Freediver Johanna Nordblad does not fear cold water – Merino baselayer set is also Johanna’s favourite
Finnish Johanna Nordblad swims in natural waters all year round. The world record holder of under ice diving is completely in her element in cold waters.
Insights into life
An everyday moment at a meeting became a critical point in Johanna’s life. Instead of concentrating on the topic, Johanna was drawing during the meeting. The caption of the image said: ‘I thought of doing what I want.’ The drawing felt meaningful. The image that was created accidentally in that very moment opened Johanna’s mind and crystallized her hopes.
’I saved that image. I knew I wouldn’t like to forget this thing. Life is not worth wasting in doing things that you don’t want to do’, Johanna tells us about her awakening.
A big change in life was as much physical as mental. In addition to work being meaningful, Johanna’s life was affected by nerve pain that had been caused by an accident that took place in 2010 in downhill biking. Even though it had been possible to save the leg, nothing was as before. The pain had become a significant part of her life.
In 2013 Johanna decided to try cold therapy for pain management instead of medicines. Johanna had heard that ice cold water had several health impacts. What started as soaking the sore leg in cold water, continued soon as swimming in cold water. That story has not ended yet.
’I believe that the talk about the impact of cold water is true. I got rid of the pain’, Johanna told us.
Swimming in cold waters carried her away that strongly that she decided to leave the work in an advertising agency behind.
Diving is a big part of Johanna’s life. Scuba diving had changed into freediving already in year 2000. After getting to know cold water swimming freediving became also a profession for Johanna. In Finland water is a great part of the year either cold or ice cold. Today, Johanna does various underwater filming jobs and productions and instructs freediving. She is also working on a mobile application that helps you to practice breath-holding.
‘Of course, freediving takes most of both my working and leisure time, and occasionally I also compete in it. In addition to work, for me it, however, is a way to relax, spend time in nature and to hang out with friends. Swimming always makes me feel good. The colder the water, the better I feel’, laughs Johanna.
’The colder the water, the better I feel’.
In freediving one’s own mind plays a big role
Even though Johanna likes to be in cold water, she also finds cold water cold. She also feels the accumulation of carbon dioxide in her system. Freediving, as the name suggests, means diving without any devices. Without an oxygen bottle, carbon dioxide starts to build up in one’s body during the minutes’ long breath-holding. Nausea that follows the breath-holding is not caused by the lack of oxygen, but instead, by the fact that you cannot get rid of the carbon dioxide. For this reason, it is important to know what happens in your body. You shouldn’t give way to your imagination.
’During long dives, the greatest adversary is your own mind. One has to learn to know him- or herself really well, to be able to dive safely. You must be able to read the messages conveyed by your system really accurately. How much more can you hold your breath, or how the cold affects your vital functions. You must not mix opinions or feelings with the messages. Raw data must be accepted as it is. Just like holding your breath, you can feel the cold water immensely. When you combine the cold water and breath-holding, you must be able to focus on the moment and on listening to yourself really accurately’, Johanna opens up her sport.
When Johanna started diving in cold water, at first, she had to learn how it feels just before she starts to get nervous. She found the process of recognizing emotions at the same time difficult, however interesting.
’If you stop being relaxed, and you don’t believe in yourself, diving becomes impossible. And not only mentally, but also physically. If I’m nervous, my system won’t start to save oxygen at any stage of the dive. Oxygen is consumed a lot, the dive won’t become long, and it will be almost impossible to determine during the dive, when it is time to come up’, Johanna tells us.
Because the cold water slows vital functions in a manner similar to diving response, one starts to get excited about the dive already before the actual performance.
Johanna’s training is firmly based on breath-holding exercises. They help one to learn at the same time how to control feelings. Breath-holding simulates also the parasympathetic nervous system, when stress is triggered and your mind stays in a good state.
Johanna tells us that according to research, breath-holding exercises improve one’s oxygen intake. The body’s ability to use oxygen is improved, when you can maintain a high carbon dioxide level during any performance. The exercises have also other special effects. Breath-holding starts for example the production of the EPO hormone in one’s own system. Nevertheless, for Johanna, the most important thing in those exercises is the relaxation they bring about.
’The best thing in freediving is a deep state of relaxation. The fact that every time I dive, something happens deep inside me. My mind becomes empty. I have a high motivation for everything I do’, Johanna tells us.
Johanna is delighted to correct a misconception that freediving is an extreme sport. She has opposite experiences. The purpose of everything is relaxation.
’It is absolutely fabulous that the same techniques I use in freediving to control my mind, work also in quite common everyday challenges. If I wish, I can relax my mind by relaxing my body with breath-holding exercises’, Johanna rejoices.
The exercises are not only hard work. Johanna feels that swimming in cold water and freediving are first of all play. She doesn’t feel that she would specifically have to go training.
For the world record holder in under ice diving, Johanna has quite a relaxed attitude towards her training. She sums up her attitude in these words: ‘If something feels good, then you like to do it a lot. And if you train something more than the others do, you generally know how to do things better than the others do’.
An amazing world record
Johanna’s most recent record is the world record of under ice diving from one hole in the ice to another ice hole, wearing just a swim suit instead of a diving suit. The record is exceptionally 103m, which is longer than men’s earlier record.
Johanna knows that it is not easy to break records. She feels that motivation has the most central role in the pursuit of a record.
’First, you should figure out, why you would try to break the record. It is not until then, when your daily training becomes such that you wouldn’t miss it at any price’, Johanna tells us about the process.
According to Johanna’s idea, learning is discovery. It is genuine joy of learning to understand something that you don’t know yet. Because after that, you can start to learn it.
’Setting targets gives you a good excuse to try to do your best. If you know you can do something, and you decide to do it, is that the right target? If you don’t know you can do something and then you decide to find out, how you could do it. This is what I’d call a target’, Johanna ponders.
Johanna wants to set targets for herself, because then you cannot know in advance, what are the things that you need to learn along the way. She thinks that all those things that you don’t know are difficult. And immediately, after you learn them, they become easy.
At the moment Johanna doesn’t have any other big targets in mind, except one: ’My aim is to spend for example a year without figuring out any targets. To enjoy small, simple everyday things’, Johanna laughs.
Life takes place outside
An active and sporty woman enjoys both quiet and faster sports. Johanna’s list of sports is rather versatile. The most important thing in choosing the sports is the fact that you can spend time outdoors and in nature. Johanna likes to counterbalance quiet sports such as kayaking trips, mountain biking and snow-boarding by driving a trial motorbike or an enduro bike in the forests or a RIB boat at sea.
‘I spend a lot time at sea, and when you have dressed correctly, it doesn’t matter, what the weather is like. For example, long kayaking trips would be absolutely impossible without wool products. A benefit of merino wool is the fact that it doesn’t tingle my skin even though it gets wet’, Johanna tells us.
Johanna has worn wool products ever since she was 20 years old. She thanks the expansion of the product range during 25 years. Good and warm gear allows you to exercise and spend time outdoors comfortably regardless of the season.
’North Outdoor’s baselayer sets are my newest favourite. They are soft and flexible. They suit well for hobbies and daily life. I even wore them secretly under a festive dress’, Johanna laughs.