Beneath the surface I The freediver
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.