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Dødsing: Norwegian Death Diving

Tarran Travels Time to Norway ahead of the launch of the Descended from Odin X Ken Stornes collab range.

It was 23:45 as my taxi pulled into the darkened car park of the Midgard’s Viking Centre in Borre, Norway. I’d visited the site many times before, including in the dark, during their annual Midgard’s Blot, but this time it was in complete silence. In the dark, I was looking for something half man, half mountain troll.

The journey in had been absolute chaos with my friendly, but careless, Somalian driver having to swerve in a bridge to avoid running over a construction worker, despite the latter wearing a high vis & waving a red lantern with increasing urgency. My driver had laughed it off, his spirits undampened, and told me about a friend of his having actually hit one the previous year. I exited the vehicle, somewhat gladly despite being £100 lighter for the privilege of the 20 minute near-death experience. Near death experiences however, were something the man I was there to meet was all too familiar with.

As the cab pulled away, I found myself acutely aware of the dark, but fortunately as my eyes adjusted from the headlights glare, I found the moon was gently lighting the path. Shortly down the loose gravel way, I met the mountainously dense form of my friend, Norwegian infantry vet, and world record holding death diver (from a height of 40.5 meters no less), Mr Ken Stornes.

It being the third time meeting the fellow, we embraced warmly and set off down the trail, laughing at the possibility of falling over the many hills we would cross on the way to our lodgings for the night. I say ‘hills’ very loosely, for what we were in fact treading through were monstrous ship burial mounds of old Viking Kings..

With a degree of reverence, we passed the dark foreboding shapes, which in the black forest might as well have still been great silent ships. The moon danced across the forest floor as we went deeper and the yowling of what might have been a wolf drew closer and closer. It was in fact, the guiding tones of Ronja, Ken’s faithful Norwegian Elkhound, a hardy little breed that somehow looks like a cross between a dog and a reindeer and is the perfect companion to Ken Stornes in both image and soul. Her deep brown eyes danced in the fire, now needing stoking, that Ken had prepared for my arrival and now attended to.

I was glad to share a meal of stew and warm up with the flames, sharing stories in person again at last (for a good listen in, check out the episode with me & Ken on the Tarran Travels Time podcast!). We had to discuss, of course, Ken’s world record jump and the million other insane things he’d been doing on & off camera in the months that had followed. I can promise that fans have a lot to look forward to.

On the cold, pale sands we set up tent and turned in for the night. Tomorrow would bring a day of content creation, not for me, but with YouTuber Jesse James West, who had joined Ken for some diving and training earlier in the day. Tomorrow promised more action and a whole host of Norwegian social media personalities and athletes would be along for the ride. I found the idea of my quiet and relatively solitary friend descending into this lively vibe quite amusing and we laughed at the strangeness of life. It seemed even Ken wasn’t quite sure what was planned for the next day, but in his laid back way, took every adventure in his stride with good humour. For my fellow fair-weather campers, IF you ever find yourself sleeping on a beach in Norway so early in the season and on a bright, moonlit night, I strongly advise taking a very thick eye mask for both the light and the draft. Failing that, a Norwegian Elkhound and a second sleeping bag will do in a pinch!

The next day, I must admit, I was exhausted and spent much of it laying in the conservatory of the Viking Centre drinking coffee and nursing the gigantic mosquito bite under my eye (the fiends had found me in the night plenty but seemingly not dared to bite Ken, or else been unable to bite through his thick troll skin!). I napped the day away whilst all the hustle and bustle of ‘content creation’ was underway. I joined right at the end of the day alongside some visibly bemused living history re-enactors from the centre and spectated to the loud American style that passes for amusement these days. The overly energetic young man who’s channel it was, found himself surrounded by Norsemen and making quite the fuss about eating a sheep’s tongue (which is actually rather tasty) and eye ball (which is rather less tasty and pops in your mouth like an unexpected, icy ejaculate.). It was an eye opening behind the scenes look and they were all a perfectly normal and down to earth bunch after the last scene had cut, thankfully!

“You should be the new Liver King for these YouTube sorts” I joked on the drive back to Ken’s “only instead of making them eat bull testicles, you can make them eat their own testicles as they hit the cold water!” Ken laughed generously at my poor humour, despite a clearly dwindled social battery from the day. There really is something to the notion though, I can see plenty wanting to flock to the man who leads the sporting field by a country mile. In a past-time where a matter of an extra meter can mean death, Ken’s record is nearly 5 meters above the next closest athletes.

On the drive back, we stopped off at a motorway services for a supply of caffeine and from the bridge Ken eye balled the drop. “8 meters” he said, 20% of his world record attempt, and yet it looked far beyond appealing to make the drop, perhaps water would soften the fall. “I’ve done 18 meters land diving into snow and it hurts less than water” he patiently explained.

Ken, it turned out was indeed in high demand! There were calls from potential sponsors, from other athletes, media personalities and even publishers, all vying for the time of a man, who wanted little more than to escape to the forest (and occasionally throw himself off a cliff), but who found himself in a world of captivating opportunity and in a position to solidify what many still viewed as a reckless activity, into a credible global sport.

The next morning we quickly got our scheduled photoshoot out of the way, Ken Stornes of course looking wonderfully stoic whilst modelling our Dødsing: Norwegian Death Diving range. The boring part of the day done, our conversations turned to goals and the extent of the human spirit & physicality, something Ken was constantly brooding on testing:

“It’s like an itch I have to scratch. Once I have an idea, I just have got to do it” he explained to me. I wondered where exactly it might stop, and Ken himself doesn’t know, in fact nobody does, because Ken is a pioneer in pushing the ceiling for death diving. “Maybe next time it’s 45 meters, then if it feels good maybe 50 meters” he said with calm conviction. I joked with him about his definition of feeling good and we wondered what might actually be the limit and the cost of finding out. “It isn’t the fall that kills you, it’s the stop” he continued “You have to decelerate over as much depth as you can by keeping in a tight position. If you open up too soon in there, you will slow down too fast and that can cause internal bleeding and Hemoptysis.. coughing up blood” Ken Stornes, who is a mental health nurse knew the risks well. “If you don’t know what you’re doing or mis-time and hit the water wrong from even half this height it can be deadly, this isn’t a try at home height”.

Falling from a height of 40.5 meters in just under 3 seconds Ken hit a velocity of over 28 meters per second and a top speed of over 100kmph or 62mph. Another 10 meters height would add more than 10kmph to his speed and given the difference in car accidents at 30 compared to 40, we just don’t know if this could prove to be the limit of physicality.

I asked Ken how he feels about death and how it relates to his death diving and other dangerous pastimes. “I wouldn’t do this if I could live forever, but as I must die, I have to live well and make my mark, to really feel alive. If I die doing this, better that and be known than to die old and full of regrets” he replied. I told Ken he reminded me of a passage in the Illiad where Glaucos & Sarpedon lament the need to fight on the frontlines for glory, owed to their mortality, I read it to him and the resonance was clear in his eyes, a warrior’s fire.

So what does it take to survive falls like this? Besides a lot of practice and a true Viking mind-set, Ken has a background in acrobatics and pulls a mean deadlift, currently training to pull 302kg. I joined him for a workout where half way through his warm up sets I was sidelined to watch in awe (along with a growing number of giggling women) as the weights rose and fell, stopping at 240kg (it was a ‘light’ day). I kept up somewhat on a handful of exercises (hitting a 1 rep max to Ken’s working set of 10..) and here I will flex that I rather bizarrely had the stronger calf press of the two of us! A brief post training flex in the mirror though, showed quite clearly which one of us had the physique and strength to survive such a drop! I was reminded in Ken’s training of the transferable benefits of strength to sports, his use of the deadlift as a staple is similar to the G-force tolerance building utilised in the air forces.

It was all in all a brief stay sadly, Oslo awaited me (and so did some much needed sauna time..) but I left prouder still of my Drengr friend (IYKYK, look it up) and with every faith he will achieve every exciting endeavour he sets his mind to.

Ken’s last world record death dive was seen by over 400 million people worldwide at the time of writing. I’m hopeful to see Ken’s next attempt funded by a large sponsor (Redbull seems the obvious and ironic choice as there’s certainly no wings on Ken at this fall speed!) and attended by a team of medics, helicopter evac team and a nice pay cheque so our boy, who’s served his country in war, in peace and now inspires through sport, can have his own quiet slice of Norwegian forest to share with Ronja. How long he will keep it quiet is another matter entirely..

To keep up to date with Ken Stornes in the mean time, subscribe to him on YouTube or follow on Instagram. You can support his next sporting adventure here or by grabbing the collab merch with Descended from Odin, a brand made for wanderers and warriors just like Ken Stornes.