Namibian freediving record holder and Pure Apnea Master Instructor Trainer, Stephan Kirsten is one of the most experienced freediving instructors in the Southern Hemisphere. Stephan heads up a team of professional freediving instructors and snorkeling guides at Cape Town Freediving in South Africa. He is also an avid nature lover who takes every chance to freedive with sharks and whales. Let’s learn more about Stephan!
Could you please introduce yourself to our readers? (The same way you introduce yourself to new students)
I started freediving about 10 years ago on Koh Tao, Thailand while working there as a Scuba instructor. I have been a freediving instructor for 6 years now, having worked in multiple places around the world. I’m now based in Cape Town, South Africa at Cape Town Freediving.
When, where and why did you start freediving? What inspired you to get started?
As mentioned, I started on Koh Tao while working as a scuba instructor. I became curious about freedivers when I started seeing them messing around at the same depths I was scuba diving. That really piqued my interest, so I signed up for a Level 1 course at one of the local schools to see what it is all about.
What is your favourite freediving location and why?
I’ve been asked this question hundreds of times and I still cannot answer it. If I really have to pick one, then I would go with Lake Guinas, Namibia. The lake offers 120m+ depth and 26C waters year round! You can find an endemic fish species, there are incredible overhangs with different types of stalactites, beautiful rock formations and swim throughs.
But there is more than just the diving. The whole surrounding experience around the diving is just as great. The lake is set in the African bush, one camps and prepares meals around a communal camp fire and you are close to one of the world’s premier wildlife reserves, the Etosha National Park.
What has been your most memorable dive so far?
Another one of those impossible questions. My 2 attempts to dive with the notorious orca duo, Port and Starboard, come to mind. It is an exhilarating feeling seeing the ocean’s apex predator swimming towards you. Unfortunately they chose to ignore us on both occasions and I have not been able to see them underwater yet. One day soon though.
What is your favourite marine animal and have you freedived with one yet?
I really love diving with sharks. Doesn’t matter how many times you have seen them, there is always a surge of excitement when you see them coming out of the blue, or murk…
I have dived with many of the big species, with whale sharks, Bull sharks and greater hammerheads standing out. The gentleman in the grey suit is still to be encountered though.
Why did you become a freediving instructor?
I didn’t have much work as a scuba instructor and I was busy working my way through the freediving levels. I thought to myself that I might as well go all the way and apply my teaching skills and knowledge of the ocean and water to a different facet of diving
Where do you teach your courses?
I am the head instructor and Master Instructor Trainer at Cape Town Freediving in South Africa. We are based in Muizenberg and dive all along the Cape Peninsula in the kelp forests that abound here.
How would you describe your local freediving community?
It is a very active community of ocean enthusiasts ranging from young kids all the way to grandparents enjoying the local underwater fauna and flora. The majority of our community focuses on Adventure Freediving with only a small group seeking to push their abilities in the pool or depth.
What gives you the greatest sense of achievement or satisfaction when teaching freediving?
I really love seeing the change of people doubting themselves at the start of the course, believing that they won’t be able to master the skills, to them slowly starting to realise that it is actually possible. I love seeing the look of surprise after the first round of breathholds which changes to pure joy at having achieved something incredible, or that look after surfacing from the first dive and seeing the incredible beauty underwater.
If you had to convince a friend to try freediving, what would you tell them?
Friends and family are the worst people to try and convince or to teach. It is much easier to convince a stranger. They take your word for what it is. Friends tend to question what you are saying or want to skip steps.
If I try and convince a person to try freediving, I tell them that it can be a very challenging yet very rewarding skill to learn. It forces you to become aware of your body like few other skills. Together with that self-awareness you build, it opens up a completely new world that can barely be glimpsed from the surface. No need to just see the underwater world on TV, you can experience it through your own eyes while exploring your own abilities.
Thank you Stephan!