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Reviews

Oct 18, 2018

European Outdoor Film Tour: Side-Splitting Hilarity

The 18th annual European Film Tour hits its stride, inspiring and cracking up thousands in 300 venues across 15 countries.

WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

For my first experience at a European Outdoor Film Tour event, I expected to see short documentary films about inspirational daredevils conquering fear itself and performing at the absolute peak of their sport. What I did not expect was the consistent comedy amidst the extreme in POV. Anyone standing outside the theater would think we were screened an advance release of Pineapple Express 2. Side-split and gut-busted, I returned home pleasantly surprised.

Order tickets here.

Now in it’s 18th year, the E.O.F.T presents a roundup of some of the most outstanding outdoors and adventure films of the year. The inclusion of an experienced host, who introduced each of the eight films over the course of three hours, generated a film festival atmosphere, as if I was attending the premiere of each film.

Launching in more than 300 venues across 15 countries, the EOFT promotes the spirit of adventure. There is no script, no actors and no CGI – only true stories of accomplishment and overcoming the odds.

Luxembourg Screening

With a packed house, the Luxembourg community showed its appreciation for the event. The Luxembourg screening took place at Rockhal, one of the top entertainment venues in the country. Situated in a former industrial site, with megalithic steel structures juxtaposed with futuristic architecture, Rockhal feels like some off-world planet in the Blade Runner franchise. However, the screening room itself did not quite live up to a cinema experience due to its smaller screen, uncomfortable chairs and painfully long concession lines. I’d vote to move the screening to Kinepolis movie theatre next year.

Rockhal, an industrial business and entertainment park in Luxembourg

The EOFT is a family-friendly event with mostly G-rated inspirational content. The only distressing scenes of the entire event were a relatively minor injury and the emotional story of Tom Belz’s struggle with cancer before attempting to summit Kilimanjaro.

The Lineup

From mountain biking in the Arctic Circle, to roller-skiing the length of North America, to world-record paragliding in Pakistan, the film compilation spanned the globe.

North of Nightfall

North of Nightfall started the show. A group of elite mountain bikers travel to Axel Heiberg Island, Canada’s seventh largest island that lies north of the Arctic Circle, in search of bottomless descents.

A to B Rollerski

A to B Rollerski stood out as my favorite. From the flamboyant 80’s fashion to Raimonds Dombrovskis’ bold personality, this is the one I’ll be re-watching every year on a creaky, scratched-up DVD. Raimonds Dombrovskis repeats the longest training run of his biathlon career, which covered 6,700 kilometers from the northern tip of Canada down to the Mexican boder, on rollerskis. As an added bonus, the director traveled to the event to answer questions and speak about the film in person.

Raimonds Dombrovskis rollerskis across North America to train to represent Latvia in the Olympics in biathlon.

Mbuzi Dume – Strong Goat

Perhaps the most inspiring film of the day was Mbuzi Dume – Strong Goat. The film follows Tom Belz’s journey to summit Kilimanjaro one-legged, as Tom’s left leg was amputated when he was just eight years old. Very skillfully and nimbly, and with exceptional grit, Tom uses crutches to traverse a variety of mountainous terrains.

Cancer survivor Tom Belz sets his sights on Kilimanjaro.

8000+

What stunt could be more ambitious or risky than paragliding among the Karakorum mountains in Pakistan for three weeks, alone? Antoine Girard defly maneuvers the upwinds with the aim to set a new altitude record in paragliding above the 8,000 meter mark.

Antoine Girard paraglides through the Karakorum mountains in Pakistan.

Viacruxis

After a 30 minute intermission, the show continued with Viacruxis, a hilarious stop-motion animated film depicting a mountaineering duo wordlessly toiling towards the summit through thick fog, falling rocks and butting egos.

This stop-motion animated film is the only unreal action of the tour.

The Frenchy

It’s impossible not to be charmed and won over by The Frenchy. 82 year old Jacques Houot is still an adamant multi-sport racer who has escaped death more times than you can count on two hands.

82 year old Jacques Houot’s stays young and fit by competing in downhill bike and ski competitions.

The A.O.

The lineup of films was presented as a crescendo leading up to the climactic climbing documentary of Adam Ondra (cue the debate between Adam and Alex Honnold here). Adam devotes himself completely, body and mind to accomplishing the first 9c difficulty level climb. We get a behind the scenes look at the non-traditional methods Adam experiments with to solve such a grueling problem. This film featured some of the most unintentionally funny scenes out of the evening’s lineup, with Adam mentally visualizing the route while groaning on the floor.

Frozen Mind

Feeling a bit out of place, the showrunners screened one more film after The A.O. that was by far the least engaging of the day with cliched narration. Victor de le Rue and Pierre Hourticq navigate narrow crevasses – skiing down with their shovels – in Charmonix.

Snowboard dangerous chutes in Charmonix.

Read Next on The Outdoor Journal: Aqua Negra Film Review: An Introspective Spearfishing Adventure

All in all, the event was highly entertaining and I look forward to making the EOFT an annual tradition.

To learn more about the European Outdoor Film Tour, click here. And order tickets, click here.

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Images: European Outdoor Film Tour

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Features

Feb 20, 2019

The Death Zone

World champion free-diver Pierre Frolla sinks without air to depths unreachable by most scuba divers. One day he nearly didn't make it back to the surface.

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WRITTEN BY

Pierre Frolla

This story originally featured in print, in the fall 2015 issue of The Outdoor Journal

Deep down under the sea, so far away from where you live, I have been through the last seconds of my life.

In 2005 or 2006 (oddly I don’t remember), I had the worst accident of my freediving career. After being world champion in variable weight apnea with a dive at 123 metres, where I used a weighted sled for descent and returned to the surface by pulling myself along a line and using my fins, I was training to go deeper.

“No matter what happens to you, you’re stuck underwater. There’s nowhere else to go.”

In my sport, risks are quite important. Imagine you’re running a 400-m race. You start way too fast, and after a few hundred meters you’re out of breath and you just can’t go anymore. What do you do? You just stop, walk a bit and slowly catch your breath again. When you’re free diving, no matter what happens to you, you’re stuck underwater. There’s nowhere else to go.

The basis of my sport is quite simple. Going beyond 100 meters is mythic. Only a few hardcore specialists, including the “no limit” guys can go beyond that. Athletes use a weighted sled to dive down and an inflatable bag to return to the surface. This means that the free diver reduces his energy loss to the max, and that’s exactly why he is able to go so deep. The world record is held by Austrian Herbert Nitsch: 249.5 metres on June 6, 2012, in Santorini, Greece. The problem is that at those depths, water pressure is unbelievable! At 100 m, for example, the pressure is about 11 kg per square centimeter of your skin. Consequently, the volume of air inside the human body is pressured and reduced too. Take an empty but sealed plastic bottle: If you get to this kind of depth, it’ll greatly deform. That plastic bottle is a metaphor for your body. This also means that if water manages to seep somewhere inside you through your mouth or nose, it will do so with such force that it’ll destroy everything in its path. Drowning is inevitable, and no Apneist can be saved in such case, even if experienced help quickly intervenes.

At great depths, nitrogen becomes narcotic and leads to what is called nitrogen narcosis. This kind of intoxication from staying in great depths for too long is the same as when you drink too much. In other words, you lose total control of your body and mind, and you become unaware of potential dangers. Acting like that underwater can kill you, as the slightest mistake will have incredible consequences. In my personal training, I mix apnea in variable weight and other constant weight dives, where I dive only with the force of my arms and legs.

Today, my team and I decide to put the weight to 118 m. I know I can go down 115 m, but we want to push a little, as it’s part of training. Once down, I’ll have no choice but to go back on my own. I also know there will be a small parachute and an oxygen tank hooked to the sled, but neither will be for me. The bottle empties very slowly and inflates the balloon. Both serve only to return equipment back to the surface. It’s easier for us to work like that rather than starting a counterweight system.

If I want to live, I have only four seconds to start my ascent. But I am stunned and unable to move. I think about my team: What will they do when they go down to find me, lifeless and filled with water?

I feel my legs sinking knee-deep in a soft, thick and viscous material.

I begin my descent. I pass my midterm diver. Very soon, it gets dark. I do not have glasses because they would serve me for nothing in this environment. So I stand, with my eyes closed. I’m relaxed and sinking slowly in the water like I’m used to. I feel the pressure now, but I also suddenly feel the sledge slowing. Then it stops, softly. Usually it stops dead. When I realize that something is wrong, I feel my legs sinking knee-deep in a soft, thick and viscous material. It is almost as if moving sands are closing in on me at 112 meters below the surface. It is actually a mixture of clay and silt, a mound a few meters higher than the sonar onboard the boat. It wasn’t identified even though it stood in the stack axis of the descent of my sledge. It’s nobody’s fault; sonar is not so precise.

In no time, I understand what’s happening to me. I’m stuck. I cannot get my feet outside the box, and I know there’s no exit door. I simply do not have enough oxygen to both work my way out of this with strength and go up as I have expected, swimming, with my hands and fins. If I want to live, I have only four seconds to start my ascent. But I am stopped, stunned and unable to move. I think about my team: What will they do when they go down to find me, lifeless and filled with water? I’m dying; that’s it. Today is the day. In 15 seconds, I will have consumed all the remaining air I was keeping for my ascent. I am also a few seconds away from being caught by nitrogen narcosis. I will go crazy right before dying.

“Did I become a vegetable?”

Suddenly, I have an idea. The parachute. Yes! I trigger the opening of the small air valve, which then rushes into the parachute. It’s working but it’s slow and long. So I wait, very still, with my eyes closed. I have no other choice. I try to relax. Everything at 112 m is multiplied by 10. One consumed oxygen molecule at the surface is equal to 10 or 12 molecules consumed at that kind of depth. One second is equivalent to 10 seconds. Time and life are both very cruel at the bottom of an ocean. I am now barely conscious. Finally, I remember feeling the chute tearing me away from my trap like a champagne cork. The ascent back to the surface, back to life, is way too long. When I reach the surface, I have strangely not entirely lost consciousness, but my body no longer responds to my brain. Did I become a vegetable? My team, frightened, retrieves and saves me. If I had not been so well-trained, I would not have survived this scary adventure. Instead of the planned 2 minutes and 40 seconds that I went down under water for, I stayed 3 minutes and 50 seconds. In the boat, I gradually recover and quickly regain all my abilities.

Pierre Frolla reascending to the surface, following the guideline with the sled and parachute attached to it.

A few years later, I’m on a movie set doing 60-m free diving over and over all day long, and an air bubble is created in my brain on one of these repetitive dives. But instead of being redirected into my lungs, it remains stuck in my head. When ascending, inevitably, this tiny compressed air bubble suddenly decompresses and its size gets multiplied by six. I immediately lose consciousness. Later, I wake up in a hyperbaric chamber. I stay there for eight and a half hours. But when I wake up in that box, I cannot feel my body. I’m unable to move. For hours, I do not know if I will stay quadriplegic or not. This awakening in the box is one of my worst-ever memories of free diving. I do not understand what is happening to me. It takes me 30 minutes to remember that I was free diving and to deduce that I certainly had a bad accident.

Apnea is an extreme sport. I’ll remember it always. Yesterday I dived to 113 meters. I’ll do it again tomorrow.

Photos by Franck Seguin

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