When a last minute opportunity arises to revisit some of natures most unspoilt destinations for an underwater film shoot, it’s almost impossible to say no. Last weekend we took a whirlwind tour of Iceland to join the team from Beautiful Destinations (named one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies in 2017) as they document the story of ice freediver Kiki Bosch.
At this time of year Iceland experiences 24 hours of daylight, which turns out to be a blessing when your plan is to film several unique locations around Iceland’s iconic ring road in just three days.
Þingvellir national park
The journey started with an early morning shoot at Þingvellir national park where Kiki braved the 2 degree glacial melt water in just a swimsuit. Earlier this year a video we shot of Kiki in at this location which reached over 20 million people around the world. The purpose of this latest shoot was for the team to document that this type of dive is no easy feat.
While the original clip demonstrated Kiki’s calm composure while free diving in this crisp ice water, the story extends much further beyond a simple act of courage and spontaneity. These kind of shoots require careful planning and safety measures. Kiki must be both mentally and physically prepared. She has built up a tolerance to the cold and through her training to become a Wim Hof Method instructor, she has thoroughly researched both the risks and benefits of cold exposure.
Warning: NEVER practice the Wim Hof Method breathing exercises before Freediving. It is extremely dangerous, click here to learn more about why.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Our next beautiful destination lies 370km East of the country’s capital. It may be hard to believe, but the lagoon is a relatively new phenomenon. Glaciers fluctuate in size due to prevailing global weather patterns and by the late 19th century, the massive Vatnajökull glacier was one of the largest in the world. As temperatures gradually increased, the glacier retreated and one of the many by-products of this movement was the creation of a large lagoon during the 1930s.
The lagoon itself is one of the deepest lakes in Iceland, more than 300m deep, and is full of chunky icebergs floating around the waters after having been calved from the glacier itself. Kiki had a shot in mind of sitting on an iceberg in the middle of this lagoon.
Thanks to the expert guidance of our skipper, we managed to get up close to a recently flipped iceberg. Since it had recently overturned, the locals explained that it was unlikely to break or flip again. The underside of this icy lump was simply spectacular and the perfect backdrop for Kiki’s shoot.
NOTE: Swimming around icebergs can be very risky. This shoot was conducted under the guidance of experienced locals and should not be attempted.
After Kiki’s shoot, we met up with some of Iceland’s local Wim Hof enthusiasts. On our last visit we interviewed a number of locals who explained to us a wide range of benefits to their practice. While many would consider a swim in freezing cold water a crazy act of self punishment, for many of these guys and girls it is quite the opposite.
Humpback whales near Akureyri
The following day we made a dash up North to take advantage of the annual aggregation of Humpback whales near Iceland’s second largest city, Akureyri. Just a short drive out of town we met up with Erlendur Bogason who owns and runs Strytan Divecenter. Erlendur kindly offered to take us out into Skjálfandi Bay where he explained that humpback whales come each winter to feed.
Erlendur is one of Iceland’s diving legends and has over 25 years of diving experience in this country. In 1997 he discovered the worlds largest geothermal underwater chimney which is home to a diverse range of unique marine life. Since it’s discovery. Erlendur helped make this area Iceland’s first underwater protected area in 2001.
As we spoke about our filming objectives, Erlendur explained that the wind was strong and conditions would be challenging. On the positive side, from the dive centre’s hot tub we could see breaching whales and dolphins not far offshore.
While in many places around the world snorkelling with whales is Illegal, in Iceland no such restrictions apply. Some would argue that these interactions may cause disturbances to the whales but Erlendur disagreed and believes that the loud vibrations from some of the larger whale watching tour boats in the area had a far greater impact on the feeding whales.
“Twenty years ago we used to drive straight up to the whales and try and jump in, but they would just swim off. Over the year’s we’ve learned that if we stop the boat, they are more likely to swim up to us. They come back here each year because they know it’s a safe place, and we’re seeing more and more each year.”
Erlendur has even made friends with one particular whale which he can recognise by the markings on it’s tail fin. He explained that he always looks out for this whale because it is more curious than the others, and will often take three breaths at the surface near the boat.
Before we knew it we were out on the water and literally surrounded by whales. However with high winds and rough seas we knew this was going to be challenging. Kiki once again opted to dive without a wetsuit and while the water was warmer (about 8 degrees C), the wind chill was a big factor we had to consider. Luckily Kiki had her Dryrobe to keep her warm while we waited for the perfect opportunity to jump in.
On many occasions it was very tempting to jump in but Erlendur gave us strict instructions to only jump when he deemed it appropriate. We reluctantly waited – snorkel in mouth, for his call. Timing was crucial because these whales only remain at the surface for a shot time. After a few jumps with no luck, we finally found ourselves face to face with a roughly 14m, 30 tonne ocean giant.
This experience was something that we will never forget and we can’t thank Erlendur enough for making this dream come true. The whales stay in the bay for many weeks over the summer so if you’re interested in snorkelling with whales in Iceland he is your man to get in touch with. We will be back ourselves in early August and have our fingers crossed for some better conditions.
We finished off the weekend’s filming back at Þingvellir national park to trial out a new Action camera by Apeman. The company gave us a 4K camera to try out and we are even giving one away. If you’d like to win one, just share this video with a comment on where you would like to do some underwater filming?