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Learn to Free Dive with Adventure Photographer Kellon Spencer



"You're just floating in space, it's the closest thing to going up in zero gravity that you could possibly do. Euphoria is the best word to describe it" - Kellon Spencer

Free diving is breath hold diving. You have a mask, wetsuit, fins and your lungs. That’s it. Take a deep breath, dive down, hold it, and whatever you do. Don’t. Let. Go. Sound easy? It’s not. But it’s worth it. When you scuba dive, you’re a visitor to the underwater world. It’s loud and often scares away the marine life. With breath hold diving, you’re a part of it. You see the ocean on its own terms: silent, unencumbered and free.  In this episode, we follow in the fin steps of adventure photographer Kellon Spencer as he learns to free dive. Kellon specializes in underwater photography. But he soon realized that to get the best images, to get as close as possible to the marine wildlife without scaring them away, he would have to ditch the scuba gear and learn breath hold diving for himself. There was just one problem. He was terrified.  Kellon excels at adventure sports, and had worked as scuba guide for many years. But he’d heard the horror stories, and he knew about the dangers: underwater blackouts, loss of motor control, blood dumps. In one five year study, 75% of all free diving accidents were fatal.  Follow his journey from his first free dive in The Blue Hole, New Mexico to the tropical waters of Grand Cayman and beyond. Dive with him as he overcomes his fear and learns to see the ocean through new eyes. Far from being an extreme activity, Kellon realizes that breath hold diving is actually more like underwater meditation than an adrenaline sport. He learns to master his anxiety, to control the panic, and comes out stronger, bolder and more connected to the ocean than he ever was before. And as for getting closer to that marine wildlife, let’s just say he succeeds in a BIG way – and he tells us about that too. 


HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE:


·      Hear what breath hold diving feels like, unencumbered by scuba gear, silent and free

·      Want to learn to free dive? Listen to a first-hand account of beginner, and pro level, breath hold diving courses

·      Follow Kellon down to 100-feet deep, the equivalent of 10 atmospheres of pressure

·      Hear what it feels like when you hit the ‘free fall zone’, which Kellon describes as “sky-diving underwater”

·      Learn the techniques that teach you how to hold your breath for three minutes or more – often achievable in just a few days

·      Discover the superhuman feats of champion free divers, including deepest dive, longest breath hold and more

·      Learn the theory behind breath hold diving, including the mammalian dive reflex and how human beings are genetically programmed to free dive

·      Find out how to apply free diving breathing techniques in your everyday life to lessen the effects of anxiety and stress

·      Join Kellon as he experiences one of the most incredible marine wildlife encounters in the world: free diving with a 40-ft whale in Roatan


" The Earth is 70% water. You haven't actually seen the planet until you've been underwater." - Kellon Spencer


Image courtesy of Kellon Spencer


WHO’S THE GUEST? Kellon Spencer is a professional adventure photographer and free diving instructor. He has embarked on over a decade of expeditions with the collaboration of various clients, including the National Forest Foundation, Royal Enfield Motorcycles, Ocean First, another.  His passion is using the power of imagery to bring awareness to the importance of conservation and wildlife preservation. See Kellon's work at: www.kellonspencerphotography.com. Instagram: @Kellon_Spencer Facebook: @Kellonspencerphotography

Episode cover image courtesy of Kellon Spencer

BOOK THIS TRIP

This is the level 1 beginners trip that Kellon did: https://www.oceanfirst.blue/dive/classes/freediving/


The Level 2 trip in Grand Cayman is run by ex competitive free diver Nick Fazah, he offers a range of trips and is highly recommend by Kellon: https://ecdivers.com/


I'm not making any commission on these, if you find them useful please just tell them I sent you!


RECOMMENDED READING


Beautiful coffee table book from National Geographic to inspire your next ocean exploration:

Outside Magazine and New York Times writer Adam Skolnick's thrilling account of the life, and death, of free diver Nick Mevoli, who I mention in the episode

Please note, I get a small commission from Amazon on these which helps to support the show.


TRANSCRIPT

Aaron Millar 0:00

Hey guys, welcome to the armchair explorer where the world's greatest adventurers tell their best story from the road. I'm Aaron Millar, I'm a travel writer. And this episode, we're going to do something that I think most of you have probably never done before. Some of you will think is absolutely crazy. But all of you, I hope will really love it. Because as we're going to see, this is the only way to truly see the ocean on its own terms. Hold your breath, because we're about to go freediving.


Actually, it's cooler than that because we're going to learn to freedive we're going to follow in the footsteps or fin steps of Kellon Spencer who's one of my favourite adventure photographers and filmmakers. He shoots amazing imagery. I'll put some stuff up on the website and you can follow his Instagram too @kellon_spencer and his speciality is underwater photography. But at some point in his career, he realised that if he really wanted to take it seriously, if he really wanted to get the best shots and connect with the marine ecosystem and marine wildlife in his deep away as possible, he'd have to lose the scuba gear and learn to reach those depths on his own. And as we're about to find out, that is not easy, and it can be very, very dangerous. But it also opened up a window into a world our world that few people ever get to see. It's a story about learning to freedive It's a story about learning to do what many people consider one of the most dangerous adventure sports on the planet, but it's also one of the most meditative and beautiful and more than that, this is a story about the ocean about connecting to the ocean on its own terms. Silent, unencumbered, and free.


But first and super quickly. Thank you so much to every single one of you is listening, enjoying the show It means the world to me. And if this is your first time, welcome, it's great to have you here. We're going to get on well, I'm sure. The show is free, but there's a lot of work that goes into it. And one of the ways that you can help support that is by helping to spread the word: leave a review, subscribe, tell a fellow adventurer, a fellow traveller. We are building a community here of people that love the outdoors that love adventure, and want to celebrate this incredible planet of ours by exploring every inch of it. I'd love to connect on social media @aaronmwriter is my Instagram page @armchairexplorerpodcast is the Facebook page. I'd love to connect with you guys there. I post lots of fun interactive travel content, some of my writing, photography and other stuff like that. Please also sign up to the newsletter I put out once a month my curated lists of the best podcast episodes to listen to that month in the field of adventure and travel, the best adventure travel trips to come up and dream about and book and more general inspiration to get exploration into your life. It's Free, it's fun. And I hope it's useful too. Finally remember that you can book trips inspired by the shows on each of the individual episodes page of the website. These are the trips that either me or the guests have personally recommended. Just click that link, it'll take you to the tour operator or the booking platform. It won't cost you anything extra, but it will help you support the show. So thank you for that. But first, and for now, forget about that because I want you to close your eyes. And for just a second picture what it feels like to be underwater, because we are about to learn to do one of the craziest things on the planet. We're about to go free diving.


Kellon Spencer 3:42

The weightlessness is what most people you know, really kind of hone in on being underwater for the first time. You're just floating in space, it's closest to you know, going up in zero gravity as you could possibly do. We only move on to planes on land right you know underwater, you're moving up or down. You know, your world is now expanded to a whole nother plane of dimensions. But then you take that first breath and you think it's gonna be terrifying that you're, you know, surrounded by this vast void, but all you're just fixated on is how cool it is that it's just, you feel the air coming in while you're underwater. euphoria is the best way to kind of explain it.


Aaron Millar 4:22

euphoria is a great word for it because we shouldn't be there. In a way scuba diving is like visiting another planet another worlds and in that world, we can fly we are weightless. After you go down a few feet, you do something called equalising, which is basically getting the right amount of air into your scuba vest so that you become neutrally buoyant, you just float. You don't sink you don't rise to the surface. You just float in this perfect blue void. It feels amazing. And when and when you achieve that neutral buoyancy something else happens to as you drift along the coral bed or the bottom of the ocean. You can actually Control your heights with your breath. It's so cool. If you inhale and your lungs fill with air, you gently rise and as you breathe out, and your lungs deflate, you slowly fall. It's like flying and meditation all in one. And you get to see some pretty special things too.


Kellon Spencer 5:18

I recently just guided a trip out to Channel Islands, California last July. And the kelp forests out there are some of the most fascinating environments that you could actually go into ... you like hiking, right, like hiking through trees and whatnot. Now imagine those trees are bending and moving with the medium that they're in and you can go up and down throughout them, anything could pop in and out of that forest at any time. So there's, you know, seals that are going throughout it, you know, gigantic fish, there's a variety of colours of starfish. I mean, to hell with looking for alien life and other planet look what's under there. There's some of those fantastically created, you know, evolved organisms that you you Can't dream of we aren't even that creative, that kind of dream of what these things look like. So that's the real fascination to me is just every time you're going to pop under what are you going to find? It's a big reminder that you haven't actually seen the planet until you've been underwater there. 70% water so you actually haven't seen it until you've gone under there and explore to yourself.


Aaron Millar 6:19

We know more about the surface of Mars than we do the deepest parts of our own ocean. We have more detailed maps of the moon than we do the seabed. There are literally thousands of species still undiscovered, millions of miles, Uncharted and unexplored. So Kevin's right, it is probably the last true frontier of exploration on this planet. And that mystery that alien world called to Keller, he did scuba diving for a while he grew up in his own words in the middle of a cornfield in Illinois. He started diving and quarries there where you couldn't see more than three feet in front of your face. Eventually, he left behind A scuba instructor, he travelled the world guiding trips and ended up moving to Colorado. He's also a pretty serious rock climber. And all the while he was getting more and more into photography, particularly ocean photography, and that's where free diving comes in.


Kellon Spencer 7:15

If you look up some of the best underwater photographers, their best interactions with animals are all in breath hold. Right? You're not on scuba, so you're not making noise, you're not making that huge, loud, Darth Vader regulator noise underwater. So this basically allows you to get much much closer to animals without scaring them away. And that was always the draw for me. There's a couple draws for people and that's like competition diving, deep diving. Breath holds the health benefits of it, stuff like that. But for me, it was always getting me closer to wildlife.


Aaron Millar 7:50

So we're gonna get into a few of those draws because it's really interesting, and there's some great stories to go with that. But first, freediving if you're not familiar with what it is already, is basically Breath hold diving, unlike scuba diving, where you're using a tank and supplemental oxygen. In freediving, you literally just have your mask, a wetsuit, some fins and your lungs. That's it. You take a big breath. You jump in, and whatever you do, you don't let go. sound easy. It's not


Kellon Spencer 8:25

freediving is all mental. Right? It's it's 100% all mental, it's just getting out of your head. And I usually excel at these kind of adventure sports that I want to get into. Not the case with this. I was terrified of it. It gave me so much anxiety trying to get into it. I know it's hard on your heart. I know it's, you know, all these different things could happen. All I've read is the horror stories.


Aaron Millar 8:52

Let's get into some of those horror stories. The sport has become popularised through competitive freediving. And that's where it gets superhuman, and because you're pushing the boundaries of what is possible, potentially lethal to the deepest man on earth is Herbert Nitsch. And on June 6 2012, he dove to an absolute incredible 830 feet deep is a world record that is just shy of the height of the Eiffel Tower straight down into the depths. Or it's put it another way, if he was to swim out into the middle of the English Channel, the sea that separates Great Britain from France and dive down. He would have hit the ocean floor 200 feet before his final depth ... that world record dive he could have dove down to the bottom of three of the Great Lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan and Loch Ness, and no doubt he could have took on Nessie too. And at that depth, he's experiencing about 25 atmospheres of pressure or more than 345 pounds of pressure per square inch. It's like being crushed by a truck while holding your breath in the pitch black because at that depth, no light can possibly reach you. I literally cannot imagine anything more terrifying.


Kellon Spencer 10:19

The biggest issue with freediving is people tend to do it alone. Which is the number one rule in the sport is you just don't do it by yourself because there's the risk of shallow water blackout, right? People blacked out and shallow water coming up and then they just kind of drift off. All the blackouts tend to happen at the surface of the water. Almost all of them do. What's happening as you're going down is you're going through all these physiological changes, right. It's one of the most fascinating parts of freediving. It's called mammalian dive reflex. Well, essentially what happens is when your cranial nerves hit the water, your heart rate will drop by 50% I tend it's something we share with pretty much every deep diving mammal on the planet. And it's just basically a response that's kind of built into you.


Aaron Millar 11:07

That's amazing, isn't it? life began in the deep sea. And here's a reminder of that an ancient remnant of that which we share with our ocean ancestors, mere contact with water, even just immersing your face changes our physiology, we immediately adapt. We might be land based creatures. Now, we might be land lovers now, but we come from an ocean planet. And we are part of that Blue World on a fundamental physiological level. And this is proof of that.


Kellon Spencer 11:38

And then another thing that kind of happens is all the oxygenated blood kind of migrates out of your limbs and goes to your vital organs and including your head. So what happens is, whenever you're going down under pressure, the pressure is kind of working to keep all that on oxygenated blood in place. If you come up and you surface and you're very, very, very low and you don't do proper recovery breedings or is proper, you know, protocol which hits surface, you go, it's through what's called a blood dump. Right? You come up, all the pressure releases off of you. And all the oxygenated blood in your brain moves out quickly and all the oxygenated blood moves up quickly. And that either causes a loss of motor control, known as an LLC, or a blackout.


Aaron Millar 12:33

It's terrifying, isn't it? Most of the risks of freediving can be mitigated by basically not being a lunatic and not doing it alone. But people are people and people push the limits and people die in 2002. The World's Best Female diver Audrey Mestre. She blacked out at a depth of 300 feet on the way back up from what would have been a record breaking dive. People rushed into save her but she dead before she reached the surface. In 2013, Nicholas Mevoli 32 year old from Brooklyn reached 236 feet on a single breath, he surfaced he flashed the okay sign. And 30 seconds later, he lost consciousness and died. one statistic shows that out of 418 reported free diving accidents over a five year period 75% were fatal. So all this is going through Kellon's head as he prepares to do his first free dive. But it's not the kind of thing you do on your own. If you're smart, and you want to get into freediving and do it safely without blacking out and losing motor control and all the rest. You need to start somewhere called a level one course. But knowing where the dangers are knowing the theory and knowing that you're not alone in the water, doesn't make it any easier as you're stood on the edge of that deep abyss just about to jump in Kelvin Except the story having just arrived at a place called the Blue Hole where he did his very first free dive. It's a beautiful place, but it's also an intimidating place,


Kellon Spencer 14:11

you get to the Blue Hole, and it's just in the middle of nowhere in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, I want to say it's like, maybe 60 feet wide circumference, and it's 84 feet deep 64 degrees in it, so it's freezing. And just everywhere you look on the surface, it just bubbles coming up from how many people go there to train for scuba diving. And it's, it's clear, you know, you can see all the way to the bottom, but for some reason, there's this magnification that it looks deeper than it is it looks way deeper than it is. And so what they do is they basically have a weight and like a plate and a weight, and that is set at 33 feet, and all your skills have to be done at that depth. So basically you're on the line and you have all these thoughts about Is it running through your head and you're trying to just get to this plate that said at 33 feet at depth, right? So you're trying to get as relaxed as possible. But as your first time, all you're doing is just looking down at this thing, right? Most people dive to like 12 feet at the bottom of the pool, right? 33 feet for your first big step is like, it seems like a lot. You take your first big breath, and you go to basically pull yourself down this line. And the first thing you notice is your ears just seal up. Right? And I'm so used to scuba diving, we have all the times in the world to kind of deal with your ears and kind of doing that. This you're moving so much faster, you're going substantially faster. And if you don't have proper technique, right, it seems so simple, right? Like, just do a dive swim down, right? But in your head, you're trying to manage your fear. You're trying to execute the perfect entry dive to save energy. And then you're trying to equalise properly, you're trying to keep your head in the right position, there's there's a million things that you're trying to do just perfectly. And when you're a beginning student, it's just a junk show. And immediately I just have to turn around here. I was like, I was pretty decent at rock climbing and all these other adventure sports I got into and I'm just getting my butt kicked.


Aaron Millar 16:23

He got his butt kicked, but he made it through the course just it was tough. He almost quit. But he knew that he needed this in order to get as close as possible to the marine life without scaring them away. Scuba divers make a racket, the magic of free diving. Is that your silence and without giving too much away? Let's just say kaelin learned free diving to get close to marine life. And he succeeded in a big way. And we're gonna hear about that soon. But for now, there's kind of a crazy development because when he gets back to the scuba diving shop, where you was working as a guide. He's told that the course he just did that terrifying ear busting he just took. That wasn't the end of it. In fact, that was just the order of


Kellon Spencer 17:11

basically my boss me at the time, like pulled me to the back room. It's just like, Hey, I, you're kind of one of the adventure people at the shop and I think you're the perfect fit to become the free diving instructor replacement. If you guys if you're up to this, we're going to send you a professional freediving camp down in Grand Cayman. What I said to her was, I'm like, Yeah, that sounds awesome. And inside was I'm gonna die. This is this is gonna be terrible. I'm definitely going to die if I go down and do this. And that that was the thing to the camp was in four months. And it was just like, oh my god, what did I just do to myself? So I basically just hyper fixated on how it was not going to die. And for months, I even I even had so much anxiety that like I went to the doctor got an EKG done and like had my heart monitored to see if it was gonna like explode under pressure. You gotta quit cheese, quit drinking alcohol, quit caffeine.


Aaron Millar 18:03

I'm out. There was very little chance to be honest that I was ever going to attempt to freedive to 100 foot anyway. But now that you've got to give up cheese and booze and coffee, forget it.


Kellon Spencer 18:13

So you get down there Grand Cayman is got some of the most beautiful waters in the Caribbean, right? It's with free diving, you want somewhere that the surface water is just glass, it is crystal clear all the way down. There's some days there where you get 100 foot visibility. And it's just like, it's almost like you're floating inside and aquarium water so clear. The camp is um, it's ran by a guy named Nick feyza. He's retired from competition this point, but I think he's an 86 metre diver think I know he's gonna hear this and message me and be like, there's 96 he just immediately you know, he can like put this vibe out that everything's fine. You know, it's just like fine. So, and then it gives you a paper that has all of the skills that you need to do. Write to kind of complete this thing. And I'll just run through some of the more daunting ones. And I'm still in like complete panic mode that I'm going to die. First one, I noticed is hundred foot stands out like a sore thumb, oh my god. And the other one is basically a depth rescue. Basically someone pretends to blackout at 66 feet, and you have to come down, grab them by their head and swim in the surface and then perform all these you know, like things to kind of revive them. Yeah. And so oh my god. So I see that and then the other one is five to 15 metres, five times with a one minute surface interval in between each. And then you also go through and you make neck weights made out of both bike inner tube and duct tape. wide shot. It's, it's ridiculous.


Aaron Millar 19:55

You make weights for your neck. It's like the extreme split equivalent of digging your own grave and those skills, reviving people that have blacked out at 66 feet. Yeah, thanks a lot, man. This is really building confidence. But actually what turned it around for Kevin was learning more about the science of what's actually happening to the body, and to the breath at that kind of depth.


Kellon Spencer 20:19

The big misconception about the physiology of freediving is that, that urge to breathe, right? And that's panic that goes in your mind, like, I need to breathe, I got to get up, I got to get up, I get up. That's not actually caused from low oxygen in your body that has actually caused from a buildup of carbon dioxide in your body. You actually don't have hardly any sensors in your bodies that actually tells you that you're low on oxygen. All the panic comes from co2. Once you know that, and you know that panic sets in now you have a mental tool of just going like no, I'm not actually low on oxygen. I actually probably have quite a bit of air left. This is just a buildup of co2 in my body telling me that You need to exhale this way and it gets much easier over time. And actually like a matter of days people can go from like a 45 second breath, hold three minutes pretty easily just by doing some simple co2 tolerance exercises.


Aaron Millar 21:12

It's incredible, isn't it? The pain and panic you feel when you hold your breath isn't because you need to breathe in. It's because you need to breathe out. And once you understand that, you can train yourself to override it, at least for a little while. Kelan learned to do it for about four minutes, and that's impressive. The world record. Get ready for this is 22 minutes and 22 seconds. How is that even possible? That's like holding your breath for an entire sitcom. It's insane. That's not human, that is awkward and territory. But because of those superhuman feats, we also have a misconception of freediving. It is a dangerous sport, but it's not an adrenaline sport. To do it well. You have to be completely, and utterly relaxed


Kellon Spencer 22:02

Most people compare it to like BASE jumping, or you know, the most extreme forms of skydiving. And it's not that at all, it's the complete opposite. It's actually the most, what is the most like is probably yoga and meditative sports. It's actually very relaxing sport. And if you do a really good dive, like there's almost zero thought to it whatsoever. And I was just kind of doing a practice dive and I didn't know that around 20 metres you hit freefall, you become negatively buoyant and you just kind of drift down. It's it's one of the coolest feelings ever. I thought I was maybe at like, 40 feet of depth. And then all of a sudden, I just like, nailed my head into the sand. I look at my dive computer. I'm like, I'm at 75 feet, holy crap. And I go back up, and I like brought up a rock with me that I grabbed on the bottom. I'm like, How is this even possible just from that day? Like that clicked, and that was just all the mental confidence like I needed for the rest of the week.


Aaron Millar 23:04

But he still had the big one the hundred footer to come. And in order to get to those depths, your technique has to be perfect. And so does your mind.


Kellon Spencer 23:15

You want to be as aerodynamic as or hydrodynamic is possible, right? You want to move as effortlessly as possible. You don't want to put a lot of energy into your movements at all right? The more you move underwater, the more oxygen you're burning Nick, the guy running the whole camp says it's actually the laziest sport you'll ever do, or he would never do it himself. Right. So it actually the goal is to move and think is just as little as possible. What you're trying to do is keep your chin tuck stays vertical as possible straight legged as possible, and use as little energy getting down to 10 metres as you possibly can. Once you've hit 10 metres you're at another atmosphere so you have a whole nother atmosphere of water on you. And now you're neutrally buoyant. So if you've waited yourself properly should be able to hit 10 metres and just float without moving up or down, you know, in the water column, right? And so at that point, I have an alarm go off my computer that says, Okay, you've hit 10 metres. So then I want to stop kicking, it's hard. And then from there I hit 2020 is where you hit freefall from another atmosphere. And then I stopped kicking all together to basically save energy. I hit it, and then immediately it is just the coolest sensation ever, right? It is like skydiving, underwater. It's probably I've never been suited, but that's probably the closest feeling I would imagine. But if you get except you're like in a meditative state, instead of a high adrenaline state, your whole world is just this line. zipping by you. But what's happening is your brain is going okay, you should turn around now you've gone deep enough, okay, just turn around, turn around. Now, the second that panic starts to set in. You got to recognise it, you just, you just kind of gotta accept that it's not gonna serve you and either anyway, like you're in the situation or Regardless whether it's panic kicks in, or it doesn't. So you pretty much just have to find a way to just tune it down and just have it be there as background noise. Like don't make sense of it. It's there. But don't act on it


Aaron Millar 25:17

so often in our daily lives today, we are constantly in a situation of stress, perpetual stress that alarm bell just doesn't stop ringing and in the same way that that panic doesn't serve Kellan, when he's 100 foot under the water freediving and he has to just tune it out and put it to one side. That stress doesn't serve us in our daily life anymore, either. And if we could just find a way like he does, to put it to one side to acknowledge it, but then recognise that it's not helping us. We could take back control,


Kellon Spencer 25:52

you must have access to that dial now you can kind of just turn everything down. That's one of the big benefits of free diving is just Just like I, you know, I kind of get myself in a situation like in college, it was taking tests and stuff actually applied freediving breathing. So like if I was like starting to like panic or anything like that, and then, and then other sports too, like rock climbing, you get into that situation where it's just like you're so far above that last piece of protection, and it gets starting to get really scary and you're start panicking. Every time that happens, I basically just like, shove my face against the rock and do the freediving breathing and the same thing and just turn that dial down. It all comes down to just breath work. And it's it's huge if you just tap into it.


Aaron Millar 26:34

God, I need this with deadlines. I'll be honest with you, I've always struggled with anxiety. It's just something that I've always had to deal with. And I think many people listening will relate to that. Unfortunately, so much of our modern lives these days are geared towards making us feel stressed and anxious and overstimulated and it can be really, really hard to escape. But I love this idea that our escape our sanctuary is our breath, that it's not in drugs and medicine and it's not an external solutions. And it's not in chasing that panic in that stress and giving it more power by trying to fix it. It's in our breath. And that's a beautiful idea. But it's not an easy one to realise when you're 100 foot under the ocean and running out of air.


Kellon Spencer 27:21

Once you start getting near 100 feet, like 80 feet is where I really start to notice the pressure, it just kind of feels like you're getting squeezed. I actually like on my first or second attempt on trying to hit 100 feet, I got to 95 without knowing that I was there. And then when I turned around, I looked down the plate was right below me. So I didn't even think about putting air in my mask, right you have these low volume masking, you actually have to put air into them to keep them from squeezing too far in your face. And so I was just like, oh, there it is right there. And so I just pulled myself down and just tag the hundred feet plate. But as I did that, it felt like my face just like exploded. And like I came back up and was like ecstatic I got to the surface but I'm just like, I'm telling everybody I'm like, it feels like my sinuses just exploded. Basically instructor Nick was just like, you weren't supposed to go 100 feet yet because I didn't teach you like the proper equalisation pass ad and all that you got sounds like you got mass squeeze. And so yeah, that pressure inside that mass basically squeeze the front of my face so much that I woke up the next day and looked in the mirror and my eyes were blood red like it look like I put in those like blood red movie Hollywood contacts just ruptured every blood vessel in my eye like and it stayed that way for three weeks. Everybody thought I was in a satanic hole or something. These My eyes were just so blood red.


Aaron Millar 28:48

So he made it he has to join a satanic cult and walk around with devil eyes for three weeks, but he made it he reached that hundred foot dive he overcame his fear. And now that underwater world He'd been so desperate to experience and photograph was finally within his grasp.


Kellon Spencer 29:05

But the saying goes like you scuba dive to look out, you freedive to look within. So after you get the training out of the way for free diving, like you have the tools in the box and all that, then you really just kind of you can enjoy it. And so you can go to a reef and actually apply these skills and your confidence to staying underwater for long periods of time. And one of the things you first realise after being a scuba diver for so long is whenever you're like, silently going over the reef like you just feel the water shooting past you and all sudden you're hearing things like you're on the roof and you can actually hear this like chatter and then like you realise you're like, it's not silent under here. Like everything makes noise. And you realise there's this whole aspect of the ocean that you're kind of missing and you're this noise and this communication all around you. For me that was like when he's blissful, like, like, You're kidding. did with it? Right? And I think a lot of it has to do with that mammalian dive reflex right you have this gene that is coded you to dive So that to me also tells me that we're made to dive in the water just like other marine mammals and whatnot. So it's that and then like you see a sea turtle and like you're swimming up to it and then it's not moving it's actually checking you out just like you're checking it out versus on scuba. That thing was gone before Bz your noi scared away. So you just feel like on freediving that you're just much more part of everything when you fit in. That's just not you're not meant to be there. You're not a tourist like you actually earn this privilege of kind of going into this. Our world I guess


Aaron Millar 30:46

You scuba dive to look out, you free dive to look in you free dive to be a part of the ocean, not a visitor, you freedive to connect with the 70% of our planet where we do Don't live now. But that was once our home. You freedive to see the ocean on its own terms. And if you're very, very lucky, you freedive to have the most incredible wildlife encounter of your life.


Kellon Spencer 31:16

We were teaching a course in Roatan, my buddy Nevada and me. We're teaching a course down there a couple years back and you don't really ever think the Caribbean is this like crazy biodiverse hotspot for underwater life, usually most of that's in the South Pacific. So we basically heard that there are whales in the area, right? So that was pretty big surprise to me being down there. So not five minutes people are in the water, I'm at the surface and I see blowhole spouts like going off in the distance. And immediately everybody jumps back on, we have a boat that is not suited for going that far out in the ocean at all. And we're just cranking this motor out as much as it can get you to try to get in front of these whales. So we get to a point where we think we're basically not intersect with the sperm whales, this whole pot of sperm whales that's going at us. Everyone's so excited, they're running towards the front of the boat for nosedive in front of the boat in the water and almost sink it it seems like because everyone's so excited we have to run everybody back get the water off the boat. And then finally we're at a point where we're like Alright, we're reading kind of jump in and so jump in and you're looking down around you and it's just blue abyss every go there's probably over like 1000 foot shelf at this point. So it's just you watch all the light just disappear. It's not hitting anything underneath you and you're just the speck like right like I was thinking Carl Sagan pale blue dot at that moment, it's just like you're just this floating, insignificant speck out in the middle of the sea and you're kind of just looking And I freedive down to like maybe 30 feet and I'm just kind of waiting they're just kind of hanging out and then in front of me it just looks kind of like the outline like a semi just like slowly starting to appear in front of me. And then it just it becomes more and more clear and then it's you're looking at this just 40 to 50 to 60 foot whale coming straight at you. And it just slowly drifts by us and then just dives into the deep right you're just watching it and it's seriously like watching a semi with this big Cynthia an eyeball just drifting by you know this thing's like looking at you just as it goes by. And you can just tell you know, it's like I'm looking at you right now there's the gears are turning or anything like that. It's like looking at a completely other sentient being. It's it's just astounding monkey. You must don't feel anything because you're just like you're trying to process What you're seeing, and then you realise at that moment when you're seeing this whale that you're like, oh, there's things alive today that is just as incredible, if not more incredible than these images of dinosaurs I had as a kid. And then when you're seeing one for the first time, it all becomes real. It's such things like you know, they're real from seeing them film, but you can't appreciate what they are until you see them with your own eyes.


Aaron Millar 34:24

That's beautifully said. Thank you, Carolyn, thank you for taking us into the ocean into the sanctuary of our breath and showing us another side of our world aside that few people ever see. And like he says, We live on an ocean planet and you haven't truly explored it until you jumped in. You can follow Kellen and see some of the underwater photography that he has now gotten as a free diver on his Instagram page at Kevin underscore Spencer that's ke Ll o n, or his Facebook page which is Kellen Spencer photography. He and his website, Calvin Spencer photography.com. He has some amazing imagery. I follow him. He's an amazing guys. Awesome, inspiring. He's really into conservation. He does a lot of great work in that area too. And I'm sure you guys will get on well. If you're interested in getting into freediving, you can visit the episode page on the website armchair dash explorer.com, where I'll put up details of Kevin's top recommendations and the trips he's done, as well. If you're lucky, a couple that he may be guiding himself. And as always, remember, if you are researching your next trip, I have links to all sorts of adventures inspired by our show. I only recommend companies that offer positive sustainable travel. And by clicking those links, you help support what we do here. I'm also here anytime that you want advice. I want to work on planning that next big trip so just drop me a line. I love helping people plan adventures and I'd love to connect more deeply with you. Finally, a huge shout out to our composer today. Alistair Nisbett Ali's worked on a few episodes here and he always does a great job. This one he has really excelled himself. I absolutely love the soundtrack that you have put together for us today, Ollie, please check out his stuff. He does everything from soulful acoustic music to massive attack style beats and classical piano. He's supremely talented. I'll link to his stuff in all the usual places. Or you can search them up on Soundcloud to ollie Nisbett, a LL. y. And last but definitely not least, you thank you to you guys. You're amazing. Thank you for your support. Thank you for listening. Thank you for helping this community of explorers grow. And that's important, because the more that we look for wonder in the world, the more the wonder of the world becomes a part of who we are. Dare to be truly alive.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai


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