member of a scuba-diving club and it was a tradition to go to with him to the pool on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On these days I was playing a lot in the water with my brother and father. We were always holding our breath, having fun and diving in the deeper part of the pool. I remember crossing my legs and pretending I had a tail.
How did you discover freediving?
I started scuba diving around the age of 19 and loved it immediately. I did my level one and level two and then started technical diving because I really wanted to go deep. Technical diving is decompression diving with different mixes of gasses that allow you to stay longer and dive at a greater depth. I was training with the Polish record holder which brought me to Egypt to train for a month in 2008. During this trip, I met a guy who was freediving. He took me out for a session, and I thought it was easy. In just a few sessions I got to a depth of 30 meters which was the Polish National record and convinced me to train properly. After a year of training I re-set three Polish records in Dahab.
What did those first few dives feel like?
The first time I got to 24 meters, I panicked because I was not used to the pressure on my lungs. I barely made it back to the surface and saw stars in front of my eyes. I thought to myself “I am done, I am not doing this again”. Then the next day I went deeper and deeper and as I relaxed more, all those feelings disappeared.
How did you get women in Poland interested in freediving?
After completing in Dahab in 2009, I realised that I wanted to teach. My idea from the start was to bring freediving to more women. At the time, freediving was not popular at all in Poland. When I went in the Polish Championship there was just me and one other Polish girl competing - the rest were men. It is not any fun to win when there are so few competing! So in 2010 I completed my instructor courses and started teaching. I organised a women’s freediving weekend for free, teaching basic skills and how to have fun under the water. There are still more men than women competing these days but because of the women’s weekends, we discovered more female national record holders.
What do you say to people who say that freediving is scary?
I think the fear of holding your breath can be both the same for men and women. The individual reasons that people are scared of freediving vary. Some people may have experienced a trauma from childhood and that is why they are scared. Others are just tense in general, and they need to learn how to relax. Freediving is a lot of mental work. You need to bring the connection back between your mind and your body and learn how to understand and manage them both.
How do you calm your nerves especially before a competition?
For me, the response my body has when I freedive, now works automatically. In stressful situations, I imagine that I am starting a dive and I am breathing up on the buoy. Suddenly all the pressure is gone from my body. You need a lot of training to encourage this automatic reaction to stress. In the beginning of training, I encourage students to focus on their breath and try to release the tension from the places that they feel it in their body.
Before a competition, I visualise the whole dive in details. I go through each stage of a dive, looking at the easier phase when I feel relaxed then the next phase when I have contractions and lastly the hardest phase when I have to push. I visualise dealing with obstacles at each point of the dive and how I am going to overcome them.
What is next for you?
I want to go deeper and continue competing but I don’t have a number in my head. There has been a huge progression in what people have achieved in the last few years. People are diving deeper and deeper. We are still far from the limit. I’m also interested in studying the connection between using freediving techniques for mindfulness.
What do you love most about teaching?
It is very emotional for me when I see people cry at the surface. They release all the emotions that they were holding onto and let go of all their tension. It is like they have just come back to their bodies. Sometimes when they come up, you can see in their eyes that they feel exactly the same way I do during the deep dive. They get it. I think to myself “now we have a freediver”. It’s magic.
Interview by: Ashleigh Mills
Photography by: Irena Stangierska