Episode 1

Hypoxia Tolerance with Vic Ventura and Dan Karl


Hypoxia Tolerance Training via Underwater Rock Running

Featuring Dan Karl and Vic Ventura

I was pretty young the first time I ever saw footage of someone running across the bottom of the ocean floor. He was clutching a boulder in his arms, running in what felt like fluid, slow motion. Small clouds of silt kicked up with each exaggerated strike of the foot against the bottom, which appeared more like the surface of an alien planet rather than the bottom of the sea. The poise and focus amidst what was surely a claustrophobic, suffocating experience was like little else I’d ever seen.

In that moment, the feat appeared superhuman to me.

I knew right there that I wanted that ability. To transcend the limits of normal to achieve something that seemed beyond human. I think that every one of us probably feels that way about some aspect of life, even if the medium is often starkly different.

That said, I couldn’t for a second imagine why anyone WOULDN’T want to run across the bottom of the ocean, using the weight of the rock they’re carrying in their hands to hold them underwater. What didn’t sound awesome about that?

At the time however, it felt hopeless. Surely, I had to live in Hawaii, and learn all sorts of mystical skills from some type of ocean Jedi Knight that my clueless, New Jersey bound self would struggle to reach. Little did I know then what I do now, the lone secret that would open the door to that opportunity and countless more. . . there is no such thing as superhuman.

There is only human.

I also came to learn that one needn’t be in some hard-to-reach, South Pacific Paradise to practice this skill. In fact, my first experience with underwater rock running, or Hypoxia Tolerance Training as it was presented to me, was in a reservoir in my good old home state of NJ.

It was introduced to me by Vic Ventura, who as a surfer and former competitive swimmer had indulged in the practice for some time. After trying it a few times it didn’t take me long to figure out why. It was equal bits as enthralling and challenging as I’d imagined it, and every bit as otherworldly as it had seemed in the video I’d first seen.

I’ve always thought that water was amongst the most humbling forces on earth, second only to being forced to listen to Christmas music everywhere you go for an entire month straight. Water has kicked my ass multiple times. I’ve been snatched from drowning twice, once as a very young child, and once as bullheaded teenager. I’ve had my head bashed repeatedly against the ocean floor trying to catch waves in the Costa Rican Pacific, only to get caught and pulled out in a rip current that same day. Most notably I’ve taken my share of nasty swims through rapids while whitewater kayaking, on some occasions pin-balling against rock and river bottom before finally emerging, looking and feeling like Joe Pesci at the end of Casino.

Not a single one of those things is something that I’d be eager to experience ever again if I didn’t have to. Yet that was exactly the point of the practice: it was as much, if not more about sharpening one’s mental poise and clarity under extreme discomfort than it was about physical training. Yes, there was plenty of breath work and physical prowess to be practiced and improved. But ultimately, it was a mental game first.

Like every other extreme thing I’d ever tried, I found that digging deep enough brought one to the same, universal foundation: everything is won in the mind. In the attitude. It only further proved what I’d long believed: that we as humans are capable of great feats not through magic, but through discipline and will. I didn’t know it then, but that was the conclusion that would one day go on to become Embrace the Animal.

Now don’t get me wrong, Vic kicked my ass every time starting out, and still often does. As does Dan Karl, after he started joining us. Keeping the training company of surfers and commercial divers when it comes to the water serves well to keep one in the constant search for improvement.

And ultimately, I realized that as a practice it was perhaps one of the best ways to introduce not only Embrace the Animal, but a couple of my friends/teammates/maniacs that have helped take it from a concept in my head to the platform that came to life today with this first episode.

I can tell you this, turning this idea into a reality has definitely felt far more stressful at times than running across a lake bottom until you nearly run out of oxygen. But it’s alive now, and there is only more to come.

Which is at the very least, a brief breath of relief.

Click Here to watch the full conversation on YouTube.