Lidija Lijić, Free Diving Extraordinaire

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by Tash Pericic,

Continuing our Characters of the Sea series, this week we caught up with Lidija Lijić Vulić – the freediving extraordinaire, holder of a recent Guinness World Record and an all-round incredible sportswoman (and human).

Lidija’s main discipline is ‘Dynamic with Fins’ and ‘Dynamic no Fins’ – what does this mean? This is part of the free diving disciplines, both of these disciplines require the diver to hold their breath and travel in a horizontal position under water (world records are held in a pool), and you guessed it – disciplines are with or without fins (monofin). Her best results are 205 m DYN (dynamic with fins) and 157 m DNF (dynamic no fins) and 40 m Immersion.

Take a look at the video below to see what dynamic with fins is all about.

Lidija boasts an impressive CV; she holds 4 world records, 1 World Gold Medal, 1 European Gold Medal and dozens of other awards, medals and placings; including being nominated for the Best Croatian Athlete four times.

Lidija is from Split and like everyone who grew up along the Dalmatian Coast, she also grew up alongside the water. I asked her if she was enchanted by the sea from a young age, her response –

“Like everyone else, I grew up by the sea, spent summers by the sea, I didn’t consider it unusual – I was always in love with the sea, but I wouldn’t say any more or less than others from this region”

At 15, Lidija began scuba diving and spearfishing, then she tried free diving at 18 years old and that was it.

“I knew this was it from that first dive, I knew I had to find a way to keep doing it… I moved to Italy and trained at Apnea Academy for Free Diving.”

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Alberto Balbi

Ever since then, Lidija has been training and competing and, as well as her impressive stack of awards previously mentioned, Lidija also achieved something pretty remarkable at the beginning of this year – she made a new Guinness World Record, completing a 124 m, horizontal free dive under ice. As the sporty woman that she is, the idea to dive under ice came to her quite suddenly one day when she was thinking about diving and skiing.

How do you train to dive under ice?

We started training in October like we would for any national competitions, then by January, we started to find frozen lakes to train in; however, the most important thing was finding the right equipment for such extreme temperatures – we opted for a 5-mm wetsuit, which allowed maximum flexibility and kept the icy-water out.

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Vitomir Maricic and Damir Zurub

How did you feel before and during the dive?

You just need to focus; I mentally prepared myself for everything that could happen during the dive, anything that could go wrong. There was a safety team and safety holes cut-out at every 30 m along the ice. As I took my last breath all other thoughts were left above the ice.

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Credit: Karlo Macas

I thought it would be more difficult or I would feel claustrophobic, mentally it was hard to focus below the ice because of the dark and cold, but aside from that it was really a great dive. It was such a great feeling and for sure, I will attempt another record next year (though I think I will have more competition now).

What happens when you get out of the icy-water, how do you warm up?

“You run!” Lidija exclaimed laughing. There was no fancy equipment or blankets awaiting her – “you run as fast as you can to your apartment and hot shower!”

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Why does free diving hold such appeal?

There is just something about being underwater. I can lose myself under the water, whether it is spearfishing for hours, or free diving. When you scuba dive, you are still behind a mask (equipment) – you are like a tourist; whereas when you free dive you really feel like not only are you entering the underwater world, but you are a part of it. There is nothing between you, the fish and the deep-blue. After depths of 20 m, you no longer have to physically swim down, you enter a free fall, which is an incredible feeling, almost meditative.

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Our bodies are inclined to be below water, when you free dive, your body naturally goes through several physiological changes – your heart-rate slows by around 30%, the arteries in your limbs constrict, pushing oxygen-rich blood back to your vital organs, your spleen condenses pumping extra blood throughout the body and the lungs start to fill with blood to counteract the increased pressure. I believe we haven’t even ‘touched’ the capabilities of the human body’s potential.

Will you continue to compete, or what else will you do with free diving?

I am still competing and in October I will start training for the European Championship in Turkey, but I intend on continuing free diving, until I can’t – and even then, I will find a way to be connected. Natalia Molchanova was a Russian multi-world champion in free diving at the age of 53, so it gives hope…

I have a few other plans, one I will keep quiet until we officially release, but I would love to open a free diving school one day. I have also just shot photos with the boat ‘Sinbadsan’ owned by Leo Lemesić and we have a plan to start a tour – for the more adventurous soul. The tour would encompass sailing the coast, learning to sail with Leo who has sailed all around the world, learning to free dive with me, as well as spearfishing or whatever else they may want.

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Vitomir Maricic and Damir Zurub, diving below Sinbadsan

We have only just taken the photos and it is a little late in the season to start promoting, but we hope to drive it for next season.

 Why would you recommend people learn to free dive?

It is really unique, there is a thin line, one moment you are above the surface, the next thing you know, you enter a new world. You have the opportunity to relax, to leave problems and everything else above the water. In this life, we are learning how to multi-task, our attention and energy is constantly stretched, but when you under the sea, you just focus on the world in front of you and you get to leave everything else behind.

And – it’s free! Why wouldn’t you?

Free diving is a lifestyle…

Yes, I compete, but it is more than that. Free diving is a lifestyle. I am lucky, my husband also loves to be at sea, he is a boat builder and a spear fisher, we do everything together. It is really nice to be able to share this and to spend quality time together (away from phones and distractions).

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Vitomir Maricic and Damir Zurub

Inspiration

When I met up with Lidija, I knew nothing other than she was a competitive free diver and recently broke the Guinness World Record for a horizontal free dive under ice! When I sat with her I realised this is one impressive woman – not only for her achievements, but more so for her dedication to her passion and to embracing life.

Even though it is not related to the sea, it is worth noting that Lidija is also accomplished above the sea – having ascended the Alps, Gran Paradiso (highest Italian summit) 4016 m, Alps Monte Rosa (highest Swiss summit) 4507 m, Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak (highest point of the African continent) 5895 m and the Annapurna Base Camp in the Himalayas 4850 m.

As I walked away from Lidija, I was completely inspired. It also made me have a thought – is this what tuning into nature and the sea does? So far, every ‘Character of the Sea’ I have interviewed not only has a mad passion for the sea, but also ‘joie de vivre’ – a contagious exultation of life itself.

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Vitomir Maricic and Damir Zurub

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Vitomir Maricic and Damir Zurub

I hope to head out with Lidija for a free diving lesson soon! If you are also interested, you can find Lidija here.

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