Tolga Taskin: in apnea to isolate me from the world

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He repeats it several times. It is guided by unconditional love for absolute silence and darkness. Diving is a dimension of well-being for him. Tolga Taskin is an unusual athlete. Extreme. Not because like any freediver tries to overcome human limits by competing with others, as for the place of his dives. Love the depth of dark, cold and lonely waters.

An example? On February 25 of this year he made his own the depth record under the ice: -74.8 meters in variable set-up reached in Lake Weissensee in Austria, with water at the limit of freezing: 1 degree of temperature.

It has the appearance of a Viking: long hair and carelessly uncultivated beard as if he wanted to tell us that taking care of that detail is a waste of time that takes away from training. He has an athlete, freediver physique. But this form of muscle is actually a wrapping needed only to achieve a mental condition. The most intimate and absolute search for silence and solitude. As if it wanted to give water a new function. That of filter that separates it from society.

Follow him because if you had certainties about why going to the bottom of the sea, it will surprise you.

You said that the best time is when you dive into cold and dark water. Only in such an unusual place can you leave stress, worries and fears behind. Can you explain yourself better?
The moment I dive, especially in a cold and dark lake, I enter a new dimension. In the sea there are many noises: the engines of the boats, the current and then there are many fish … The sea is not a silent place. In the lake all this does not exist. There are no currents, there are no waves, zero noises. If you are not afraid of the dark and cold waters, diving like this is a new dimension of the apnea experience. Everything is unusually unusual. And you are like an astronaut moving in space.

What are you most interested in experiencing: silence or solitude?
Both. Silence is connected with loneliness. When you dive for even a few meters, you immediately feel the sense of distance from the rest of the world. But in a lake this feeling is amplified enormously. There you perfectly feel your body, your most intimate feelings. Water isolates everything. The further I go down, the more this feeling increases. Doing this in the very dark almost black blue where visibility is very limited amplifies the feeling of isolation which is vital for me. This is how I feel completely comfortable and find my psychophysical balance.

In a recent interview you said: the first breath on the surface after a demanding dive is like being reborn. Can you explain better what you meant?
The moment I reach the surface and open my mouth to take an instinctive and deep breath is a special moment. You have been underwater for minutes, far from the place where we usually breathe, in a dimension where you only listen to your body in total peace and silence with the air of your lungs. Then go back up. As soon as you put your head out of the water by instinct, you start breathing again and everything returns to normal, natural and clear. Open your eyes again and see everything as you are used to seeing it. This moment, which lasts a fraction of a second, is what we call the dramatic experience of apnea. A kind of shock on the border between well-being and fear. That moment, that first breath, is just like a rebirth (basically it is similar to the first cry as soon as the liquid dimension of the maternal placenta has been abandoned. Editor’s note).

What goes through your mind when you are in the water?
Before I honestly dive I am a little nervous. I am looking for extreme and difficult situations. But as soon as I enter the water I forget the fear … (takes a long liberating breath and then adds) and all the negative thoughts. Mind and body enter what I call dive mode. From now on I don’t care about anything else. I live.

So your body is made for cold water? A kind of super man?
It is not so in reality. When I get around 30 meters I have to pay attention to cramps and muscle contractures which can create serious problems for my safety. At that moment my head comes to the rescue. I try to stay calm and relaxed but above all concentrated. I don’t have to have contractions and cramps too early to not have hemostasis.

I train a lot to compensate for this typical problem of cold places, working on the reactivity of my body in managing the breath at low temperatures. The more I swim in cold water, the better off I am. My body follows me thanks to hard training. I believe I have reached a state of total relaxation to date.

What are fear and panic?
During a training session to prepare for the diving record under the frozen surface of a lake on the way up, I did not find the hole from which to breathe. It was very dark and little was seen in the water thanks to the layer of ice that covers the whole lake and prevents light from passing through. It was a very dangerous situation. I thought the only solution was to go back down and then look upwards to find the hole … I was lucky and the second attempt was successful. It was a particular situation and I admit that it was very hard. The following nights I got up doing nightmares and thinking about what had happened. It was the only time I had to control panic. I solved this by keeping calm and confident.

Has apnea changed your life?
It is the only way to calm down and find my personal balance. It influenced all the choices I made. We are in a world where everything flows quickly. In which tension and stress guide our lives. Something always happens every second of the day. We are hyper stimulated. Even when we are in the bathroom we have the phone in hand. This is crazy!

Diving is also a way of separating myself from everything. This detachment from society is healthy for my mind and therefore for my body. Sometimes I wonder what I would have done in life if I hadn’t discovered the apnea to calm down and maintain control over me, and the answer is simple: I don’t know.

Can you define apnea in one word?
Meditating underwater: this is apnea.

What can you say to those who want to follow your path?
I am an apnea instructor. I tell people to share this passion with others. But above all that apnea is not a sport of action, of numbers and records. Quite a way to find peace and calm. I am happy to bring freediving into the lives of ordinary people. Many tell me that it was a real experience that changed his life giving it a new meaning.

Is that why you created Apnea College? What courses do you do?
To date we have 25 instructors in Germany who teach courses across the country. During the lessons we realized that many of our students were interested in spearfishing which is prohibited in Germany. They want to learn how to shoot a fish to be able to do it in other places in the world where this is possible. We have developed an educational system to teach them all of this. We do courses, tests and educational in Denmark and Norway, but not only, where we teach all this. I am bringing the culture of spearfishing to Germany and it works, our courses are sold out.

Your first dive?
Has been a long time. I don’t remember the first time I discovered water, certainly thanks to the courses that parents make their children do to learn to swim. But I remember the attraction that water has had on me ever since. Whenever I saw situations where I could dive I tried to do it. Water was a form of socializing with myself …

My grandfather who was of Turkish origin loved the sea and spearfishing. I remember when he returned home giving fish to friends and us. Those images had impressed me a lot. One day he gave me a small shotgun and I started catching small fish. I felt very proud and happy with each catch. When I went to the beach I spent every hour of the day, literally, in the water. I was swimming, fishing, diving. All day.

Your next challenge? What are you preparing for?
I’m working on an ambitious project for 2021. It’s something I can’t talk about yet. But I anticipate that it will be a very difficult and dangerous dive. Obviously in my natural environment: the lake.