Meet the adventurer: ice freediver Kiki Bosch on the transformative power of the ocean

Dutch diver Kiki Bosch plunges to extreme depths in the world’s coldest waters as a form of therapy, helping her to deal with the trauma of sexual assault. Now her story is revealed in the award-winning documentary, Descent (2020).

Published 6 Nov 2020, 12:18 GMT, Updated 9 Nov 2020, 09:50 GMT
Kiki Bosch

Kiki Bosch is the subject of the 2020 documentary Descent, directed by Nays Baghai, which won Best Australian Documentary at the Sydney Film Festival.

Photograph by Aukusti Heinonen

For Kiki Bosch, ice freediver and cold water immersion practitioner, there's one rule to abide by when submerging into glacial waters: to silence the mind.

The professional diver turned from scuba diving in Southeast Asia to plunging into subzero Arctic waters to catalyse her recovery as a survivor of sexual assault — choosing the fjords of Greenland and the frozen lakes of Finland, amid raw natural beauty, as the setting.

Now, her inspiring story has been captured in the award-winning documentary Descent, directed by Australian filmmaker Nays Baghai. Exploring her journey to recovery, the documentary — which premieres in the UK at the Raindance Film Festival from 28 October to 7 November — offers a captivating insight into the transformative power of adventure. We catch up with Kiki on her most poignant moments, favourite diving destinations, and the ways in which cold water immersion has helped to reframe her trauma.

You’ve dived all over the world. Is there one particular location that you have a special affinity with?

It has to be Silfra, in Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park. It was the first place I ever dived in cold water. Here, you're literally swimming between two of Earth’s tectonic plates. On one side, you can touch America, and then the other side, you're touching a plate of Europe. It brings everything — especially the human body — into perspective.

Any notable encounters with wildlife?

There was this one experience in Tromsø [northern Norway] while on expedition. We were about to turn around, as we were losing light, fast. But we got a call from a touring company that had found a pod of killer whales, so we immediately jumped in the water to observe them. Soon, tourist boats started to arrive and the pod swam deeper and deeper, so we began to move away. Just as I was swimming away, I saw a massive humpback whale about to breach — it was just an arm’s length away. I was able to look into its eyes so closely. I had a spiritual moment that day. I felt so grateful that these creatures had allowed us in their environment for that time.

Have you had any scary moments?

Never. There’s no place where I feel more at home than in the ocean. I spend a lot of time surrounded by nature — I even lived in a cave for a little while in Sydney, Australia.

And any poignant ones?

When we were shooting a short film in Norway, I passed out while diving. When I emerged, I couldn't warm up — I felt like my heart just couldn't take it anymore. Eventually, returning to the water, I had to allow that bond of trust with the ocean to come back to me. That was really life-changing for me — I had a near death experience there.

You practise and teach the Wim Hof Method of cold water immersion. Is that a growing trend?

There’s a community of people getting together for weekly dips — and it’s taking place all over the world. People are bonding with the forces of nature — like the cold. To me, it's the pinnacle of mindfulness. You have to get out of your mind and be fully present within your body and within your breath. That's the beauty of this work — it's uniting people and helping them to stand together to face their personal challenges. I love to teach the way in which you can shift and change both your nervous system and your perception of life through cold water immersion.

How has adventure helped you to tackle personal trauma?

Adventure was a major factor in helping me to deal with my healing. Just by going on an adventure — no matter what it is — you’re challenging yourself. By challenging yourself, you’re connecting to something bigger than yourself, and it’s possible to reframe your own trauma. The main reason I do what I do is because the cold has been a healing journey. It helped me get through the lowest points in my life. It has shown me how to overcome trauma, depression and self-doubt, and come out at the other end as a more improved person.

Many people look up to you. Who do you admire?

There are many. They have one thing in common — they step out of their comfort zones and out of the mundane. From extreme sports to meditation, mental and physical challenges help to show people what’s possible with the human body. I look up to anyone who plays to the edges of what’s known to mankind right now — be they scientists or sportspeople.

How do you plan an adventure?

I find myself drawn to places that have a raw beauty, where you can be immersed in the pure force of nature — like Iceland and Greenland. They’re both so intriguing to me. In Iceland, you can experience all the seasons in one day. It’s beautiful to observe.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

It’s esoteric, but relevant. Get back to yourself and back to your breathing. And always be grateful.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to get into ice freediving?

Challenge yourself one step at a time. Have a cold shower for five seconds, then make it 10 seconds and gradually build it up to a minute. By challenging yourself that little bit every day and stepping out of your comfort zone and into your power, you’re able to regulate yourself in extreme environments.

Kiki Bosch is the subject of the 2020 documentary Descent, directed by Nays Baghai, which won Best Australian Documentary at the Sydney Film Festival. Descent premieres in the UK at the Raindance Film Festival (28 October to 7 November).

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