Schön! plunges into deep con­ver­sa­tion with triple world cham­pion free diver Guil­laume Néry.

Schon! - - Breathless - Words / Sheri Chiu Pho­tog­ra­phy / Roch Ar­mando Groom­ing / Brigitte Fres­nel Pho­tog­ra­phy As­sis­tant / Gilles Her­chuel

With a sin­gle breath, Guil­laume Néry has the power and skill to plunge 125 me­tres be­low the wa­ter’s sur­face with­out any as­sis­tance, hold­ing his breath for seven min­utes, 42 sec­onds, with lungs har­bour­ing be­tween eight to 10 litres of air. How­ever, this French­man proves that he is much more than just an ath­lete – but also an artist who col­lab­o­rates with wife Julie Gau­tier on haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful videos that demon­strate na­ture’s im­mense power and man’s im­pres­sive adap­ta­tion to the el­e­ments. Néry har­nesses free div­ing as a heal­ing tool to un­der­stand the link be­tween mind and body and the fun­da­men­tal im­por­tance of pa­tience to achieve har­mony when ex­plor­ing the un­known.

Guil­laume Néry’s up­bring­ing in Nice’s Mediter­ranean sur­round­ings con­trib­uted to his pas­sion for na­ture and ad­ven­ture. As a young boy, he spent his sum­mers div­ing with his fa­ther with a mask and flip­pers. At 14 years old, he and a friend chal­lenged each other to see who could hold their breath the long­est and this sim­ple game turned into a deep fas­ci­na­tion that even­tu­ally led him to a sports bi­ol­ogy univer­sity where he stud­ied the body’s re­ac­tion dur­ing ex­treme ac­tiv­i­ties. “I wanted to have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the men­tal and phys­i­cal in­ter­ac­tions in my train­ing,” Néry ex­plains. “I am some­one in the depths of the ocean and the high al­ti­tudes of the moun­tains.”

At 20, Néry be­came the youngest free dive record holder, achiev­ing depths of -87 me­tres us­ing the power of his monofin alone. Since then, he has com­bat­ted the world record three times, be­com­ing world team cham­pion in 2008 and in­di­vid­ual world cham­pion in 2011, reach­ing -117 me­tres, and, in 2013, a new record of -125 in Greece. De­spite these grand tri­umphs, he be­lieves his great­est ac­com­plish­ment lies else­where. “I think the most im­por­tant achieve­ment we have done – I say ‘we’ be­cause it’s with my wife Julie – are our videos,” Néry smiles. “Many peo­ple con­tact us to say ‘Thank you for the im­ages.’”

Néry could al­most say he met his part­ner Julie Gau­tier un­der­wa­ter. A com­pe­ti­tion united them and, a few years af­ter­wards, the diver at­tempted to set a world record in the French is­land Réu­nion, where his wife grew up. To­gether, they pro­duced Free Fall, a film that high­lights Néry walk­ing on a seabed and leap­ing into the deep­est blue hole in the world in the Ba­hamas. The video, which demon­strates a rev­o­lu­tion­ary poetic in­ter­pre­ta­tion of free div­ing, re­ceived in­stan­ta­neous pos­i­tive re­views.

Néry and Gau­tier’s film ex­ploits, Les Films En­gloutis, have led to yet another deeply emo­tional video called Nar­cose, which fea­tures Gau­tier only 10 days be­fore she gave birth to the their baby girl Mai-Lou. The love be­tween the cou­ple is prom­i­nent. “It’s great work­ing with Julie be­cause we know each other so well that we can un­der­stand one another with­out words,” Néry en­light­ens.

Nar­cose is based on Néry’s real life hal­lu­ci­na­tions, and ex­plores an un­set­tling, yet com­pelling, se­quence of events when he ex­pe­ri­ences nar­co­sis un­der­wa­ter. “[These hal­lu­ci­na­tions] dis­turbed me a lot,” he ex­plains. “I couldn’t con­trol what was hap­pen­ing. I could ei­ther have good vibes or scary, anx­ious feel­ings. Now I can deal with it much bet­ter be­cause I un­der­stand the best way to deal is to just ac­cept and let go.”

The unique free­dom of wa­ter makes it the only place on earth where one can fly and move in all di­rec­tions, but as one de­scends deeper, pres­sure builds. With its jux­ta­po­si­tion of the wa­ter’s open space and the ex­treme force on the body, div­ing has helped Néry con­trol his emo­tions and has acted as a form of med­i­ta­tion. “To be a good diver, you have to be fo­cused on what is hap­pen­ing in your body. You need to let go of your thoughts,” he ex­plains. “You just fo­cus on the heart­beats, the wa­ter go­ing into your face, the tem­per­a­ture of the wa­ter chang­ing. If one fights against the pres­sure, one will lose. Let­ting go is a mind ex­er­cise, and once that is achieved, the mus­cles in the body will fol­low.”

Free div­ing gave Néry the chance to re­alise his child­hood dreams to be an ex­plorer and dis­cover the un­known by trav­el­ling the world. Nearly twenty years as an ad­ven­turer of the depths have equipped him with skills that trans­late to daily sit­u­a­tions. “Pa­tience is the key of long-term suc­cess,” he states. “Free div­ing taught me that the so­lu­tion is not to fight, be­cause this is what hu­mans al­ways do to get what we want. If you fol­low your pas­sion with ded­i­ca­tion, even if suc­cess is not guar­an­teed – be­cause not ev­ery­one can be a world cham­pion – you can­not be dis­ap­pointed be­cause you’ve tried, and at least you can have beau­ti­ful ex­pe­ri­ences.”

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