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Extremall 2018 - report

Until the very end we were unsure whether there would be a place to start and something to dive under. A few days before the competition the ice was still there, but the thaw had already set in. Nevertheless, we all believed that this year the Extremall would take place in its most beautiful form,
Published: February 7, 2018 - 15:04
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 16:25
Extremall 2018 – report

Until the very end we were unsure whether there would be a place to start and something to dive under. A few days before the competition the ice was still there, but the thaw had already set in. Nevertheless, we all believed that this year the Extremall would take place in its most beautiful form, i.e. in an ice hole.

On Friday afternoon we arrived at the Hancza River, in the village of Mierkinie, where our beloved Guest House of Mr and Mrs Marcinkiewicz is located. This is where the “Extremall” was held in 2016, as well as several other summer freediving events. At that time there was no ice, but the competitions took place too. What we saw on site brought ambiguous thoughts. On the one hand, the lying snow around the lake gave hope that the ice was thick enough and would last until the next day. On the other hand, the plough and mud everywhere indicated that the ice was melting by the minute, as the temperature there had been positive for several days. Upon entering the house, our hosts reassured us immediately – the ice is still thick enough to walk on. Robert, Marcin and Patryk checked it with their own eyes while chopping the ice hole. Hooray, the competition will be held under the ice this year! – I thought.

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In the evening, after all the participants and judges from distant parts of Poland, such as Gorzow Wielkopolski, Krakow, Poznan, Tricity or Warsaw, as well as from Great Britain (!) had gathered, an organisational meeting took place. During the meeting safety rules were discussed in details, to keep an appropriate distance from the ice hole, not to gather in groups in a small space and to move on the ice very calmly. Then the procedure of securing the competitor who will make his attempt was presented. The persons responsible for the belaying and their tasks, as well as the time limits, were established, so that they would not get cold and could provide full care for the divers. Finally, the starting numbers were drawn. During this competition, the starting order can be important, because later competitors know the time of those diving earlier. Moreover, watching other freedivers cheerfully scratching their way out of the water, any fears that something we do might be dangerous diminish. Luckily I was drawn penultimate in the order and I was very happy about that.

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This year, there were nine daredevils on the list of competitors, including 2 women. However, there has never been a division into male and female categories in Extremall, so we were aware that we would have to face both the cold and the men’s skills to win the competition. But for all of us, this competition is mainly about the joy of meeting freedivers from different parts of the country and celebrating winter diving, under the ice, but in safe conditions and with proper belay. Nevertheless, each of us wanted to become the winner of the most “extreme” freediving competition in Poland, so we had our own strategy how to dive to 15 meters and how to surface as late as possible to get the longest dive time. The golden rule of safety was to surface any part of the body before 3 minutes after the dive. However, before the mouth surfaced, it was possible to continue the dive as a ‘static’ to extend your time. If this rule was not followed, the athlete or competitor would be immediately pulled out of the water along with the rope to which he or she was attached by a special lanyard.

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On Saturday the 27th of January everyone was warming up by the fireplace in the morning. Most people had not eaten anything in order to lower their metabolism as much as possible before diving, which is customary for static diving as it increases apnea time. The lack of breakfast unfortunately also puts the body at risk of cooling down faster and before diving to depth it is not recommended by some experts to dive fast. Before 10 a.m. the judges went to the ice hole and set up a buoy with a rope, spread the boards on the banks and secured the starting point. The stand was ready for the first competitor. It was Patryk, who took part in the competition for the first time. He coped bravely with the depth and achieved a result of 1 minute 15 seconds. We know that he could have extended his dive – if only he had wanted to. Just like all the others. Borys started second and with a result of 1’38” he moved into the lead. From the third position Filip attacked and significantly raised the bar, taking fresh, frosty air from the surface after a dive lasting 2’48”. Next up was Marcin with a 1’38” attempt. Next came two debutants, who could only expect what awaited them under the ice… Diana reached the time of 1’29” and Bartek 2’06”. The 7th competitor was Robert, who until recently held the Polish record in statics. We expected that he might take the lead in the classification and he did it, achieving a great result of 3’07”. Thus, it was my turn.

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When I arrived at the starting point, I felt a little excited because I knew exactly what was waiting for me down there. About 2 minutes before the plunge, I entered the water, attached my leash and got into a comfortable position that allowed me to breathe calmly and relax my whole body. This way, my heart rate slows down even before the start and, by getting rid of unnecessary tension, it is easier to dive into the freezing abyss. I did not feel fear, but joy that in a moment I will be under water, and there everything will stop for the length of one breath, even faster and more immediate than diving in warm waters. As the official countdown drew to a close I took in a full lungful of air and pulled myself under the water. The first moments are extremely important. Before the body recognizes where it is and what awaits it, it is still working in the same mode as on the surface, and perhaps even at a higher speed. I did a few pull-ups on the rope, alternating with equalizing the pressure in my ears, until after several seconds I felt the hood sticking to my ears. This was a sign that I needed to do something very unpleasant – pour water into the hood so that it would reach my ears and allow the pressure to equalize on the further way to the plate. The water was about 2 degrees Celsius. It almost hurt, but only for a moment. I did a few more pull-ups, and after a while I felt my body slowly start to sink. There was nowhere to rush and nothing to rush for. I knew that I would reach a depth of 15 metres without any problems, and that a possible quick emergency swim to the surface would be 20-30 seconds at most. At that moment I remembered that I had not turned on the timer that was supposed to count down the time when I should start ascending in order to be back on the surface in 3 minutes. That’s nothing I thought, I also had a computer that gave me an approximate time from the moment I started the dive. I turned my body with my feet down and slowly descended. I saw a light attached to a plate and the plate itself with “tickets”, one of which I was to bring to the judges on the surface. Before I reached for it, I hovered over it and looked around. It was reasonably bright. In the depths I spotted a trinket, on which I fixed my gaze. I felt my heart beat even slower. The rhythm of my heart was even slower than usual. I had to keep an eye on my watch in order not to miss the moment to emerge. I reached for my ticket and very slowly began to surface. Eventually I noticed the computer was showing 2’40” and I decided it was time to surface, and fast, as I didn’t know the exact time due to the delay in switching on the computer. As the judges told me later, I reached the surface after 2’57”, so in the last minute! But it was not so pleasant there. At the surface, the water is the coldest and the pressure the lowest, thus the body encourages the freediver more intensively to take a breath. Diving was no longer pleasant for me in this form. I surfaced. I took in air, followed the procedure and showed my ticket. Dive completed with a time of 3’09” – the best result so far. But there was one more competitor left.

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Although those starting at the end may ask how the others did, know the time and plan to ascend at the right time to achieve a better result, they usually do not. For a relaxed and enjoyable dive, it’s best not to set a specific time, so as not to put yourself under internal pressure, and simply surface at the right time when you feel it’s right. I did not know Robert’s time before my attempt and Jacek did not ask about mine – he surfaced after 3 minutes and 5 seconds. This meant that by chance I won – the 8th edition of “Extremall” was won by a woman ???? .

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It was already the 8th edition of this “Extreme” freediving event organised by the Freediving Poland Association. Sponsors of this year’s competition were BANDI Cosmetics and Baltica, which funded warm hats and sweatshirts. The next edition of “Extremalla” will be held in 2 years’ time – we can’t wait and we are curious – will the ice be good again?

Results of the 8th edition of Extremall – 27th January 2018:

1. Agnieszka Kalska – 3:09
2. Robert Cetler – 3:07
3. PJ Polak – 3:05
4. Filip Jakubiak – 2:48
5. Bartosz Płonka – 2:06
6. Marcin Rutkowski – 1:48
7. Borys Bajorek – 1:38
8. Diana Wądołowska – 1:29
9. Patryk Ryszczyk – 1:15

Photos Patrycja Radiowska-Polak

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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