diving, woman, turtle

This underwater goddess says freediving is the new yoga

Words: Josh Rakic
Photo: Doug Falter

Kim Kertz dives to new depths to explore the physical and meditative world of freediving 

Underwater, freediver Kim Kertz is a model of elegance and beauty, the 25-year-old blonde effortlessly deep-diving for three minutes at a time and making that mermaid life look easy. But above the water, the endearing Florida product is quick to tell you she’s anything but, explaining her modeling - for lack of a better term - is strictly limited to below the ocean’s surface.

An intrepid traveler, it was only three years ago that Kertz first discovered freediving during downtime on a scuba trip. And after spending the best part of 12 months freediving the best of Florida’s natural springs, she packed up her swimsuit collection and fins and relocated to Hawaii with no plans other than freediving the lava tubes of Oahu and beyond.

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But the lens and then the ’Gram found her some 40 feet underwater, and Kertz has since earned growing notoriety - something that is starting to turn her passion into a career - a far cry from the bar she tends at on weekends to pay the bills.

We caught up with the real-life mermaid to get the inside line on underwater adventuring and why freediving is the new yoga.

THE RED BULLETIN: Kim, your underwater pics are popping up all over the place. You could be the world’s first underwater model…

KIM KERTZ: [laughs]. No! Not at all. I feel like I’m the most awkward model in the world. If you put me on dry land, I’m super awkward. In the water, I’m totally fine, but the second I’m on land I don’t know what to do [laughs]. I’ve never been into modeling or even enjoyed having my picture taken. This is all very new to me and unexpected. So when I work with photographers out here, I just do my own thing and stay in my own world. They don’t exist to me and whatever they do or don’t take is up to them. I do my own thing, because the second I start focusing on the camera I ruin my dive.

swim, freediving, ocean

© Doug Falter

How did it come about?

I’ve never really paid any attention to Instagram or social media. When I moved to Hawaii I ran into another diver named Justin Baluch when I was diving through a cave about 40 feet underwater. I just saw this person waving at me. He invited me to join him and his friends, and I started diving with him and made all these new friends, two of whom happened to be underwater photographers. And that’s how I got sucked into the Instagram thing. Justin is the one who does most of my videos.

You’ve been diving for three years now. What is the biggest appeal of freediving for you?

The water is rejuvenating. If I’m having a really bad day, I just go get in the ocean and I feel better. If I have to work that night at the bar, I go and dive first to get fresh and rejuvenated mentally. You can do yoga, you can meditate, but there’s nowhere on earth as isolated from the world as underwater. There are zero distractions. Freediving combines the best elements of yoga and meditation with being in the water. It’s the ultimate calm. When you’re diving you experience the thing that takes up the majority of the space of the world we live in.

Anyone can do it. It’s just one big mind came really. It’s all about relaxing and using your breath to calm your mind.
Kim Kertz
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And you’re adamant it’s something anyone can learn…

Anyone can do it. It’s really easy. Just one big mind game really. I recently posted a photo explaining simple breathing techniques that people can learn in their living rooms. It’s amazing seeing people who insist they can’t hold their breath for a minute, then after following some basic exercises and breathing techniques, they’re holding their breath for a minute and a half at a time. It’s all about relaxing and using your breath to calm your mind. It’s weird, you wouldn’t think it’d be so relaxing to deprive your body of oxygen.

ocean, hawaii, adventure

© Doug Falter

What’s the most important step other than breathing technique?

Confidence comes from safety. So learning the safety aspects of free diving is the first thing you need to do. That’s the hardest part. And once you have a grip on it, you’ll get into the water confident - and that’s half the battle won. Knowing the safety aspects and techniques is imperative to enjoy freediving and to dive confidently. And it’s relatively straightforward. 

“When you drop down below, whatever you have going on above the surface no longer exists. The only thing that matters is the moment you’re in and the life around you.”
Kim Kertz

What are the mental benefits compared to yoga and meditation on land?

Like yoga and meditation, you have to completely empty your mind and live in that moment, and appreciate it. And being underwater forces you to do that. You don’t have time to worry about that report you’ve got due when you’re focusing on your breathing and surrounded by water. When you drop down below, whatever you have going on above the surface no longer exists. The only thing that matters is the moment you’re in and the life around you, the waves and the coral, the little things you find hidden in the cracks. You turn around and there’s a shark cruising by. You never know what you’re going to get. It’s unpredictable, which makes every dive an adventure.

You learned to freedive in Florida’s natural freshwater springs…

That cold crystal clear water, diving into the earth and the cavernous underwater springs with 200 feet of visibility - it’s magic. It’s like swimming inside a water bottle. It’s insane. They’re some of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen. But the water is cold! And after a year diving them, I started looking into realistic places I could move that had better diving where the water is much warmer. 

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What’s the difference between ocean and spring diving?

In Hawaii you get to dive into the lava tubes, in one side and out the other. It’s an amazing feeling. Whereas with springs you dive in and then have to come back out. Both are beautiful, but there’s so much more to explore in the ocean.

From an exploration standpoint, what’s the difference between freediving and scuba?

I still scuba and enjoy it. But I only enjoy it now when I really wanna take my time checking something out, like a shipwreck. When you need more than three minutes. There’s more freedom freediving without any heavy gear that can prevent you from getting into small caves. It’s much easier to maneuvre without a huge tank on your back.

What would you say to people trying to decide between scuba and freediving?

Freediving is easier from a maneuverability standpoint, and with only fins you don’t have heavy gear that’s susceptible to malfunctioning. Your body can still suffer unforeseen issues, like shallow water blackouts, but that’s why you dive with a partner. Scuba is restrictive, when you’re surrounded by intense gear and weight. Where with freediving, it’s like what I would imagine floating in space would be like. You’re a little blob floating around in the ocean. It’s very humbling. It makes you realize how small you really are.

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