COLD-WATER DIVING IN BARE SKIN
An interview with Kiki Bosch, a cold-water freediver
Kiki Bosch is an adventurer, nutritionist and biohacker from the Netherlands, now living in the UK. Described as a true daredevil, Kiki is an experienced freediver and extreme cold specialist. She has recently dived some of the coldest waters in the world. During her last trip in Greenland she swam in sub-zero glacial waters with nothing but a swimsuit for 20 minutes.
How did you get into freediving, specifically cold-water freediving?
The water always fascinated me. From a young age, I swam often and learned to scuba dive when I was 12 years old. The first time I saw a poster of a freediver, I knew immediately that it was something I needed to try. Since my first freediving training in Colombia, I fell in love with everything about this sport. I knew for sure that I would dive for the rest of my life.
The cold is a whole other story though. I heard about Wim Hof a few years ago and saw that he did amazing things in freezing temperatures. He inspired me to challenge myself and really experience the cold firsthand. I tried my first winter diving in South Australia when the water was roughly 14°C. Back then, it was the coldest water I had dived in without a suit and I became addicted to challenging myself more and more, which led to seeking out the coldest waters in the world.
What do you like about cold-water freediving?
The moment you enter the cold, you get hit with a certain peace and serenity. The only way you can withstand it is [by] relaxing, knowing that you are okay and your body can handle this. You go back to survival mode – fight or flight. For me, that is a very meditative state. There is no space for thinking, no space for rumination on the past or planning the future.
Your body is so focused on keeping you warm that you can’t be anything but present. These moments have taught me a lot about myself and the world around me. By being present in such harsh conditions you gain a whole new level of respect for Nature. Any particular reason why you choose to freedive without a suit? First of all, I want to show people that it is possible, that our bodies are capable of so much more than what we think. Most of us are always seeking comfort, and even though it is natural, it can make our bodies very lazy. If you are always in an environment of 18–22°C, your body won’t be trained to keep you warm. By getting into the cold waters without a suit, I feel like I am reconnecting to a more primal state of myself. It is almost like tapping into superpowers we all have within us, but are forgotten. How do you train to dive in cold water?
Any special practices that have helped you? When I heard about the benefits of the cold, I started with taking cold showers that I gradually prolonged. I started to seek out elements in Nature that I could play with; swimming in cold waters, walking barefoot on a cold floor or running in shorts during winter. To prepare myself for this last trip to the Arctic, I took icebaths almost every day and went to a whole body cryotherapy chamber in London that goes to –85°C. Most importantly, I focused on reheating my body by itself after these cold exposures, meaning no warm shower, sauna or hot tub. This way, I primed my body into using its own energy to warm up. Ultimately, your body is the only thing you have in such remote areas so learning how to rely on yourself is the best lesson that you can learn. Could you talk us through what it feels like stepping into the cold water? What do your mind and body go through? Before getting into the cold, my mind is always screaming not to do it. I’ve learnt that’s the point you need to push yourself, and it’s empowering to find that switch and let go of those thoughts and feelings. Once I am in the water, there is no way “out” and I know there is nothing I can do besides being as relaxed as possible. When I am diving, I always focus on the warm places in my body; there is always something within me that is still warm. I try to hold on to that heat rather than focusing on keeping out the cold.
The cold shock causes my skin to tingle and sometimes even sting, but I try not to focus on that and just acknowledge it as a stimulus from my body. After a few minutes, my thoughts start to slow down and my reaction time increases. When I feel that, I know that focus is crucial – not having complete focus on my body can quickly become dangerous. As I am aware of every little change in my mind and body, I can tell exactly when I need to get out. Once I’ve made that decision, I always stay very calm and sit somewhere quiet to meditate. This helps my body warm up gradually, but if I am in a very cold or windy environment I will always put my dry robe on.
Any difficulties you have experienced?
When I did my first dive in the Arctic water, it was so immensely cold. Even after months of training for this, it was still a big shock to me. The fact that the water was sub-zero was a game changer. It felt like nothing I had ever experienced.
Once I got out of the water, it was incredibly hard for me to get warm. I was experiencing after-drop. The body is very smart and keeps your core and vital organs warm for quite a while even if you are in extreme conditions. After-drop is when the cold blood from your extremities mix with the warm blood of your core. This mixing of blood can drop your overall core temperature even more than the original exposure, so your body goes through yet another challenge. At this point the cold blood in your chest can be quite painful. During these moments it is crucial that my team know their roles and keep safety a biggest priority. It is for this reason I never recommend anybody just jump into cold water without proper training and supervision.
What about the most rewarding and/or memorable time?
The first time I visited Iceland was one of the most exciting and memorable trips so far. It was my first experience freediving in such cold temperatures and there is no better
Diving next to these massive icebergs was a whole new level of cold. These big giants radiate cold like a heater does into your home. The sound of the cracking ice was constant and drowned out nearby whale noises
place to do this than swimming between the tectonic plates. It was such a great feeling – I felt one with the water, one with the planet and every being on it. Besides that, cold is part of the Icelandic culture and while I was there I met a lot of amazing people who found great benefits in the cold. It was meeting these people that made the trip truly remarkable.
What advice would you give to divers who are interested in cold-water freediving?
First and foremost, never hyperventilate before getting into the water and most importantly, never dive alone – especially with cold-water freediving where you are adding another level of danger. Being well prepared and having a team that knows what they are doing is crucial. When training for cold exposure, it’s important to gradually build your tolerance: Don’t focus on the numbers but listen to your body. Last but not least, if you do it, enjoy!
Could you share some of your future goals with us?
I want to keep challenging my mind and body on different levels. Through my studies, I’m really interested in the psychological benefits of cold exposure. I do have some exciting things coming up but you should stay tuned for more details on that!