Be­neath the sur­face I The free­d­iver

Action Asia - - Q&A - AA

Guillaume Néry is a four-time world record holder whose videos have racked up mil­lions of hits and in­clude a mu­sic video for a Bey­oncé song. Ac­tion Asia’s Beni Gomez caught up with him on a re­cent visit to the Philip­pines where he was run­ning work­shops and shoot­ing a doc­u­men­tary on the Ba­jau sea gyp­sies.

De­scribe your first en­counter with the un­der­wa­ter world. I grew up in the East Mediter­ranean Sea. Ev­ery sum­mer I went with my fa­ther. Even though it was close to home, it was another world. It was all about ex­cite­ment, ad­ven­ture and ex­plo­ration, like I was chas­ing trea­sure un­der­wa­ter.

Why is free­d­iv­ing your pre­ferred way to dive? The purest way I think is the best way to feel the el­e­ments of na­ture. When it comes to dis­cov­ery, I like to do it with­out any equip­ment. My own body, my breath and my mask are just enough. The mask is the most im­por­tant ma­te­rial I have. It’s the win­dow to this world and I al­ways have a mask with me. It’s al­ready too much to have equip­ment more than a mask for me to ex­plore in the wa­ter world.

Do you also scuba dive reg­u­larly? How do you feel when in the wa­ter with all that gear? I al­most never scuba dive. I’ve done few times in the past but, I mean, it’s been 10 years. Re­call­ing the time I did it, I didn’t feel free, and that’s the main thing. Free­dom is the main thing in my life. I de­cided to do what I’m do­ing now, what I want to do, where I want to go. This is the same in the wa­ter – to be free, to go down and come back as fast as pos­si­ble, to move in all di­rec­tions . . . And scuba div­ing doesn’t al­low you that free­dom.

In your v ideos you seem so com­fort­able un­der­wa­ter. Do you re­hearse a lot to pre­pare for such scenes? This is the way I like to move in the wa­ter. I’m not act­ing. Of course I like to wear fins and ex­plore in the wa­ter, but what I like more is to go with­out fins and to go down with my feet first. I like rolling, climb­ing, and I like to be­have like on land . . . This is not easy but I’ve been do­ing this for many years. I think the hard­est thing is to be able to go down and to stay at the bot­tom with­out float­ing – div­ing with­out air.

Hav­ing be­come the best known free­d­iver on the planet, how do you use that recog­ni­tion? The best recog­ni­tion I can have is when some­one comes to me – in one of my work­shops for

ex­am­ple – and tells me, “I started free­d­iv­ing be­cause I watched one of your videos”. This is the first achieve­ment: to have more and more peo­ple who just want to go to the ocean to hold their breath and to love and en­joy be­ing un­der­wa­ter. Be­fore con­sid­er­ing that I can inf lu­ence peo­ple and be an ad­vo­cate for the con­ser­va­tion, I think I need to change deeply the way I’m liv­ing . . . This is be­cause while I try to raise aware­ness about the dan­ger in the ocean, the way I’m liv­ing is not sus­tain­able…it’s very hard, be­cause in one way to do what I’m do­ing and to do my work and to show the beauty of the un­der­wa­ter, I have to travel. But on the other way be­ing, trav­el­ling and al­ways be­ing on the plane is not good.

Big-name free­d­ivers have died go­ing deep. Have you also felt the ‘rap­ture of the deep’? This is some­thing we ca l l nar­co­sis a nd of course, for deep f reed­ivers we ex pe­ri­ence this. It’s some­thing very spe­cial, a bit dif­fer­ent than the one you have in scuba div­ing. When f re e d i v i ng you may have many d i f fer­ent thoughts, some­times vi­sions or hal­lu­ci­na­tions, and some­times the sound is chang­ing, and you keep it un­til the sur­face. Th­ese are only for deep, deep div­ing. It’s been two years since I have ex­pe­ri­enced nar­co­sis be­cause it’s only for dives deeper than 100m. When you think about how many free­d­ivers you have in the world and how many fa­tal ac­ci­dents you have, it’s a lmost noth­ing. Of course, when it hap­pens and when it hap­pens to big names, every­body thinks that free­d­iv­ing is dan­ger­ous. But in the end, if you re­spect sim­ple ba­sic rules like never dive alone, lis­ten to your body, im­prove slowly, don’t go into the wa­ter just to break your own records . . . with such ideas, free­d­iv­ing can be very safe.

Do you have a favourite place to free­d­ive? The best place to do free­d­iv­ing is not de­pend­ing on where you dive but more on how you feel and how you con­nect with the wa­ter. It can be any­where. I’ve done some in­cred­i­ble div­ings, so many dif­fer­ent places that were not ex­pected. I was just feel­ing good in my mind and body, and there’s har­mony with the uni­verse, with the wa­ter and the world around me – I was deeply con­nected.

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