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Martin "Čárys" Cheníček: Freediving is the cheapest trip to another planet

21/6/2021 | Horsefeathers / Renata

Martin, whom many people know by the nickname "Čárys", is an ultimate athlete. He started with skateboarding and snowboarding, which he liked so much at the time, that he opened one of the few skate shops in Czech Republic. He later switched to a bike and became a Horsefeathers team rider. He is currently doing running, yoga, but especially freediving. You will learn more about him in the following interview!

Martin Cheníček

Martin, a lot of people know you by the nickname "Čárys " (which means something like lines). How did it come about? And why this nickname?

Haha, I really wasn't expecting this question. It's from the days when I rode a motorcycle. I have some tattoos and people have told me my skin is doodled, so it kind of originated from it. That's how people started calling me, and it's been with me ever since.


You are an ultimate athlete. Can you tell us which sports you did in the past and which you do now?

I started skateboarding, in the communists era, and that fascinated me. Then I switched to snowboarding and board sports in general. In '96, when I graduated, I opened a skate shop because I loved it, it was my lifestyle. It was one of the few skate shops in the Czech Republic at the time. We started riding in the mountains, we were still there. After years, other sports were added, biking, after a while it was biking in the woods, fast and downhill. In the winter I did snowboarding and in the summer I also wanted to do something funny, which is not dependent on glaciers and snow conditions on the glaciers, so I started downhill biking. And for the last 10 years, it has drawn me to further developments, rather to mental ones, so I started freediving, which is a very interesting sport, it's such a game on another planet. And currently I do kiteboarding, surfing, freediving, I teach running, yoga. Quite enough. But what feels the most like me now, is probably a freediving instructor. That is my main activity. I do it about 200 - 250 days a year.

Did you do any of it competitively?

Yes, I did snowboarding competitively, for about 8 years. I rode the U-ramp, boardercross, jumps and so on. And then I started to be attracted to the big mountains. Later I started competing in bike riding, and that was my, so to speak, life sport. To this day, biking, riding in the woods with big jumps is a matter of the heart for me. You can ride a bike in the rain, in the mud, in the snow, in the summer, in the winter, build your own tracks, be in the woods, ride fast and do amazing things there. And I love that. I competed in biking for 10 years at the Czech Cup, sometimes a Europe cups or a world ones. But I was more of an enthusiast than a talent. I don't compete in freediving at all. I decided that I had enaugh of that. 

This is what Martin's work as a freedive instructor in Bali looks like.

Through biking, you actually got to cooperate with Horsefeathers, when was it?

It was in 2005. I've actually cooperate with the guys from Horsefeathers before, through my skate shop. But then they asked me if I would like to ride for Horsefeathers, get some clothes when I'm so active. I was actually the first person of the Horsefeathers bike team.


Don't you miss biking and the adrenaline that was brought with it?

Definitely yes, I miss it. But I'm the type of athlete that's what he's doing. I'm currently on an island in Croatia, where I'm freediving, so at the moment I'm a freediver. But then when I'm in the woods riding a bike, I'm a biker. However, the truth is that deep in my heart I love biking and I miss it. The whole community, jumping big jumps, riding bike parks, improving in it. But at the moment, I don't have time for that, and I can't hurt myself because of the actions that have already been agreed around the world.

You mentioned that you live on an island and with the lifestyle you lead, it is probably not compatible to live in one place. So where do you live?

I live in Croatia for 4 months a year. People sometimes have a stigma about Croatia, that everyone goes there. But we are on an island, we have our own house, our own boat, I cruise with clients around the islands, we dive, there are a lot of beautiful things, dolphins and amazing visibility underwater. In the autumn I then return to the Czech Republic, where we organize running and biking camps. And later in the autumn I go to Indonesia, where I live until December-January. Now I'm building my own big diving resort there, so maybe I'll be there even longer. In January, I return to the Czech Republic, where there are amazing conditions for snowboarding, and in March we usually get out somewhere, either for a month somewhere warm, to Egypt, or back to Bali. And slowly my next season in Croatia is slowly starting and another year has passed. I am not bored. I love it, my job is my dream, but it's still the work.


Let's move on to freedivig now. Could you briefly explain to us what it is?

It is diving on the single inhale to depths or distances. The main thing there is the inhale. You hold your breath and either swim as far as possible in the pool or as deep as possible somewhere in the ocean or sea. Furthermore, the breath can be held in peace when you are not moving, you just relax on the surface and hold your breath. Freediving is a special sport, I always tell people that it is the cheapest trip to another planet. You inhale, you don't need anything because the breath is free. And for a few minutes you can be underwater, be somewhere where you can be weightless, there is silence around you and creatures that come to you for interaction. It's not just a sport, it's an amazing experience.

How did you get into freedivig?

Once upon a time, I dived to a depth of about five meters in a Czech lake, I stayed there for about a minute, and when I came up, a friend told me that it had been quite a long time and that there is a sport where you can dive into the depths on a single inhale. I didn't know anything about it, but I wanted to try it, I took a course, but for a long time I did it just like that, recreationally in the Czech lakes. When I returned to the Czech republic from Portugal in 2011, where I taught surfing, I had a turning point. The business with the skate shop stopped making sense to me. I had such a bigger mental change and I decided that I would rather sell my rich sports experiences to people. I threw myself on the path of freediving. I sold what I could in the Czech Republic, closed the shop, handed out some things and disappeared to Indonesia, where I started a new life stage.


So you are currently a freediving instructor. If I decided now that I wanted to start freediving, what would you advise me to do?

It's not about pulling people into business, but the truth is, you have to take a course. Just like if you want to race in cars, you have to get a driver's license first. It works the same way. Be careful if you try it yourself. You cannot breathe underwater, so if something happens, it's final. It's not like falling on a bike or roller blades, it's fatal here. So I would definitely start by taking a course, there you will learn how to balance the pressure in the cavities in the body and so on. It is important. After that two-day course, usually in the pool, one finds out if it's his cup of tea or not.

What is the content of these courses? What can people expect from them?

We do a lot of relaxation under the water, because most people dive into the water and are a little stressed. No wonder, because you're not actually breathing there. Many people struggle with fear. We deal with safety, relaxation, dive techniques, and then there's a lot of theory about pressure equalization, equipment, training, and breathing techniques. We learn where to direct the breath, how deep it should be, what physiological processes take place in the body and so on. There are 10-12 hours of theory and 5-6 hours of practice in the pool. The pool course lasts two days and I would say that it is such a complete preparation from safety, through technique, psyche, physique to the overall angle of view of this sport. And then you are ready to try it in the sea. 


How does it feel to be down there? I know you've had tens of thousands of dives, what does still attract you there?

A few years ago, the countdown disappeared from my head underwater. I no longer thought that it would be uncomfortable at any moment and that I should go up. Suddenly I didn't feel anything under the water. I was home there, as if I were lying on the couch. And this feeling is the feeling I love the most about it. And when it comes to freediving to depths, it's just such a small life in there. You inhale up there and then fall down, into silence, into darkness. From a few tens of meters you don't even have to kick your feet, because you're so "crumpled", the volume of air in the cavities is tiny and you fall somewhere deep by your own weight. And then when you turn around and want to go up, you have to use your powers and abilities to rise back from the bottom to the light. You have to start kicking. You kick, you kick and you kick, and the whole dive ends with a breath above the water surface. You inhale again and tell yourself how good it is to breathe. It's like such a feeling, as if you were born again. And suddenly you find out that you want to repeat it. And you can. You can repeat it again in another 4-5 minutes. I don't think there are many things that are more addictive, if you get into it and tune in mentally. It's not about the numbers you reach, but rather the depth within you find.

Can you tell us the numbers you are in? How deep can you dive?

After all those years of diving, I can say today that without any preparation, or with only minimal preparation, I will dive to a depth of about 50 meters. When I have a longer preparation for it, let's say about 7-9 minutes, my deepest dive is slightly below 80 meters. But those 80 meters is already a thing I have to train for, I need to know what I'm doing with chest flexibility, stretching, breathing techniques. Some people, I would say such rugged instructors, say that 50-60 meters will be learned by everyone. But I don't think so at all. It's really about your mental predispositions, how hard you want to train, what you want to leave because of it. I think that whoever learns to equalize the pressure in the middle ear on the course, will dive without training to about 20 meters. For a depths more than 40 m, it is necessary to train.


And in minutes? 

I can hold my breath without movement for over 7 minutes, and in the so-called dive-times, where I dive into a certain depth where I move, it is more than 4 minutes. I've never been a person who dives into extreme depths, I'll probably never do a hundred, but such relaxing freediving fulfills exactly what I want. Within it, I moved on to quite nice times and that was actually my goal.

Somewhere I saw that as part of freediving, you dived to a shipwreck in Indonesia, in Mexican caves, and you also dived with sharks in Africa.

Yes, in Indonesia, at a depth of 20-40 meters, my two favorite wrecks are. It's really magic there, it's dark there, you can sit in the cabin and relax. It's an amazing thing. There is 100 meters of visibility in the caves in Mexico, which is just like in the air, the rays of light shine through there, the caves are deep and it's just beautiful there. And as for the interaction with sharks, we were filming one underwater documentary in South Africa, and there were always about 15-20 sharks. Whitefish shark, blacktip shark, sometimes even tiger shark. But it wasn't dangerous. Those animals are amazing. And if you know how to treat them with respect, basically nothing can happen to you. I often say that when you see an angry pit bull somewhere behind a fence, you don't stick your fingers in it either. Underwater it works exactly the same. We try to treat those creatures with respect. We are not tasty to them, we're wearing wetsuits, why would they bite us. When you see that the situation under water is changing, and this applies not only to sharks, but also to dolphins, whales, seals and so on, then it is necessary to back down and not want to play with the animal at all costs. Because you have a problem the moment it starts to play with you.


Do you have any favourite freediving experience?

There are many of them, but I will mention two of them. The first was when we dived a few years back with our clients in Egypt. A herd of dolphins came to me several times and one of them seemed to like me. I was still tempted to continue swimming with them, somewhere towards Saudi Arabia. This is how we caught up, and then as I swam to the surface, the dolphin was getting closer and closer to me, offering me its fins. So I thought I'd catch him if he wanted it so bad. I held his fins and we went like this for a while. It was my life experience. It was with a completely wild dolphin. A very unique interaction for me, which I will probably never forget. And the second was in Mexico, where we dived in a place where fishing was not allowed for 5 years, so hundreds of millions of sardines swam there. It was just an explosion of life. An incredible amount. No light penetrated the water through the huge herd. It was beautiful to see how nature can regenerate itself. All we have to do, is give her space.

Do you have any goals in freediving?

My goal is to stay in the same physical condition, to be just as happy with this sport as I am now, to prolong my time underwater, to be healthy for a long time and to be able to do this amazing work with great people for as long as possible. Just be an active instructor for a very long time. That's probably my freediving goal. 


Finally, do you have anything you would like to pass on to people?

I also do psychological counseling as I am studied in it. And people have a huge problem today. The problem is that they can no longer focus on anything. They can't find momentary relaxation in the things they do in life. We are still in a lot of tension, and even though we say we are working on it when we go to qigong and yoga classes, it is only a few times a week. And what about the other time? I think that from every life situation one should take something positive, something with which he moves on, even from negative things. When something happens, take something good from it, so that it does not happen again or so that I can name it better next time or solve the situation better. So I guess I'd like to tell people not to deal much with what's going on around them during the days and look for fun in every situation, because life is supposed to be fun. By that I don't mean that we should just have fun, but that we should enjoy life. That we should be happy with life. And I think it's important for people to work on it. Whatever they do, whether they work hard at work, even if it's digging trenches. It brings you money and it allows you to live some life away from work. So the job is actually great and we should be happy to have it, right? And don't be angry when it work. It's just awareness. I would just like people to be aware of what is happening, to be more relaxed, not to take everything so seriously and to look for some joy and happiness in everything.


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