Scrolling through the news feed on her Facebook page one morning Samantha Kildegaard stumbled upon a post talking about a freediving competition in Baja, Mexico. Samantha, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina but residing in Turks and Caicos as a diving instructor, immediately felt a sensation of excitement and curiosity run through her body. After clicking on the link and looking into what the requirements were to enter she contacted the competition organizer Estrella Navarro Holm. Estrella responded to Sam’s message right away and warmly welcomed her to come and join the event. Sam felt nervous by the thought of traveling all the way there alone, not knowing anyone and never competing before so she just offered to help with the event rather than competing. Estrella encouraged Samantha to compete saying it would be a wonderful experience for her and she would learn so much by diving with her peers. She explained to Sam that the spirit of the competition is for everyone to experience the gifts the ocean brings to us together and to encourage one another to grow in the sport.
After doing some research on Isla Espirito Santo, La Paz where the competition is being held she discovered that Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez ‘the aquarium of the world’. There are over 500 species of fish and 30 odd species of marine mammals and for any diver is a must see. Estrella originally created the competition after telling many of her friends about the place she lived and they all wanted to come visit. She thought the best thing she could do was organize an event to bring all her friends together therefore Big Blue was born. During part of this competition week the Estrella scheduled for all competitors to do a freedive with whale sharks which Sam has never done before, therefore enticing her to compete instead of just help. She also discovered that during November the water conditions are at its peak for Baja. The water is warm, clear and visibility reaches up to 30 meters. This was very appealing to her as she has the luxury of free diving in warm, clear, deep and marine rich waters daily in her hometown of Turks and Caicos. The idea of being able to compete in conditions she is comfortable with helped in making her final decision.
The first thing Sam did was call her friend and coach from back home in Argentina, Alejandro Andres. Alejandro has set a record in Argentina for FIM -80m, CWT -73m & STA 6min 33sec, is an AIDA judge, and a very cool guy! He currently owns a freedive school in Puerto Madryn, Patagonia. Ranked 30th best freediver in the world he was the perfect candidate to help Samantha get in shape for the competition. He gave her a training schedule consisting of apnea and dynamic sessions, yoga and good diet.
Since Turks and Caicos is a relatively undeveloped island she did not have access to a pool where she could train in a controlled environment allowing a person to monitor their progress more accurately, therefore enabling them to push themselves harder whilst remaining safe. Alejandro recommended Sam to start with something called apnea walks instead, where she would walk down the beach holding her breath whilst taking up to a 100 steps, eight times with a 2min recovery in-between. The day after talking with Alejandro Sam went to the beach after work and was able to do three sets of 25 steps. She proceeded to do this everyday combined with apnea cycling, after one week she progressed to eight sets of 40 steps and now is up to 70.
Samantha is fortunate enough to spend her days working at a dive shop in Turks and Caicos where she can take advantage on snorkeling trips to practice her free diving. Turks and Caicos islands consist of two banks that rise 9842 feet (3000m). The top of the wall starts at a depth of 40 – 45 feet, then drops straight down. People who want to join her and see the wall will follow Sam who is using a mono fin to attract sharks and give the tourists a bit of a show. This enables her to get plenty of practice time using her monofin whilst having fun with her clients.
Yoga has always been a major part of Sam’s life and now even more, doing daily sessions 5 to 6 times a week in many different styles. She also practice pranayama, which is a complimentary practice to yoga which consists of controlling your breathing through techniques and exercises. After each yoga session Sam does static apnea sets, holding her breath for up to four minutes.
Alejandro has been helping Samantha daily via skype to monitor her progress and push her to train harder but its difficult having him so far away and sometimes she feels limited by the lack of tools available to her. She is constantly researching however and looking for new creative ways to develop her skills. When she trains during the week she brings her sister with her as a spotter and safety diver to help her safely reach further depths. Freediving can be a dangerous sport and having a spotter who is qualified is the most important thing when training or diving. She has also reached out to many of the top freedivers in the world asking for advise. “Everyone has been so kind and encouraging to me that it made me believe in myself” Sam told me about the people in her sport. She feels she is a kindred spirit upon them.
One of the best things about living in the Caribbean is the ability to eat healthy. Juicing, making smoothies and grilling fresh vegetables and fish keep Sam full of energy and fit. She takes special care to not include dairy in her diet before she leaves for the competition because it will create extra mucus in the body making equalization almost impossible. Something that could have been detrimental to her competing if Alejandro had not told her.
Big Blue is the first annual international freediving competition created and organized by Estrella Navarro Holm. A La Paz native, Estrella created this event to bring a sense of unity and grow the sport of free diving in Mexico. Her passion and drive has made Samantha feel comfortable during her journey to compete. Estrella has a constant stream of communication with all the divers and always makes you feel confident says Sam no matter how discouraged you can get. She has set up various activities surrounding the event. Athletes are offered an official training session with top free divers in the industry before the competition as well as ocean conservation seminars.
There are also courses being offered by Maria-Teresa Solomons through her Ocean Yoga Freediving Studio which Sam is participating in before and after the event. Maria is a top level instructor trainer and has been teaching for 18 years. Samantha feels a special connection to Maria as many circumstances throughout her diving career have lead her to this moment of being trained by Maria. She has been waiting for a long time now and is almost more excited about this than the event. Sam hopes to achieve a Proficient AIDA 4 level of certification before leaving Baja and therefore pursue a career as a free diving instructor.
PADI recently announced the launching of a new free diving program certifying free divers from beginner up to instructor level. They recognize freediving as the fastest growing part of the dive industry segments, and as the world leader in recreational diving training this opens up a big opportunity for growth in the sport.
As Samantha shares her training progress with friends and family, she is offered advice on how to get sponsors from her roommate Jessica Winkler, a pro kiteboarder. They work together doing photos shoots and videos using the brands Samantha loves the most. She contacted the owners of each company and sent them the media and information about the competition. To Sam’s delight she received sponsorship offers from MG Surfline and Swish Suits. Even her yoga studio in TCI has agreed to support her. It’s a great start and we look forward to seeing what Samantha can accomplish in the up coming year.
You can follow Samantha Kildegaard on her journey by following her social media channels:
And of course on DeeperBlue.com!