I’m a firm believer in lots of prizes at competitions, so here are the ones from the first day. Best nerves before the dive went to cool newbie Monika, who then also won most relieved smile after her dive:
Quikest dive while blocking yourself with your palms went to Yaron:
Best Jesus went to Aurora:
Aris got the ‘managed to look bigger than the boat’ prize:
Nicholas had the most definite ‘those are my fins’ award:
Do won most inexplicable position:
But the picture of the day goes to Chris:
My first freediving was in a lake, and despite the cold and low visibility, despite the mud on the bottom you sink into, despite the smell afterwards, i loved it. Maybe it’s the contrast of all that’s off-putting with the deliciousness of freediving. But then i dove in the Kreidensee in Germany and it turned out that lakes can have more than a foot of viz and be quite beautiful. Cold still, yes, and still smelly, but the same fantastic feelings, combined with an utterly alien view.
I have it from reliable sources that it looks good from above, too. I first played in that blue/green water as a safety in 2010, and last year made a couple of videos there. But i’d never been this early in the season, because the water is 12 degrees there now and i’m a complete wimp. But i was lured back there by the promise of excellent viz, and armed with a new 5 mm wetsuit and socks and gloves and a neoprene scarf and rubber earmuffs and a cosy in my crack i went down. And dear lady of the lake is it gorgeous there
It has a colour that’s hard to capture or describe (and makes editing photos even harder than it is when dealing with mesmerising blue) but it is a little like dropping into a smaragd being held by a smurf. Or is it a topaz in the hands of the hulk? I don’t know, but it’s radiant. Especially when the light comes out to play
It happens to me almost every time i freedive. Whether it’s in a pool or in a lake or a sea, there usually is one moment where i lose myself in a moment of awe, of marvel, of wonder. I hesitate to use the word ‘wonder’, since my father was a philosopher and therefore i know the magnitude of the word. Wonder is the beginning of philosophy, the ‘that’ of an experience, which comes before the ‘what’ and the ‘why’. Wonder is his word, his world, and i’m not a philosopher, so i feel like a silly tourist in that world, using a word the depth of which i can’t begin to measure. But i’ve read and probably understood what my dad wrote about wonder, i’ve experienced it, and i recognise it in those moments underwater. I’d be more at ease using the word ‘magic’ -though it’d be better without the wand and alohamora associations. Some people would call it spiritual, or maybe god. But wonder seems most accurate, if slightly pretentious.
These are moments when life is more than you could have ever imagined, and you’re absorbed in them so completely that you become one with them. In those moments, there is no identity, no thoughts, just experience. All that there is is what you see, hear, smell or feel. For me, as a visual person, it’s often what i see. And in freediving, it’s often linked to what i feel, the weightlessness, the otherworldliness of it -the combination seems to enhance the wonder. I feel wonder all around, but more so while free diving, and after i sense it, i want to photograph it. I often fail, sometimes i get close enough for me to be happy with it, very rarely do i capture it. Wonder does not seem to lend itself easily to a medium. My father tried his whole life to describe it.
Last winter i had so many moments in the Bahamas where i had to almost pinch myself to make sure i wasn’t dreaming, that i was glad to have put a gopro on my big camera. Big massive moments like swimming with a tiger shark, or hearing whales sing, and tiny little wonders like sand falling through water, all shared with friends. I’m not sure what to do with some of the pictures, but the videos became pretty evident soon on that trip: i heard just the song. A song about wonder. I had tons of material, but luckily, the song is 10 and a half minutes long. I still shy away from that word a little, but to me, this comes close, at times, to the wonder of freediving.
Shot this image of our champ William Trubridge last month, but messed up a little, had the setting wrong and it underexposed quite a lot. Couldn’t really make the series work, until i finally made the switch to Lightroom, and what a joy that program is. It was still a very tricky edit, but i watched the image come alive today:
At the same time as when i saw my first tiger shark, we were surrounded by reef sharks. I was very happy to see them, for normally they are quite shy and skittish, and all i’d seen of them this trip so far was vague shapes in the distance. Which is a shame, for they have a lovely shape, all slender and sleek and powerful. If you think i carry on a bit, just check this one out:
But when i had a moment to edit the video, i caught myself on a media stereotype: i wanted edgy rock music, something dangerous and high octane. You know, the usual shit they put on TV when it comes to sharks, all teeth and rapid movement and danger danger danger! But then i thought of the reality of those moments with the sharks. At no point did i ever feel danger danger danger, all i felt was awe and joy and peace. And mind you, this was in the midst of them eating -we were with a fishing boat and the fishing and bait had brought them up. So they were chomping away and it was none of this ‘ooh, watch out, feeding frenzy’ nonsense, they were still trying to keep out of our way. There might have been some agitation on display, but hey, wouldn’t you be a bit cross if a bear turned up at your buffet?
So i decided against rock music, against perpetuating the stereotype. Instead, i edited it to this slow, dreamy piece by Arvo Pärt called ‘Spiegel I’m Spiegel’ and because i shot at 48 frames a second anyway, i slowed it right down. No frenzy, no danger, just lovely beautiful moving predators being glorious.
Also not yet part of popular opinion, sharks are not just beautiful and peaceful, they also need protection, especially when they come near Australia. If you have a moment, please help their cause:
Yesterday i met my first Tiger shark. I’d swam with hammerheads, white tips, black tips, grays, nurse and reef sharks before, but never with a tiger. I love all sharks for lots of reasons, one being very superficial and photography related, namely the way their skin plays with light, but tigers are particularly beautiful, with a strong body shape, and they have a wonderful pattern. I was very much hoping to see one in real life, preferably with a camera. So as we were playing with some reef sharks yesterday, William makes a noise and a gesture to indicate there’s something behind me. I turn and there it is, my tiger baptist. It comes directly at me to see what i’m made of:
and part of me gets slightly nervous; a combination between something like meeting an idol and something more basic face-to-face with a predator larger than yourself. But my instinct tells me there is no aggression in his behavior, just curiosity, and i stand my ground, or eh, float my water, as it were. The tiger then turns to give me a sideway glance:
It is a real shame these regal creatures are being hunted and slaughtered. Please help support the cause of the sharks:
William Trubridge holds the world record for diving without fins. The other day he was training in Dean’s Blue Hole, and there was something about the combination of really good visibility, lovely light and his immaculate technique that made me forego my training and film him instead -once again affirming i’m more cameraman than freediver. I didn’t have any ideas on what to do with the footage until i stumbled upon this hypnotic music by Nils Frahm; listening to it, i immediately visualized William’s footage.
It’s rare for new footage and new music to find each other in my mind so quickly after each other. Usually, i either already know the tune i want and sort of shoot to that, or i look at the footage and realize the tune i’d like with it. New tunes come to me much later, sometimes months after i’ve gotten the material. This tune came my way literally the day after i shot the footage. I often feel very lucky in this place -how could i not, it’s paradise- but at times it feels like it’s almost more than luck. It feels serendipitous. This is one of my more serendipitous movies.
One of the peculiarities of life is how we often stumble into a profession we turn out to love -my underwater photography career, for example, was born out of the necessity to document my life as an extreme underwater adventurer. Who else could go with me on adventures like deepest superman pants, deepest apple eating, or my world record feet first -the hectofeet? So i started filming them and fell in love with the process and my daytime job was born.
But of course, deep in my heart and in the depth of night, i’m still an explorer of human potential, and since my previous world records have yet to be challenged, i decided to once again take myself to the limit of possibilities and grace with a new challenge. Now, after having lived with a ballerina for a while, it has been my opinion that the most extreme sport of all is ballet. So it occurred to me: “Why not combine the two?” Combine what i do with what is even more extreme? Make it most extremist hyperbolicst?
The challenge was born and the preparation began. I spent months at the Bolshoi, where my natural grace was tweaked and my innate fluidity enhanced. I studied and studied, even slept in the plie. They asked me to stick around and become the male lead, but i was not to be distracted: i was ready to put the ‘balls’ into ballerina.
Now the graceful nature of this project would prevent my from doing my own filming with a bulky camera. Luckily, the second camera person on my Hecto-feet dive, UK freediving champ Georgina Miller, was available to shoot, and she turned out to be quite talented, and managed to capture the full grace and depth of my latest adventure.
Hope you enjoy!
2 months ago today, Nick had his fatal accident at Vertical Blue. It has affected many people profoundly and you can still see ripples of the shockwave in the community. For me, i struggled with a whole complex mixture of emotions; i was there as a cameraman and i’d caught the hole thing on video and in pictures. So not only did i see what happened, i had to review it in order to make sure i had it. Then i had the duty to make it available to the people investigating the incident -these people are my friends, so i’d have to expose my friends to traumatic footage. And i was feeling somehow dirty for having kept filming. The professional part of me knows it was the right thing to do, that it was my job, that the footage will be used to learn from, and that i couldn’t have helped in any other way. But another part of me, the part that gets angry when i see people playing tourist around the scene of an accident, was a little disgusted. You pay your respect by turning away, and instead, i pointed my cameras right at it.
That, combined with the raw trauma of watching someone die surrounded by friends, made it very difficult to do anything with this footage. I knew it was important, and i knew i was not in a good place to judge what to do with it -i wanted to delete it, wash it off me, have nothing to do with it. So i trusted another person to be my moral compass in this matter, and asked William Trubridge what to do. He was my guide through that first couple of days and weeks, and he made sure the right people got access without the footage or Nick’s accident getting exploited. I had my first taste of a bit of a media frenzy, and thanks to Will’s clear guidance, it wasn’t as beastly as i’d feared. As a matter of fact, most contacts were quite understanding in my refusal to share the footage.
But then there was a mountain of other material, 7 days of competition before the accident. Normally i’d do something with that in the week after an event. Usually, i have a vague idea that sort of takes form as i’m working with the material, much in the same way i shoot. But this time, i had nothing but a heart full of grief and a head full of doubts. I kept seeing my friend fading away, i kept wondering if i’d done the right thing, if there had been anything else i could have done. I was very far from being able to create anything. Then a couple of weeks later, on a trip through Belgium on the way to see my family in Holland, i hear a song. It often starts with a song, and this one, ‘Free’ by Rudimental, planted a seed. I made a note of it on my phone, and started listening to the song that night. I know my process, i have to obsess with a song for a bit, so i listened to it over and over again, till i knew what to do.
But then i had to do it, and i knew the video would have to end with Nick. And i didn’t want to. I wasn’t ready to do that yet, not ready to get so intense with his last diving pictures. So i took a lot of time making everything ready, preparing all the images and footage, doing the stuff around the edges, laying some of the groundwork. It wasn’t until i got back to the Bahamas that i had the time and found the peace to really work with it. A couple of dives in Dean’s Blue Hole re-affirmed to me that it was alright to celebrate freediving, celebrate this magical place. Yes Nick died here, but he didn’t die because of this place. Like my father said: “Water is innocent of the temptations that well up from it -it even washes away its own sins.” After that realization, it was just a matter of putting in the days of editing, and this date seemed like a natural point to aim for.
So this might be my most complex video to date, which is slightly ironic, since the thing Nick and i had been planning to do was a very simple one: him pushing an old shopping cart with used freediving material around underwater, making fun of him being ‘the freediving bum’. This video might be a bit too sombre for his tastes, i’m afraid.