Audrey of BlueAddiction, always graceful in apnea. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Audrey of BlueAddiction, always graceful in apnea. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)

Free diving means freedom underwater

  France: French Riviera - July 2014

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

This year, I discovered apnea. In Indonesia, then in the Mediterranean. In English, we say Free diving, free diving ... I love it!

Hold one's breath

Life is full of surprises. I, the scuba diver who loves to make bubbles, have learned to do something new and incredible: not using a regulator and not breathing underwater! And yes, this year, I started freediving!

In English, we call it free diving: snorkeling. I like the expression, it's the freedom (and not the lack of air, as in French with the word "air"). apnea) which is highlighted. No more need for an air bottle on your back!

The principle is to do as marine mammals do. The only air you take on board is the air you store in your lungs... 😀

Bubbles game in a Polynesian lagoon, in 2012 ... Not easy to play the sirens, even at 10 cm deep!
Bubbles game in a Polynesian lagoon, in 2012 ... Not easy to play the sirens, even at 10 cm deep!
Much more classy: Rémy Dubern en route to 91m at the 2013 World Championships in Kalamata, Greece. Photo: © Daan Verhoeven.
Much more classy: Rémy Dubern en route to 91m at the 2013 World Championships in Kalamata, Greece. (Photo: © Daan Verhoeven)

At first, I didn't think I was too capable of doing apnea, with my smoking past. I also doubted that I had the necessary physical stamina, given my lack of regular sports activity. And even though I love the water, I'm not good at swimming - pool lengths were never my thing. Anyway, anyway. I was convinced that freediving wasn't for me.

However, today I manage to go down to a depth of about ten meters (update 2018 : about 20 meters, now)...on a single breath... There's few things I've accomplished this year that I'm more proud of. I still can't believe it.

Indonesia, May 2014

Gapang Beach, Pulau Weh. Banda Aceh, Indonesia, May 2014.
Gapang beach in Pulau Weh, so peaceful. Indonesia, May 2014.

It all began in Indonesia in May 2014. I returned to Pulau Weh, a small island in the province of Banda Aceh, on the western tip of Sumatra. There I met a friend, Remy Dubern, whom I had met during a previous stay in Pulau Weh, four years earlier, in 2010. He was a scuba diving instructor at the time.

At Nice Abyss Contest 2014, Rémy Dubern in freefall, en route to 64 m. (Photo: © Bill Rhamey)
At the Nice Abyss Contest 2014, Rémy Dubern in freefall, en route to 64 m. (Photo: © Bill Rhamey)

We've kept in touch on Facebook. In the meantime, he went into apnea. And as he's the kind of guy who doesn't do things by halves when he's passionate about something, he pushed the experience very far... Until the competition, until he won gold, at the 2013 FFESSM French championship, with a flipper descent at -80 metres!

Apnea is now his life. In addition to competition, he has become a trainer and now teaches freediving to beginners as well as more experienced divers (see his site Blue Addiction). With his partner Audrey, he regularly organises training courses in France and abroad.

So I took advantage of Remy's presence in Pulau Weh, to initiate myself to apnea with him, at center Lumba Lumba on the beach of Gapang, between two days of dives with bubbles ...

He is a great teacher, caring and very pedagogical, who really puts confidence and knows how to communicate his passion. Maybe I wouldn't have dared to try my hand at freediving if he hadn't been able to talk to me about it like he did... A real passageway of envy!

For practical exercises, the first step is dry. After a few simple yoga postures to relax the body and breathing exercises to learn how to fill your rib cage, you lie down on deckchairs, relax as much as possible and try to hold your breath as long as possible...

It seemed unimaginable, but after a few tries, I managed to hold on for 2 minutes and 30 minutes!

Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia. Freediving lesson with Rémy Dubern. May 2014.
Rémy explains the basic principles for apnea, during training "dry".
Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia. Freediving lesson with Rémy Dubern. May 2014.
Let's go ! Everyone holds their breath, trying to relax to the maximum!

Well, in the water, it's a different set of sleeves. There are other tricks to master: the ears to balance, the swimming to optimize, the stress to manage... We are several freediving apprentices to follow the course and we all manage, throughout the day, to overcome our blockages, to make impressive progress, each at his own level.

Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia. Freediving lesson with Rémy Dubern. May 2014.
Remy is getting ready to go in the water with the buoy for the freediving classes.
Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia. Freediving lesson with Rémy Dubern. May 2014.
Hello, apneist apprentices!

As I didn't bring my underwater camera for the sea sessions, I put below some screenshots of the videos made at the GoPro by Rémy with Rimen and Mathieu, a couple of travelers who became friends and who discovered snorkeling during their stay in Pulau Weh.

Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia. Freediving lesson with Rémy Dubern. May 2014.

I liked this initiation in Indonesia so much that I decided to do it again: even before the end of my stay in Pulau Weh, I signed up for one of the three-day Blue Addiction workshops that Rémy had planned to organize in Hyères, in the south of France, this summer.

Update 2021. Remy made a video for the magazine Dive! in which he explains breathing techniques, useful for both freediving and scuba diving. I give it to you below:

Hyères, July 2014

Returning from my trip to MexicoAt the end of July, I went back on the road for a last week of holidays on the French Riviera, in Hyères, to take part in the Blue Addiction freediving course. This trip on the Var coastline was a first for me: I didn't know the area at all, which is a bit the cradle of diving in France...

I thus discovered the islands of Port-Cros and Porquerolles during our sea trips, under a radiant sun! Magnificent! Of course, it's not Indonesia, and the water there is definitely cooler, but the Mediterranean remains "exotic" for the Breton that I am...

From Pualu Weh to Hyères, I discovered another way to dive. And above all discovered that I was perfectly capable of it. At my (modest) level of course...

I like the parallel with the running that Rémy does during his training sessions: everyone is able to jog, to run for fun, at their own pace, no need to be a marathon runner. For apnea, it's the same: no need to be an athlete like in the Big BlueIt can be practised as a leisure activity, in complete safety, it is an activity accessible to any normally constituted person.

Stage of apnea Blue Addiction with Rémy Dubern, in Hyères. July 2014.

Between my freediving initiation in Indonesia and this training course in the Mediterranean, I gained confidence. I learnt some little tricks, not very complicated, which allow me to hold my breath longer.

What is really incredible is the spectacular progress that everyone makes between the very first immersion and the following apneas... I also learned the importance of physical relaxation and mental "letting go" (which are useful not only in apnea, but also in everyday life).

The base of Blue Addiction during summer internships. (Photo: © Blue Addiction)
The base of Blue Addiction during summer internships. (Photo: © Blue Addiction)
Apnea training in Hyères (Var) with Blue Addiction. July 2014.
A trainee refines his technique under the benevolent eye of a safety apneist. (Photo: © Blue Addiction)
A trainee refines his technique under the benevolent eye of a safety apneist. (Photo: © Blue Addiction)

From snorkeling to free diving

Well, I'm only a great beginner for the moment and I still have a good margin for improvement! Contrary to others, I'm not especially looking for depth or performance, but rather pleasure and ease...

The idea is to already be able to go and see fish and corals more closely when I do snorkeling (flippers-masque-tuba). And then, maybe, one day, to be able to approach (and photograph, and film) dolphins, sharks, manta rays and other nice critters, without scaring them with a plume of noisy bubbles!

In particular, I remember my snorkeling session with the dolphins of Sataya, Egypt, and the whale shark trip to Mexico: if I had followed some apnea before, I would have been much more comfortable to realize my images ...

Dolphins. Sataya, Egypt. December 2011.

During my trip to the Maldives in February 2014I didn't know much about apnea yet either. But some of my diving buddies on the fabulous boat Ocean Divine were also excellent freedivers (I'm late in my publications, I haven't told this part of the trip yet).

During our snorkeling breaks, I was a little envious to see them submerge and go down below the surface, without apparent effort...

Me, not very good at holding without breathing underwater, I was content to splash around on the surface with my camera. Admire the graceful position... (Thanks to Jeff for the pictures !)

The beauty of free diving

I am not a little proud of having obtained, after my initiation in Indonesia, my first star Aida (International Association for the Development of Diving).

Not very proud to have obtained my first star Aida (International Association for the Development of Apnea)!

What is fascinating about apnea is that it mobilizes primitive physiological resources, which we all have within us, without really being aware of it. Our body is today adapted to terrestrial life, but it has kept buried, in the course of evolution, somewhere in the depths of its cells, the memory of its aquatic life of yesteryear... The subject fascinates doctors and biologists. I refer you to this page of Remy's Blue Addiction website, which explains it very well:

→ We can all go snorkeling

I'm going to continue scuba diving, of course. But I also want to progress in snorkelling... You get rid of the equipment, you listen more to your body. And, above all, it's so much more beautiful!

It's also great fun to meet scuba divers underwater... They can't believe to see the freedivers passing them under their noses, with no other equipment than the fin-mask-tuba equipment!

On the left, a 17-year-old trainee freediver is taking advantage of her recent progress to tease the bottle divers ... (Photo: © Blue Addiction)
On the left, a 17-year-old trainee freediver is taking advantage of her recent progress to tease the bottle divers ... (Photo: © Blue Addiction)

New experiences with freedivers

I had the opportunity to try again the apnea or to mix with other freedivers, during new journeys:

→ In Red Sea (Egypt) in October 2016

→ In Indonesia in Komodo, in July 2016

An apneist surrounded by anthias swarms over Batu Bolong reef in Komodo. (Indonesia, July 2017)
An apneist surrounded by anthias swarms over Batu Bolong reef in Komodo. (Indonesia, July 2017)
Audrey of BlueAddiction, always graceful in apnea. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Audrey of BlueAddiction, always graceful in apnea. (Red Sea, Egypt, October 2016)
Sirens exist, the proof ... (Red Sea, Safaga, Egypt, October 2016)
Sirens exist, the proof ... (Red Sea, Safaga, Egypt, October 2016)

Inspiring videos

Finally, to close this chapter on my discovery of freediving, I really like the inspiration that today's freedivers show to share their passion, thanks to videos posted on the internet. They are more and more numerous to put forward the aesthetic dimension of freediving, to offer another approach of the underwater world or of the sensations in diving, which is neither documentary nor reportage nor competition...

The best known is the freediver Guillaume Néry, world champion in 2011 and French record holder at -125 meters. He's the one we see in the movie Free Fall, directed by his partner Julie Gautier, who has been a hit on the internet since 2010.

In April 2014, when his book came out Depths, I had the pleasure of interviewing him for the digital evening edition digitalOuest-France.

The article is available as a PDF capture at the end of the link below:

Guillaume Néry, a life in apnea

© Guillaume Néry / Julie Gautier
© Guillaume Néry / Julie Gautier

Guillaume Néry and Julie Gautier have directed a new short film (in which Rémy Dubern participated), which I invite you to discover below.

The theme of this film is the hallucinations caused by narcosis, that intoxication of the depths felt by divers capable of going very far underwater... The bias here is again very aesthetic, but in a more psychedelic and somewhat frightening vein...

Guillaume Néry also participated in a film in the mexican cenotes. I find there the atmosphere and the play of light that has so fascinated me for my own images.

Of course, snorkeling in this kind of place is reserved for pros... I'll give you an excerpt below. It's superb, but again, rather worrying.

For the fans of this kind of offbeat films about freediving, I put below the links to two other articles I recently published, with more playful little films:

The man running on the surface of the sea (a video made by Spaniards, where an apneist, filmed upside down and feet flush with the surface, gives the illusion of running on the water)

© The Ocean Brothers
© The Ocean Brothers

At -40 m in the deepest pool in the world (I slipped a video of the diver dressed as a mermaid who offered a nice underwater show for the inauguration of the Y-40 diving pit in Italy)

© Y-40 The Deep Joy
© Y-40 The Deep Joy

  France: French Riviera - July 2014

  Indonesia: Pulau Weh [Sumatra] - May 2014

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