“Women can dive just as successfully as men”

- Alexey, I wanted to start with a question about divers for pearls from the movie “One Inhale”. It is mentioned there that this profession has existed since ancient times, but now, as I understand it, there are still more men in freediving.

- In my opinion, there is no such clear trend in terms of gender. In Japan, for example, diving for pearls has long been a traditionally female occupation. But in the world there are many places where men have long been engaged in this, for example, in Indonesia there are tribes. There is spearfishing, also a purely male occupation. Yes, in freediving we now see more men, but the advantage is not very large, they are 60 percent. Perhaps women just have not had time to start doing this so actively. Because, from the point of view of some abilities or physical capabilities, women can dive just as successfully as men. And my mother, who set records and often dived even better than men, is a vivid example. Her world record for breath-holding among women - 9 minutes 2 seconds - has not yet been broken.

- Due to what she was able to achieve such a result?

- There are many factors associated with the structure of the body, and therefore the most important thing is their proper balance. Because, if more light, then more muscle tissue, more body volume, so oxygen is also consumed faster. That is, the lungs are important, but control, relaxation is important. If a person with small lungs relaxes very well and moves very effectively underwater, then you can successfully dive.

- When diving beginners have pain in the ears when diving - is this a sign that a person is doing something wrong? 

- This is a signal that a person is simply technically incorrectly doing what we call “blowing” our ears. If everything is done correctly, the air compensates for the pressure, and the ears are completely comfortable. There are people who, by nature, are a little more lucky with the structure of their ears. That is, they have better permeability of the Eustachian tubes. But even people with narrow pipes, thanks to modern teaching methods, can understand how to do this correctly. Ideally, pain should not be at all.

- What else goes the increased load at great depths?

“We don’t feel pressure on parts of the body where there is no air - arms and legs, where there is blood circulation, in this regard, anyway. Therefore, from other parts of the body, these are the maxillary sinuses, but they are usually purged with the purging of the ears.

As for the lungs, they are compressed quite strongly under pressure, up to 20-25% of their total volume. That is, approximately at a depth of 30-40 meters, they are compressed to a minimum, this can be compared with a complete exhalation in the normal state.

  • © Alexey Molchanov

- And what happens next?

- Those who dive deeper, then adapt to even greater compression. But because of their structure, there is nowhere to be compressed easily. And further, our pressure is compensated due to the centralization of blood circulation, when additional volumes of blood move to the organs under stress. This mechanism works naturally for everyone, therefore, anyone can dive. In a trained diver, up to a liter of blood can leak to the lungs. And this allows you to feel completely calm at a depth of more than 30-40 meters, which is very important.

- Why?

- In this state, it is very important to relax, you can not strain, make sudden movements. The pressure continues to increase, but already very gradually.

- And how much time it takes to prepare for a standard dive, about 40 meters. What needs to be done?

- There should be good relaxation, a psychological attitude before a dive. When a person is tense, it is difficult to dive in this state. Before a deep dive, you need to dive one or two times to a shallow depth. Suppose I’m going to dive for 100 meters, then at the warm-up I will dive for 20-30 meters. This allows you to better relax and mentally prepare. After warming up, you need to rest in order to dive to the depths full of strength.

  • © Alexey Molchanov

“There were no thoughts to finish”

- Your mother, without exaggeration, is a cult figure in the world free diving, but since this is a rather specific discipline, not everyone in Russia has heard about it. Tell a little about her. Due to what she managed, having come  to a new discipline for herself at the age of 40, to achieve such unprecedented heights?

- As long as I remember myself, and how much my mother trained me, and she trained me from the age of three in swimming, she always swam with me. She had an amazing hard work. Mom was a master of sports in classical swimming, and in speed swimming in flippers, and even when she completed her professional career, she continued training.

When she started freediving at 40, she was in great shape. Mom was engaged daily, in addition, managed to engage in scientific work and teach at the university, train other swimmers, and develop the federation.

- N atalya Vadimovna went missing on August 2, 2015 during a dive near the Spanish island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean Sea. After this tragedy, did something change there in terms of diving? Maybe somehow perpetuated her memory?

- As such, there are no special diving divers in that area, they were also diving from a boat in the open sea, about two miles from the coast. It’s hard to get there without a boat. But the idea of ​​a memorial in the nearest town is. In 2018, we held competitions in honor of her there, named him the “Molchanova Grand Prix”. And in the future we plan to continue them. I hope that as relations with the local authorities improve, it will be possible to agree on some kind of memorial sign to my mother on the shore.  

- That is, until her memory is not immortalized anywhere?

- In one of the Turkish cities where freediving championships are held, there is already a memorial dedicated to mom. Thank you for helping the local authorities who took the initiative and provided assistance.

  • © Alexey Molchanov

- How has this tragedy changed your attitude towards freediving? There were no thoughts to leave this sport?

- Mom taught me everything, so after these events there was some kind of additional responsibility in order to further promote this sport. There were no thoughts to finish.

I understand perfectly well that accidents happen in life, moreover, in absolutely any area of ​​our activity and just in everyday life. I want to show by my own example how to dive, how to do it safely.

Mom has developed her teaching methodology, it is now widely used, and therefore I will continue her work in this direction.

- In the film “One Inhale” the so-called dry drowning was mentioned. Someone writes that this is true, someone that myth. I wanted to ask if this happens. And what other abnormal situations can lurk professional swimmers and divers?

- What is shown in the film is an artistic fiction. There is no such thing in freediving. The origins of this phenomenon do not even come from divers, but, let’s say, from bathers. If someone just chokes on water, there is such a danger, and not with salty, but with fresh water. You can get pulmonary edema, difficulty breathing. In salt water is easier. Because it is closer in composition to our body, and when it enters a small amount in the lungs, it calmly dissolves and leaves. If the volume is large - there are difficulties with breathing immediately after surfacing. In the film, this happens in half a day and this is a strange effect, cinematic ...

  • © Alexey Molchanov

- Yes, carry water for several hours in the lungs, and then suddenly suddenly begin to suffocate ...

- Yes, this is more of an artistic fiction. As far as I know statistics, this is more of a childhood problem. When they, having played enough in a regular pool, can accidentally inhale water, and in them in half an hour - an hour such an edema can develop. In freediving, when a person holds his breath, water usually does not get into his lungs, so in a film for a professional these things do not look very believable, but there is nothing wrong with that. When the doctor of our freediving federation advised the producers of the film, we tried to reduce the number of inaccuracies in the script.

Freediving is a safe sport

- That is the real danger of the sun in this freediving e -taki others?

- Yes, but according to statistics, freediving is a very safe sport, especially in competition conditions. Everything is calm enough with us and some injuries to the ears or lungs are very rare.

- And does the speed of immersion count, or is it just the main thing to just reach the declared depth?

- Speed ​​is not important, the main thing is that you have enough air to the depth that you declared.

- What caused the loss of consciousness, hallucinations, which you mentioned in some publications? What deep visions can you see?

- When air ends and oxygen starvation sets in, then some visions can really be and this is a bad sign. In a standard situation this should not be. But sometimes, when a person made a mistake in assessing his capabilities and dived to the depth that he was not ready to conquer, this happens. In the movie, this is shown somewhat exaggerated. When a person dives, if he did everything right, completely relaxed, then the head is cleaned naturally, thoughts are calm. And if there is tension, then excitement or fear may appear, and, as a result, some kind of images.

- What should you think about during the dive? If everything is as it should, then what thoughts are in your head?

- You swim and calmly observe the sensations, how the muscles slowly tire, the oxygen is consumed slowly.

Diving is such an ability to save oxygen, and all thoughts are aimed at doing it right, due to effective technique and relaxation. We move, but we move gently and smoothly. An experienced diver can swim 3-4 minutes under water, but at the same time he will not have the feeling that everything, the air has already run out and there is nothing to breathe.

It is the smoothness of movements that allows us to stretch the reserves that we have for a long time. The right speed, the right ear blowing - all these technical things we constantly monitor, and when there is a deep dive, we do all this in the most economical way. 

  • © Alexey Molchanov

"The Arctic is remembered for a lifetime"

- Can you recall the dive that you remember the most? Maybe some place stood out for its special beauty?

- Freediving has a very wide geography, and in this regard it is difficult to choose one thing - all places are beautiful and very different. Most of all I remember the very cold water, where I was the least likely to dive. We constantly compete in warm water and very picturesque corners: Bahamas, Nice, Mexico, Indonesia, the Caribbean. And I really like it there, for example, the island of Roatan in Honduras - it is incredibly beautiful.

But diving in the Russian Arctic was remembered for a lifetime. We were on an expedition on an icebreaker along the Northern Sea Route. And they dived in very remote and remote places: the island of Vilkitsky, the island of De Long. There we dived in icy water at sub-zero temperatures. We saw polar bears, walruses. When you are in the water and near walruses - this is a very interesting experience.

- What abnormal situations can a diver face? In the film there was a flown off valve from an oxygen cylinder, can this be?

- With such a cylinder of dives, in fact, very few. There are dives on the track, this is a device that first pulls you down and then lifts you up with an inflated balloon. This is a discipline that was more developed before, and it is more dangerous, because there is additional equipment, and you are already dependent not only on your strengths, but on something else. And with careless preparation, there can potentially be breakdowns. This is one of the reasons why competitions are not held in these disciplines. Although in some centers with such a device you can dive. And this is even interesting in the sense that you can relax and not waste energy on the descent and ascent.

- In ordinary swimming, athletics, the results of athletes are growing from year to year. If we compare them with records that were 30-40 years ago, then the difference, as a rule, will be very noticeable. What is the record with freediving? How are previous records improved - more importantly, the individual characteristics of the athlete or the development of diving techniques?

- In traditional sports, the growth of records slowed down somewhat. And in freediving, the results are growing regularly and almost annually. This is influenced by the development of this sport and the arrival of new people. I think that the growth of results will go further, this is a fairly young sport, it still has great potential. 

Freediving is a very natural discipline. Diving into water is what people have been doing for thousands of years when they got food, jewelry, and hunted under water. You just have to try it.

Even if there are any concerns, fear, all this quickly disappears, and when a person learns to relax, he feels very comfortable in the water.

  • © Alexey Molchanov

- Now the world is in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic and have to train mainly on the shore? 

- Yes, but on land, in terms of training, freedivers have something to do. Our school has launched online training. I think they will remain and will be very useful to divers after the pandemic. Now we pay much more attention to those exercises for which in the water there was sometimes not enough time. We are introducing the theory: we teach how to blow ears, breathe, and we give special stretching exercises to freedivers. If you do this regularly, the effect is very good and then it will certainly affect the results in water.

“We are not interested in sharks, unlike walruses”

“I can't help asking about sharks.” Surely they had to dive in the places where they live. Have you seen them close?

- Yes, in Mexico and on the island of Roatan in Honduras, I dived with them. In Mexico there were gray bull sharks, which are considered quite dangerous. In Honduras, diving with Caribbean reef sharks. A very interesting experience, exciting. But sharks, when they see us well, when the water is clear, they are just curious. They do not understand what kind of creature there is so unusual - they swim, look and swim away. They clearly understand that we do not enter their diet, that they are not their prey. There is no aggression from sharks to humans.

“But what about the white sharks?”

- I didn’t dive with whites. But I have fellow freedivers who dive with them. They say that we are not interested in them either. The most important condition for safe communication with them is good visibility. And so that there is an experienced instructor who knows the local conditions and local sharks.

- That is, you should not dive in an unfamiliar place with sharks yourself?

- Of course, you need to know some local features and only then dive. Therefore, it is important that the event is well organized, and then it is a great pleasure. Therefore, I was even less worried with sharks than with walruses. It was more difficult with them in terms of not knowing what to expect from them.

  • © Alexey Molchanov

“Did the walruses show any interest?”

- Yes, they were very interested. Reviewing photos and videos, I later saw that they were looking at us with very great curiosity - who was swimming with them. Still, people never sailed with them in that place. In general, there are a lot of animals with which you can also dive. And many come to freediving to snorkel with whales, dolphins, and fur seals. They all behave very interestingly, while being friendly. Whales, for example, can stop, watch, even play. Just watch, rotate. Seals are generally super friendly. This is one of the most interesting animals, probably, from which you get great pleasure. They are so playful, they act like puppies.

- It turns out under the water a completely different atmosphere in terms of the relationship of living beings?

- Yes, there are completely different sensations and our interaction with the animal kingdom on land and under water is very different. If we go into the wild, somewhere in the forest, then it is very hard to see someone there. Everyone keeps their distance.

And the sea in this regard gives freedivers a unique opportunity to communicate with the animal world at a much closer distance. And we calmly look at them, study, and they do not run away from us, study us too - and this is something amazing.

It is difficult to describe the whole depth of sensations when you closely interact with the animal world in a natural environment. For the sake of these unique moments, it was worth doing freediving.