Interview Miguel Lozano
30 minutes with… Miguel Lozano
Miguel Lozano is a hard man to pin down. Even though he’s not competing he’s at the hole every day providing a constant stream of banter and considered advice to pretty much anyone who’ll listen. In the evening, true to his promise on bowing out of the competition, he spends his time “drinking, smoking and…” Well… let’s not say too much about the other one. I finally manage to catch him down at Rowdy boys where, over a beef-burger that has my vegetarian mouth watering, he tells me why.
Ok so… hello Miguel Lozano! Thanks for being here, thanks for doing this interview You’re welcome! You’re…enormous. Is that an advantage for you in freediving?
You mean… tall ha?! Yes. [laughs] Err… many people ask me this question and I’m not really sure. Maybe! I always say that you have examples of people like Tomoka [Fukuda], very small people who go very deep with small lungs. I’m 195cm, I have 10l of lungs but I have to move 90 kilos. So I think it’s more related to efficiency. Maybe it can help tall freedivers because you have a lot of air and you are able to relax and conserve more of it… maybe more streamlined, more power, but I don’t really know exactly.
But it’s not about having more reach for free immersion or something like that?
Err… I was thinking that could be… I don’t know. I’m not only focussed on Free Immersion. This last 2 years I focussed on that but I’ve been training constant weight, and as you can see [Alexey] Molchanov is doing 114m in Free Immersion and he’s quite small…
So I think in freediving at depth it’s more important to have a strong breath-hold than how tall you are.
What’s your best static?
8 minutes. I don’t train at all. It’s not really my discipline. I like it more than dynamic but really I don’t train it at all.
In 2011 at the triple depth competition you did 90m CWT as well as 90m FIM and at the time they were your deepest competition dives. After that you focussed almost entirely on FIM and made it all the way to 117m. What was it that made you focus on FIM at that time?
Well, before the triple depth I did a record attempt to 100m in CWT and after I reached 100m - that’s a kind of goal for all freedivers, like a ‘magic number’ and all this - I kind of lost motivation so when I woke up the next morning I said… now what? I have to do more? And when I had this thought I started to train a little bit FIM and I got hooked by the discipline. It comes kind of naturally… I think maybe that’s one of the problems for freedivers: we don’t have enough time to train all disciplines. You have to focus on one discipline to learn it deeply. I learned a lot from this discipline. You know when I was doing 70, 80, 90m FIM I thought it was easier than CWT, it was less tiring for me, but when I started to do dives deeper than 100m, 110, 115, I started to understand that that [FIM] is more hard than people think. You need a long breath-hold, you need flexibility in the chest, also the narcosis, I think, is stronger because you are longer at depth. And mentally I found some differences [compared to CWT]: I never had bad thoughts on the constant weight but in Free Immersion I had bad thoughts on the breathe-up, because I know I’m going to go deep and I’m not going to have any propulsion with a monofin and this makes you have some bad thoughts sometimes like…ok what happens if I lose my lanyard, release it maybe if I get stuck, and don’t see the line. Like here [at Dean’t Blue Hole] for example, it’s completely dark… you have these thoughts but afterwards you focus and it’s gone but it makes you feel it’s more difficult sometimes mentally. Also the way up sometimes it’s hard, because you know it’s going to be a long way and… you have more time to think because it’s less physical. Many times I’m saying to myself “oh shit… what are you doing at this depth?!” [laughs] Sometimes I have this but I try to get rid of them and I focus on technique and things like that.
Is there anything that you like about the discipline?!
[laughs] No I love the discipline! I love it, for sure! But I’m telling you about the challenges.
And was it for the challenges that you chose it? No no no no! I discovered them when I started doing it. Probably I’m thinking to train next year for No-Fins because I never trained it. I reached 75m but with maybe only 10 sessions in a year. So probably I will find a lot of hard things along the way! It’s mentally hard, probably more than in Free Immersion. I say this but I’m not really sure because last year in Bali I did 75m and mentally I was very peaceful because I knew that 75 was not…ah… even if I feel bad, I pull and that’s it. So it’s not mentally like 120m. But of course if you dive like [William] Trubridge or Alexey [Molchanov] to 100m then that’s another thing!
You’ve said a little bit already about the problems with Narcosis and so on in Free Immersion particularly. Your Free Immersion dive profiles are quite a lot longer than a lot of other people - you posted a 6 minute dive as part of the lead up to this competition, do you get a lot of trouble with narcosis?
Not really, not really. It only concerns me if I have bad thoughts so I work on this so that I don’t have them. What I do with long dives to a shallower depth is to work with contractions on the freefall. For example sometimes I have contractions, sometimes I don’t but when I have contractions, it can lead to a lung squeeze so when I’m training long dives to shallower depths I’ll work to control the contractions, sometimes to hold the contractions, sometimes to magnify them. When you see the contraction come but you are completely relaxed, the contraction is softer, so I can work with this at shallower depths. It’s not everything because on a deep dive you freefall faster and you have equalisation things and you are at depth with less air, you are very focussed… but it helps me, also mentally, to know that even with a long dive I can hold my breath long enough so I feel more safe.
What about DCS? Have you had any problems with that?
No, never. It’s something that we have to take care of from now I think. I think if you regularly train depth, with enough time to rest, you get more used to it. It’s different if you’re very strong. For me, I’m not so strong physically so when I dive below 100m I feel tired for that day and the next day so my body tells me “rest”. For people like Alexey [Molchanov] and Matteusz [Malina] who are very strong physically, they can dive every day for many days because they are not tired. So this can lead to some DCS I think, but I cannot say for certain because maybe tomorrow I will have DCS! I don’t have enough knowledge to talk about this but I think that one dive, even to below 100m for more than 4mins, cannot lead to DCS [by itself] but maybe repeated diving for many weeks to more than 100m… maybe it can happen. But I don’t understand why, if you’ve released the nitrogen [with an adequate surface interval] I don’t understand why you can have DCS even if you dive every day. We don’t really know I think.
If it wasn’t for the time you spent in Nassau caring for Antonio Garcia in 2012 do you think you’d have broken the world record?
I cannot say that. For myself, I went for 108m the first day and was diving 113, 114 in training so I put less for the first day… and it comes kind of naturally. People always say to me “oh you’re a very good friend to Antonio” and this sort of thing. I’m surprised that people get so surprised because I think it’s normal to go with your friend when they have a problem. But I went, and I came back and I started to announce deeper because I felt good every time; myself and the others told me “you’re ok, you’re very fine where you are” so I put a little bit more. Probably the only thing I can say is, because I’d just arrived from Nassau out of the plane and I went straight to the Blue Hole for my first dive (113m). I thought just to turn at 75m but I felt more or less good and I kept on going down. But that wasn’t so good in terms of equalisation and relaxation. Then I took 1 or 2 days rest and then I did 117m and it was my best dive in terms of how I felt. Then I had the chance to go for the world record and I had only 1 day’s rest. Maybe if I didn’t have this problem I would have scheduled my dives a bit better so I would have had more rest days.. but this you never know. I was nervous also, I had contractions very early on the way down. Equalisation was not a problem, maybe I was a bit narcosed at depth and I stretched myself a little bit too far. I woke up when I realised I was on the bottom plate and that maybe caused a lung squeeze because I had a very strange movement. And a long dive, like, nearly 5 minutes dive time; it was too much for this kind of dive. So… could be, or could not, I never think about it really.
A lot of people have seen your Facebook post about withdrawing from Vertical Blue this year. It’s a pretty unique thing for an athlete of your calibre to be so open about such a decision. Can you talk us through it?
Well the decision… I was diving in Egypt with some problems, I had one squeeze in Dahab so that made my performance go down - not really in terms of breath-hold or technique but I had to rest. I did some mistakes on the training itself also: I didn’t rest enough and probably this year I didn’t have enough time for adaptation. I went straight to depth, in the first week I was below 100m. I came [to VB] knowing that this could happen, because I had the squeeze and I wanted to rest for 1 week. I said ok I’m gonna go and I’ll do the first dives, let’s see what I’m feeling and I arrived with just 1 day for training before the competition. I did 85m and the dive was good, no contractions, nothing like that, easy dive, but in the afternoon I had some blood and that made me worry. When I woke up the next morning I went swimming and I coughed, and I still had blood… fresh blood. So for me it was like, ok, it’s fresh blood, after 1 day this is not… It’s still open or something like that. So in terms of this, as I was planning to dive between 100 and 120 and I had this problem at 85, I realised that, ok I can do the competition and dive 85 or 95m and this was not my objective. I wouldn’t be very safe on the line, maybe feeling a bit anxious so I didn’t want to feel like this in my diving. I asked friends… I asked Umberto Pellizari and he told me “look, if you have to ask your friends, you already know the answer.” I was worried about sponsors and media and friends and he told me “if you tell people the real problem, and you explain to them why, if they don’t understand then they don’t deserve you.” So that makes me like…ok! You never know in these kinds of dives what’s going to happen but beforehand you have to at least be confident that it’s going to be possible.
How do you feel about that decision now?
[He takes a moment to chew thoughtfully on a mouthful of chips] Now I feel good. I feel a bit bored… [laughs] because I mean… 2 weeks here, not diving! I mean, I’m doing, like, 30, 40, 50m just to play around. I’m trying to help my friends, to be around, to be… I don’t know… coaching the people who need it. It’s not doing nothing but I can correct things, I can do the easy stuff. I feel good. I feel good because I think I took the right decision. Probably [if I dived] I would harm myself or I wouldn’t be relaxed enough in the day before, in the announcement, in the dive itself. So I think I made the right decision. The only thing is you see the people diving, you see the competition and I’m not feeling part of it. I’m friends with everybody, I like everybody but it’s different when compete, you are with the others, you suffer and you win with the others and it’s more like part of the game. But it’s ok. The first day I was disappointed but after the next day I was completely fine, you know I’m not the kind of person who is easily frustrated.
How has the death of Nicholas Mevoli affected your approach to freediving?
I think quite a lot. I kind of recognise myself in Nicholas because… I never had squeezes until last year. I had one at 122m but I think that was maybe not so much the dive itself but everything that happened at the bottom… but I never used to dive with squeezes. Then last year in Kalamata I had these problems and I was diving not very good, having problems around 110 maybe with a squeeze. Before Nick we knew that this wasn’t good but we didn’t have big concerns about diving with [squeeze]. After Nick’s death I kind of saw myself in a mirror, let’s say… like it could happen to anyone. I think all of us were a little bit hooked with the numbers you know? We all want to get the records of course, and not just this competition, at every competition and you can see that everyone was just adding meters and meters because we want to get better and it could happen to everybody. He took probably the wrong decision. It was a mistake, I think, he made a mistake to dive in that condition but it could happen to anybody. I’m sure my diving changed for me after that. I always say that he saved our lives somehow because now we’re taking more care about this. It’s sad that someone has to die for us to learn, but we learn from his mistake and I think my diving changed. I wouldn’t dive with repetitive squeezes any more. But you know… it’s very fast decisions that you take and I don’t think Nick was different from any of us. Many people say he was too much crazy. Maybe he was young and inexperienced, but maybe that’s the way we’re all learning to dive deep I don’t know.
That’s very honest, thank you.
I don’t know how to speak any other way, you know?!
How do you plan to go forwards now? Do you have any ideas about how to train to avoid lung squeeze?
My main problem at the moment is consistency. For the last few years I was living in a permanent place in Egypt, in Tenerife, where I could dive every day. I like diving so I don’t go to the pool or to the gym because I have the chance to go to the sea. The last 2 years I’ve been travelling a lot, I didn’t live in a permanent place, so I didn’t have enough time I think for diving - not deep - but just repetition diving. I did lots of courses but you know you’re in 20 or 30m that is not training. So if I want to go deep again, I have to have time to be in the sea with adaptation properly and get my body used to it for lung compression. I used to do a lot of FRCs very deep, around 70m and I think that helps me a lot to adapt my body. I have to add some stretching too. I went to these depths just with what I have, I didn’t train, like months in the gym or in the pool. There is maybe a point where I have to recognise that there is a limit to my body. With my mind and my technique and my relaxation I could reach good depths but I need to add some physiological and physical help.
Do you want to dive deep? Do you want to put that time in?
Yes yes! I don’t have a real planning to organise this, but I want to learn what I did wrong, to do it better, to have time to get stronger, to get deeper in a safer way. To train the parts that I don’t usually train. This could make the difference. I’m going to do it, I think, progressively. I won’t put any pressure on [myself] to do it. If I reach it, I do it and that’s my main focus: I go deep because I like it but I’m not going to go crazy if I don’t reach it again. I don’t need to do world records to be happy.
What’s wrong with Freediving culture at the moment?
[Laughs] Maybe more parties…?! [Another long pause while he chews a mouthful.] I think… what is wrong…? It’s difficult to say because it’s very subjective.
Of course. But I’m just asking for your opinion.
Yes. I think the rush is one of the problems. To get goals. I think you can start to get goals when you have a whole picture of freediving. I remember when I was living in Dahab, I was living there so I didn’t have any rush for anything. I did my instructor course but I didn’t really want to teach because I didn’t really feel like a freediver. I remember people in the Blue Hole asking me - because people come from all over the world for 2 weeks training, and they have objectives, have a plan - and they ask me “what do you want to do today?” And I didn’t understand the question, I couldn’t answer anything. I would say… “I don’t know!” Maybe if I was diving 45m I’d put the line at 45 or 40 or whatever, but I’m not going to do a progression because I’m living in Dahab so I don’t have a rush! So I remember I was diving 40, 50m for a long time. Long dives, on an exhale, even statics at the bottom, so it was so so simple for me to do 40, 50m that I felt confident, and that made me learn a lot about myself. That’s probably what I don’t have now below 100m. For me, 100m is kind of an easy dive but below 100, 120, it’s still a learning zone. It’s not like I’ve been 10 years at that depth like Alexey [Molchanov] or Guillaume Nery. Maybe I have to do the same as what I did at 40 or 50m to get experience at that depth regularly. And this is the main problem I think in freediving - there is a rush to get objectives so fast, you lose a little bit the essence of the sport. I think once your only goal in freediving is numbers, the game is over so fast: You do world records or you black out. [laughs] So I think the learning process is so important, and so beautiful. To understand yourself. When you just focus on progression, you lose a little bit of this. For my first dives below 110m I never had alarms because I don’t like them. I didn’t count any pulls or kicks or where I do my mouthfill. I did it naturally because for me, alarms make me anxious because I have an expectation: When the alarm doesn’t sound when I think it should sound I get nervous! When I take off the alarm I know where I have to do my mouthfill because I feel where I am. Now I do use an alarm because I think that if you have a methodology for deep deep dives you can play safer and know if you are good or not or if you have to turn or not. I think it’s possible to be too technical. You see people with the best equipment, the best neck-weight, [fluid] goggles and everything to go to 30m or whatever! It’s good that there is more equipment, there’s more media and everything, but don’t lose the sense of the sport.
What about the organisation? I’m talking about AIDA, I’m talking about the system of judges… Is there room for another governing body in freediving that operates in a different way?
I think it’s difficult to say because I’m not very into the rules. I know there are a few rules I need to know! [laughs] For a non-English speaker it’s very difficult. If you don’t have very good English, to read all these rules is tiring because it’s not easy, I’m not very interested in things like that. I understand that you need rules to be fair for everybody, but sometimes you make it difficult for the athlete because the tag, the surface protocol… it can make you anxious. I don’t know which could be the way but I think it must be more simplified. In the end, all these rules don’t make it easier to go deeper, they make it more difficult. Nowadays we have technology, we have watches, we have cameras so maybe sometimes we don’t need judges, I don’t know. And that’s another thing you know, you need money: If one year I’m very fit and I want to do a record attempt, I will have to look for a lot of money to organise Judges, all these things and maybe there is something easier for the people who don’t have money.
So you’re talking about a system that works by… maybe you film a record attempt; you have surface footage, you have bottom footage, a depth gauge to say how deep you’ve gone and you can just submit that to a different agency?
It could be something like this. I don’t know what would be the rules that you need because otherwise it would be very controversial - did they do it, didn’t they do it - who will check if they’ve used oxygen, is it fair is it not fair… So it must be fair. I don’t know. I think freediving is very young. You have that time when AIDA was born because CMAS didn’t want to [ratify depth any more]. Now you have a time where a lot of freedivers are going very deep and are starting to have, let’s say, problems: lung squeeze or blackout or something like that. So there’s lots of discussion about, for example, William [Trubridge’s] dive… It’s very difficult. I don’t have a clear opinion about it yet because I think that somehow it looks like we’re going back a little bit to the CMAS thing and with the media and everything you can’t have people just blacking out and blacking out and then ok I make it you know? Maybe it’s not the best example. I think in these competitions they are trying their best to make it safer, to control the people. For me, these discussions about William’s dive… I don’t know how much he’s blacked out in his life… people say a lot, right? But I don’t know if other people are doing more crazy things than him. But let’s say he’s an athlete and he knows what he’s doing. What I would like is for it to be fair for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you are Trubridge, Guillaume [Nery] or whoever, it must be fair for everybody.
Will you be diving next year for Spain or for Catalonia?
[Laughs] It depends if we get independence haha! Erm… I am Catalan and… it’s not like I am very nationalist because my Father is from North Spain, my Grandfather is from Basque country… I like Spain… but it’s a very difficult question because many sports people are making a living from Spain. Spain is not paying to me anything, or even Catalonia. I pay for myself or my sponsors pay for me, but it’s not a country. Catalonia is a state and they want independence because the Spanish government is still very young in democracy, it’s anchored in the ’78 constitution. We do not have referendums, we cannot ask the people what they think. I think that Catalonia is very open-minded, very progressive in its institutions and its people. More similar to some other countries in Europe than what it is to Spain. So I think that people are asking more for real democracy than real independence. If we get independence, maybe we can get some real democracy. Democracy for me is no corruption, the right of the people to vote, but not just every 4 years, to vote in every decision. In Switzerland they have 10 or 15 referendums every year and if they don’t like what the government is doing, if they vote, they can take the decision away from the government… But I will not put up any flag probably!
You’ve mentioned it once already… You’re known as someone who likes to party. How compatible is that with a freediving lifestyle?… As you take a bit of your beef-burger!
I’m not competing now so it’s ok. Haha! Look… I’m not a party person. I party 2 or 3 times a year. And I’m getting older, so… I get tired earlier! But… for me, life is not only one thing. I need to enjoy many things to be happy. And I think for freediving, you need to be happy to enjoy what you’re doing with passion. Otherwise, if I only do freediving - which I love - I could get a little bit bored or tired. So for me I need to share. I need to have friends, I have to have a life besides freediving. I don’t think that if you go and party and get drunk - I mean, maybe if you do it in the last week before a competition it’s not that intelligent - but what I do normally is in the 2 or 3 months before a competition I take more care than normal. I like healthy food because I like cooking, but if sometimes I feel like having a bit of whiskey or chips or something I do it. Probably if I didn’t do it, I would feel like I’m containing myself all the time and I’m not that kind of person. So I’m like… this is my objective but… flow a little bit, otherwise it’s too difficult.
Ok finally… You’ve attracted more attention for withdrawing from this competition than for many of your greatest achievements. You could probably be a millionaire if you announced your retirement. Are you planning to do that?!
Haha! Oh really?! If I retire now I can be a millionaire?!
Well it seems like quite a popular decision you know…
[Laughs] Well I never thought about it really. When I wrote this [withdrawing from VB] I kind of felt bad and I said thanks to the community for understanding because some people put a lot of expectations on me, and then suddenly I don’t compete. So I said sorry for this and I got surprised by how many people wrote to me with their opinion about how they thought it was a strong decision. I’m very very thankful for what they think about it. I never thought this could be an example because I thought it was a decision that most people could take.
So why do you think that people did respond in that way?
I think that more or less we are all of us the same. With exceptions, but I think that many people recognised themselves in Nick [Mevoli] and I think that many people recognised themselves in my decision. I think maybe they were in this [same] situation, or maybe not but they can see themselves in the same position and think “fuck I could do the same” but maybe it’s hard to take the decision sometimes. But if somebody [else] does it, you think “maybe I could do it [too]”. I remember a guy in Bali when I was there for a competition and I was drinking and smoking… like normal in a party and he came to me and said… “Miguel, thank you very much man. I see you here, like in a party and this, and you give me hope to be a professional freediver!” [laughs]. I think it’s like this. I think we are more or less the same. We like to enjoy what we do. It’s very difficult to live from freediving because now there are very many top freedivers, you have to be very good in media, very good in videos and photos and sponsorship, you have to know how to sell yourself, you have to be smart, you have to be deep, you have to be funny… but for most of the people who aren’t professionals, they may recognise themselves in me: Ok, [someone with a] lack of adaptation, he goes two weeks to Dahab, has a squeeze but keeps going because he wants the National record, which is nothing other than a bit of ego for ourselves you know because he doesn’t need the record, he works in computers or something. I’ve seen people damage themselves for a national record, like, crazy enough even to give up the sport and I say why?! It’s incredible, you push until you don’t like this sport anymore, you fuck yourself, your hobby, something that you love?! You fuck yourself, your hobby just for this. I recognise that in myself sometimes but for me, I have to work. Guillaume, these people, we have to push a little bit because we live on this. The decision is a little bit harder because the sponsor gives me the money to be here and… and what am I going to do. This time I knew my chances to do a world record were very low and even if I would do it, I might damage myself so I took the decision.
Thanks, I think you’re right. People do respect that decision.
Miguel Lozano is the 3rd deepest FIM diver of all time. When not travelling the world in search of the perfect underwater experience, he lives and works in Tenerife where he runs Apnea Canarias.