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Sunday, September 21, 2014

From the archives: Interview with world champion freediver Sara Campbell

Today I read a superb article by journalist James Nestor about what happens to your body when you dive into the sea. James described very eloquently the physical and psychological effects of triggering the Master Switch of Life (mammalian dive reflex). As someone who tries to spend as much time as possible either on or in the water it was of particular interest; spending much of the year in the Maldives I have daily access to some of the best diving in the world. 

I'm currently an Advanced Open Water Diver and without a doubt will continue to work my way through the PADI system, although I'm not about to ditch travel journalism for a new career as a Diving Instructor! However, free-diving is something pretty different. As James explains in his article, when you dive without compressed air your body's natural instinct kicks in with an incredible ability we've had lurking inside ourselves as part of our physical constitution for millions of years. This allows professional free-divers to dive to depths of 300 feet.

Last year I was lucky enough to be able to interview women's world champion free-diver Sara Campbell about her career. She was in the Maldives to take part in LUX* resort's Underwater Festival; a showcase of diving, free-diving and underwater photography.

This is the interview, published in Fah Thai magazine (Ink Media) also with a scan of the original version below.

Meet Sara Campbell, a record-breaking world champion in the extreme sport of freediving.

Imagine holding your breath for
three minutes. Now imagine doing that at
an ocean depth of 104m. Record-breaking
world freediving champion Sara Campbell
did just that two years ago, earning instant
international acclaim. In April, Campbell
will detail the techniques behind the feat at
the spectacular Underwater Festival at LUX*
Maldives, where she’ll share the spotlight with
the makers of the acclaimed BBC documentary
series The Blue Planet. We spoke to her ahead
of this maritime extravaganza...

Why are you taking part in this festival?

I was excited by the opportunity to develop
a programme for budding underwater
cameramen that includes relaxation, breathing
and breath control. And of course, the fact that
it’s in the Maldives was a bonus – a part of me
still thinks those images of turquoise waters
must be Photoshopped!

How critical is marine conservation in Asia?
It’s a tragedy that such little care and
consideration is given to the health and
sustainability of our oceans. They’re treated as
playgrounds and dumping grounds. Unless we
stop our destructive behaviour there’ll be no
beauty left in our oceans in a very short time.

The Maldives hangs in the balance, doesn’t it?
There’s a lot of conservation work going in
the Maldives and this is partly because of its
enviable position as a place with a rich and
diverse ecosystem. From turtles and corals
to whale sharks and mantas, there’s a lot
going on and this is positive for the islands.
Ecotourism is growing, but there’s also the
ethical question surrounding bringing tourists
into these areas.

So how are you planning to spend your free time
in the Maldives?

I’d love to dive with mantas and whale sharks.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we get
lucky during the festival!

Is freediving something anyone can try?
Yes, freediving is for everyone. If you can
breathe and have a reasonable ability to swim,
you can dive. It helps if people are naturally
calm in the water, but there really are no
prerequisites to getting under the water.

How did you first get under the water?
I started freediving when one of my yoga
students needed a buddy to “safety her”. I fell
in love with the peace and with the happiness I
got from diving. It’s the perfect combination of
meditation and physical challenge.

And you became a record-breaker...
I set all three deep world records in under
48 hours in 2007 and it was a very surreal
experience. It came as a complete surprise to
everyone, and I was no less in shock. I was a
bit overwhelmed by the attention and didn’t
really feel comfortable with it. I had just
been doing what I loved to do, so was a bit
bewildered by all the fuss.

Have you ever panicked in the deep?
Not really. I felt a bit stressed on a dive to
around 55m once, and when I tried to figure
out why, I realised it was simply my mind
playing tricks on me. I also realised that this
happens to us all the time in life, and from that
moment on I vowed never to allow that to
happen to me in the water again.

Finally, Sara, what motivates you?
My motivation is the pleasure I gain from
diving and teaching. I don’t have any goals at
the moment, just to keep on sharing what I
love. What comes after that? Who knows?
The Underwater Festival runs from 15-21

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