Interview speakers 2024

Nanja van den Broek: What benefits do you get from Freediving?


Text: Rene Lipmann | Photos: Enker

She came face to face with a huge sperm whale near the Azores and dived to 130 meters on one breath. A distance of no less than 43 floors of an apartment building. Freedive instructor Nanja van den Broek is one of our guest speakers during Duikvaker 2024!

Why did you ditch the tank and start freediving?

During training at my diving club, I often lay on the bottom playing a bit underwater. I had completed the compressed air training courses available at that time and I wanted a new challenge. One of the club members was a freediver. He was alone and that is not possible with freediving. He was already an instructor at that time. He asked me if I would like to learn how to freedive. I said; I have no idea what it is, so I think it's fun! After about five weeks of training there was a competition in Germany. I went along and broke the Dutch women's record at that time and came second internationally. That encouraged me even more to keep training and that's how I became addicted. 


When did freediving start to get out of hand and become addicted?

Pretty soon. I was amazed that you can do so much more than you think. This gives a nice boost in your confidence. I also enjoy being able to get into the water with reasonable basic equipment. The animals are not that scared of you because you are quieter than with compressed air and the first 10 meters of a reef are often the most beautiful. I still prefer compressed air for small things. However, I most enjoy swimming with large sea animals and then I really prefer freediving equipment.


How long does it take you to complete a world record dive to 130 meters on one breath?

I had trained for a 4:00 minute dive. However, the actual dive was a lot faster and was exactly 3.00 minutes.

There must have been a lot of training before that. What was your approach? What types of training do you use?

It started with figuring out who could best coach me. After all, with such depths you entrust your life to the people around you. I found it in the person of the Italian Andrea Zuccari and his team. He owned a freediving center in Sharm El Sheikh (Egypt) at the time and his knowledge of equalization was second to none. I had followed a preparation workshop with him (which I now also teach) and he was the first in the Netherlands to reach a depth of 100 meters in the discipline in four hours of training. No Limits (weight down and up with a balloon). Then the variable weight record, which at that time stood at 127 meters, suddenly became a lot more realistic. 

I spent most of my time training in the Netherlands in a regular swimming pool to improve my self-confidence and swimming technique. In addition, I trained preparation techniques daily in the gym, running with interval training with held breath and also trained a lot to obtain the right mindset with good coaches and techniques from Neuro Linguistic Programming. I was also guided by an osteopath and an orthomolecular dietician. 

In three blocks of 4-6 weeks I then trained for depth with Andrea. I went for the world record in the last block in the last week. It was a very tough undertaking mentally. However, the result was there. After all this time, I can still call the record from October 2015 my own!

Why this challenge? These types of dives are surely not without danger? How do you deal with fear of a dive deeper than 100 meters? Is there no threshold?

What competitive athlete doesn't want to become the best in their sport? As long as you have a very good team around you, the risk you take in the competitive sport of freediving is much smaller than many people think. I'm always attached to the line and that entire line can be pulled all the way up if necessary. That is the best and safest way for a freediver to be rescued. However, I never had to experience this. By making gradual progression and not wanting to shift your own boundaries too quickly, it remains very safe. Channeling the fear you feel for these types of impressive dives is part of the training. Above all, continue to build positive, supportive beliefs so that your self-confidence continues to grow. That was by far the biggest challenge.


What does the sea mean to you?

The sea is the place where I have always felt at home. I don't get the peace you get in water anywhere else. In addition, life under water is a wonderfully different world that I can still swim through in amazement. The only sad thing is that I get seasick. Fortunately, I have now found very good medication against it, so nothing can hold me back.

You are an ambassador of the Plastic Soup Foundation. How do you try to make people aware of plastic pollution?

I pay attention to it in every training course and I also like to convey the message of the Plastic Soup Foundation in lectures. I also enjoy working with them as an ambassador. For example, they can auction introductions to me to raise money or I participate in social media campaigns.

Face to face with a sperm whale... what goes through your mind?

Nothing is as crazy as lying side by side with an animal as big as a whale. You feel one with nature and it also puts your humanity into perspective. We are so small compared to those enormous animals and my respect for nature as a whole ecosystem has only increased. To notice with eye contact that there is a curiosity about the other person not only from you, but also from the whale is a magical moment. This is unforgettable!


Do you have a tip for us? What really is a top destination for freedivers?

Start with a freediving course, because there is so much more to learn than you think and there is also quite a bit of safety involved. In terms of destination, the Blue Hole near Dahab in Egypt remains a top destination if you are crazy about the sport. If you prefer beautiful reefs, you can freedive anywhere where you can generally also do scuba diving with little current.

I would like to experience an introduction. Is that possible? 

Of course. We give introductions all year round. We can set a date for groups of three or more people or you can sign up for our newsletter so that you can register for the planned dates. More information can be found here:

Can anyone learn to freedive? What does a freediving training look like?

As a freediving school, we have a minimum age of 14 years. You also need good health and, if in doubt, a medical certificate. Just like with any regular diving training. The first training is called Freediver and consists of three half days of theory and a regular swimming pool and then a whole day at the depths. We usually use a pool in Germany for this, Dive4life. This is 20 meters deep. After the training you will be a safe freediver and buddy who can freedive safely anywhere in the world.

During Duikvaker you will be on stage as a guest speaker on Saturday February 3. Do you have something special in store?

Yes, I explain the benefits you (also as a scuba diver) can get from freediving and how you can best deal with a stressful situation. This also makes you a safer scuba diver. Curious? Be sure to come and have a listen.


Nanja van den Broek

Judith Van de Griendt and Nanja van den Broek together run a freediving school in the Amsterdam area, Enker. Nanja is a well-known name in the sport with 30 Dutch records and a Variable Weight world record. She descended to 130 meters in one breath and swam up under her own power. They provide freediving training all year round. From introductions, training from beginners to advanced, specialties and instructor training.
Judith Van de Griendt is an award-winning underwater photographer. She likes to contribute to nature conservation. She prefers to photograph freediving using natural light. The photos can be ordered via the website.

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