Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast

The Deepest Man in Holland: Daan Verhoeven and how freediving opened up an understanding to his late father's legacy

November 01, 2019 Hosts Jason Elias and Paul Kelway Season 1 Episode 4
Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast
The Deepest Man in Holland: Daan Verhoeven and how freediving opened up an understanding to his late father's legacy
Chapters
Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast
The Deepest Man in Holland: Daan Verhoeven and how freediving opened up an understanding to his late father's legacy
Nov 01, 2019 Season 1 Episode 4
Hosts Jason Elias and Paul Kelway

Daan Verhoeven talks about how freediving brought him closer to his late father

Show Notes Transcript

Daan Verhoeven talks about how freediving brought him closer to his late father

Hosts:

Hello and welcome to the big deep podcast, big, deep is a podcast about people who have a connection to the ocean, people for whom that connection is so strong it defines some aspect of their life. Over the course of the series, we'll talk to all sorts of people. And in each episode we'll explore the deeper meaning of that connection. In this episode we talked to a Marine biologist who was told by doctors she would never dive again and yet somehow still found herself at the bottom of the ocean. Hello, this is Paul Kelway and I am Jason Elias. Welcome to the big deep podcast.

Jason Elias:

Our first guest is the Dutch freediver and photographer Daan Verhoeven. When Paul sat down to talk with him, Daan discussed how exploring the depths of the ocean while free diving had unlocked away of dealing with his recurring depression but had also led to the discovery of a special connection to his late father, a renowned Dutch philosopher in the most unusual of places.

Paul Kelway:

So Daan, you are a professional underwater cameraman and you've also been a competitive free diver , but you actually had to overcome quite a bit of fear of the water when you were younger. So I'm wondering if you could speak to that, perhaps share how you overcame that fear and how that led you on this journey of connection to the ocean.

Daan Verhoeven:

I grew up in a small town called Demboss in South of the Netherlands. And I remember we got swimming lessons at an early age and I was petrified of water. So my first memories of water were one of fear. And the way I got over this was my stepfather on a trip in France, he took me on his back and he went swimming.And he pushed off under water. And I went with him. And then when it was fine for me to get a breath again, I just let go of him. Yeah . And I experienced that rush of water over my head . I popped up to the surface and I love that sensation of flight . So based on that one sensation, I got over my fear of water. And then I was always in water and i t's like that fear became a challenge. And then i n 2 001 I was studying in New York and I had to come home because my father had brain cancer. So he was diagnosed with that and I was on a plane the next day. And the process of losing him and taking care of his legacy, in a way, i t was a beautiful thing to do and I don't regret it for a single moment, but it w as also because he was such an intellectual giant event of his death and grieving his death send me spiraling downwards into depression. So I was smoking cigarettes all day a nd a t night in order to call myself down I smoked weed a lot. There was a period of about four years where I was completely withdrawn from society. There were days where I wouldn't speak to anybody except for the person in the grocery store. And I think part of me realized, I need to find something to get out of this. I need to grasp something. So in 2005 I discovered free diving. When freediving came along, I all of a sudden that these sensations that were positive, I loved it and my body responded really well to it. I thought this is it. This is the thing. This is my lifeline. So I grabbed onto it with all my might . I started training like a madman. I quit smoking. My mentality got a lot better. And because free diving is in a way a team sport, there's a whole community of people who are on it, so I got back into the social aspect of life. It's a very demanding sport so you have to eat well. So I got on the a diet. So free diving was for me, the lifeline to throw myself out of that depression and I replaced something quite negative and depressing with something which really positive and optimistic.

Paul Kelway:

So clearly freediving was a very positive influence for you in terms of working with your depression, working with your mind. I'm just wondering, did it feel also show up in your free diving ? Is that something that you had to work with in that context? And if so, how did they show up and how did you work with it?

Daan Verhoeven:

I had it once I started hitting 55 -56 meters. I started experiencing, you have to at this point get everything right. It's no longer a very easy, if this is going to be all sort of tricky on the way back up. So I'm monitoring that part of the dive now where it's not going to be that easy anymore. And I accept that challenge. So I accept both the challenge off the dive itself and the challenge, what fear is trying to hold me back from. And then it helps you relax even more. Cause you acknowledge that fear you're there. I understand why you're there. Thank you for your warning. I'll take it into consideration. But I keep going anyway. And then on the way back up, there's that gratification of conquering a bit of an inner demon. Cause I used to be so fearful that I didn't do things and I was okay , I can conquer it. It's like every time I do this, I kinda conquer my depression a little again. You know, I win again. And I think most people who've been sort of depression can relate to that. Every day does a bit of a struggle and every day there's a bit of a victory when you come through it and you've not given it to it. So within a dye , if you can have those feelings and overcome them, and at the same time experience the loveliness of a deep dive because there is nothing quite like a deep dive in this world. It's almost as if you're sort of having to look at yourself under this very intense lens. And then from that changes happening when you frame it is like a lens or like a mirror for yourself. If you hold your breath during anything first thing that is going on inside your body, it will pop off . Augmented . What would happen to me during a long breathold was a big NO in my head, this big gray cloud of negativity. And it can help you explore that. It can help you deal with those feelings.

Paul Kelway:

So there's no hiding underwater in that sense.

Daan Verhoeven:

No, there's no hiding from yourself because if you stop your breathing , you'd become this self contained thing. You're in the water, the water is carrying you so you don't have to fight gravity or anything old that there is is you and your awareness, this little speck of awareness, that awareness goes somewhere. It can go to the breath anymore. No, it goes inside your psych , your insights, your body and equals like what's going on here. It can help you explore that. It can help you deal with those feelings. I think we sense in the sea it's such a humongous presence and even on calm days you can feel that it has depth that we don't know and it has energies that we can sense. So as soon as you step into it, you feel part of something that's so much larger than you are or you lose a bit of sense of self and you come more at one with something larger than you are. So yeah, free diving or did the sea or water as a lens or a mirror. This is very much a presence.

Paul Kelway:

Is there any deep dives or any times in particular that stand out to you? A particular place or a particular experience that comes to mind?

Daan Verhoeven:

The dive that Springs to mind as one of my favorite ones is there's a place in Egypt's celled the blue hole and that place is magical because it's a natural reef and it's kind of in this circular shape , but at 56 meters deep there's an arch towards the open sea. So you have this illuminated grew arch in front of you. The arch is very much like a cathedral in a way, and I just hung there and it was that combination of the intents of blue , which is a color that I love also, that lights cold to me and I looked at it and I almost. I hung there and I almost let go of the line because it was calling me. It was drawing to me and it was such a peaceful, beautiful, pure moment of just being deep, very, very relaxed, completely relaxed. My heart rates at 55 meters 30 maybe lower, so everything in your body is really calm and then there's that view and like all of a sudden I snapped out of it. I thought like, I'm almost 60 meters, I need to go back up. But that one moment where you're hanging in front of that old inspiring site and you're feeling one with the water, which is such an amazing element to feel one with. It's kind of like being one with a God. So I've got lots of lots and lots of flavor dives, but if I think about one that's probably the one that sounds like a really amazing underwater experience.

Paul Kelway:

You also competed in freediving, Daan, and I wanted to ask you to talk about that. How far did you take the competitive side of diving and what kind of impact did that have on your life?

Daan Verhoeven:

I started competing in 2006 because I noticed that I quite like the atmosphere and the ambience around competitions. I wasn't sure about competitions at first because at that point I didn't quite see the point of going as deep as you possibly could. I was still very much a recreational freediver in that I like to explore things and I'd like to go into structures and go into a wreck, that kind of stuff. But a friend of mine entered a pool competition and I went to go along with them and I experienced the camaraderie and I really liked the atmosphere. So I started really competing a lot. And then I entered the depths competition in Germany and I kind of accidentally said the Dutch record. Like the Dutch record, no fins depth was 35 meters. We kind of consider that a warmup dive now, but in 2006 it wasn't very deep, but I thought, okay, I had done 35 with fins on before in that Lake, so I now it's 36. The guy after me announced 37 and he was a very experienced freediver and I thought, okay, that's funny, I have a record for five minutes. He dies, comes back up, and he had a blackout. It kind of meant that I was now the record holder in Holland. So all of a sudden from being a complete newbie, I went to being a record holder and that changed a couple of things. One of the things that changed was people started noticing me into free diving scene. It's a tiny little scene in Holland and people started looking at me going like, Hey, you're doing something here. And I didn't quite like that. I felt like I was diving more from numbers than I was for experience. But the thing I really enjoyed about it was I was the deepest man in Holland. And that gave me a realization because my father was the deepest man in Holland, metaphysically. He was a philosopher and when he died he was on the news because it was considered Holland's deepest thinker. He was the greatest philosopher, he was the deepest man metaphysically. And I always felt, let's say inadequate or like an evolutionary step backwards compared to him. Because I, I just wasn't as clever as he was. I wasn't as good with the words and I wasn't as good with thoughts or a reading or like I could not for the life of me figure out what the hell Heidegger was saying. So now all of a sudden I am deep as well, I'm the deepest man and in Holland as well. But I am that physically. And I realized that we both got deep because we followed our passion. He was working every day on that desk that I'm sitting on right now. He was writing every day, thinking every day. He was following his own almost compulsion to create and to write. And I was swimming everyday, holding my breath every day, following the compulsion to freedive, to dive like that. And then following our passions we got deeper and deeper and deeper. And that's what connected us. My passion was quite similar to his passion. I recognize my dad in that passion . I recognized our connection Because he writes a lot about how you find the source of wonder in being a passive observer and letting things come to you instead of actively pursuing them . And freediving is in a way like that. There's a certain point during a dive where you have to become passive. You have to let the pressure, if the water gets to you, you have to let it implode you. It's a surrender to gravity. If you fight it, you will lose. The water is so much stronger than you are. It will crush you if you let it happen. Let it happen. So free diving and philosophy do have a couple of meeting points where I think if I were to talk to my father about it, he recognize it.

Paul Kelway:

You sort of found him underwater with your own exploration.

Daan Verhoeven:

Yes it's a strange place to find a father who doesn't swim.

Paul Kelway:

Finally we end every interview and every episode by asking a single open ended question of everyone we talked with. What does the ocean mean to you?

Daan Verhoeven:

What the ocean to me, yes, it's potential, isn't it, and she has the potential to take your life without even caring and she has the potential to play with you and she has the potential to teach you very painful lessons. She can be a home and she can do things to light that you wouldn't have imagined possible. Like all of a sudden light turns into honey and she can make your mouth saltier and thirstier than you've ever been and she can lift you and crush you. Man, the ocean, she has the potential to set you free. She's beyond my words, that's for sure.

Hosts:

Thank you for listening to the big deep podcast. Next time on big deep and then there's that view where you are hanging in front of that orange firing site and it was such a peaceful, pure moment of just being deep and you're feeling one with the water, which is such an amazing element. We feel one way. It's kind of like being one with a God. We really appreciate you being with us on this journey into the big deep as we explore notion of stories. If you like what you're doing, please make sure to subscribe, like and comment in our show in iTunes, overcast, SoundCloud or wherever you catch your podcasts with those subscribes and links really make a difference for more interviews, deeper discussions with our guests, photos and updates on anything you've heard. There's a lot more content at our website, bigdeep.com com plus. If you know someone you think we should talk to, just let us know what the big deep website is. We are always looking to hear more stories from interesting people who are deeply connected to our world's oceans. Thanks again for joining us.