Dubrovnik has its first free dive centre. Don’t worry we didn’t know what free diving was until we Googled it, and then we were worried that we would have to get involved. We needn’t have to be worried Gauthier Ghilain has a way of making you feel calm, in fact after the interview we were ready to strip down and start finding Nemo! “Add some depth to your life”- states Free Dive Dubrovnik and it’s hard not to believe them, the nerves we had at first soon melted. This is a sport for everyone, from seven to seventy, with no prior experience needed. Find out how Ghilain brought free diving to Dubrovnik (with the help of Srdan).
What better place to start than the beginning
I was born in Liege in Belgium, close to the German border, but then I moved to a small city next to the French border before moving onto Luxembourg. I studied IT Science at Liege and after my studies I did various jobs in the IT industry with my last job working in a bank in Luxembourg.
Working in IT in a Luxembourg bank is a little different than free diving
Yes, when I reached the age of thirty I got bored with my job and with IT. I like nature, I like to move, I like sports and to explore and I didn’t find anything in the banking industry that could satisfy my desires. I discovered that I didn’t belong there anymore. So I decided to take a six months break and travel the world. I went to Central America. My journey started in Guatemala and there is learned Spanish, because I wanted to travel but I also wanted to learn something. I travelled around Mexico, Salvador and Honduras. And in Honduras I tried scuba diving for the first time.
So this was the beginning of your love of the underwater world?
Well this was the first time that I had tried scuba diving that was back in 2007. I love the water and I immediately fell in love with scuba diving. It was a world that I didn’t know yet but I decided that this was going to be my new life. I took all the courses in Honduras.
What happened when your six months “gap period” ended?
I had highest level of amateur scuba diving but not yet enough to be an instructor. I went back to Luxembourg where I had a job in IT waiting for me, but I didn’t take it. I stayed for a few months and left Venezuela to the island in the Caribbean, Margarita, where I continued my scuba diving courses. I discovered free diving there and it changed my life.
How is it possible to discover free diving?
It is a nice story. I discovered it by accident. My scuba diving instructor and the captain of the boat we used to send me every morning in the sea to tie the anchor. We didn’t want the anchor to damage the coral reef. So I would secure the anchor on the sea bed. I was basically swimming down without any equipment. This started at depths of four metres and slowly moved up to ten metres. This is how I discovered my love for free diving. However I still continued my career in scuba diving, back in Honduras now as an instructor. I still had the love of free diving in the back of my mind so I used to go free diving with some local fishermen who would fish with spears.
So where did you take your first free diving course?
In Egypt. The blue hole in Egypt is a very famous place for free diving. It is 100 metres straight down with now tides, no currents it is like a swimming pool. So I took a course there. After Egypt I went to Thailand, the Maldives. Cyprus and Indonesia working as a scuba diving instructor. In fact in Indonesia I took a free diving instructor course with the British national champion, Mike Board.
I believe your girlfriend had a say in your next global move
Yes, my girlfriend is from Portugal and she likes the Latin way of life. She wanted to leave Indonesia and Costa Rica was now our new home. She feels at home in Costa Rica.
How did Costa Rica bring you to Dubrovnik?
I started a free dive company in Costa Rica in 2014 and one day a man from Dubrovnik walked through the door, Srdan. He took a free diving course and he became friends. He said to me that me wanted to bring free diving to Dubrovnik, so we decided to do it together. In July we opened a free dive centre. The idea is that I will work here in the European summer and go back to Costa Rica in the Southern Hemisphere summer.
What were your first impressions when you saw Dubrovnik?
To be honest I was only looking at the water – it was so blue.
How would you compare the sea water in Dubrovnik with other destinations you have been to?
Certainly it is the colour – it is bluer than any sea I have ever seen. In the Maldives it is very transparent, but here it is blue. The sea water is a little chilly and quite calm compared to other countries.
Are your courses open to everyone...even complete novices?
Yes, absolutely. We opened the free dive centre in Dubrovnik on the 1st of July this year and cater for everyone. We have a trial course, like an introduction course, if people don’t know what free diving is but they would like to try. This course lasts for four hours. And people will have the chance to learn the breathing techniques, how to equalise the pressure under water and how to go down to depths between five and ten metres. If people want to take things a little more seriously we have a certification course, of which there are three levels. For example level one is a two-day course in which people can learn a little bit more, for example how to rescue partners and how to static and dynamic breath holds. And of course they will learn to dive deeper up to twenty metres.
And the courses start in the classroom or straight in the sea?
In the classroom. We generally say that free diving is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. So before we enter the sea we have a chat about pressure under water because when you go down under water you will feel pressure. You have to learn to live with this pressure and equalise your air space, this means your ears and your nose and even your mask. After that I explain how to relax and how to breathe. Relaxation is an important part of free diving. And finally I will show people how to recover after a dive.
How long can you hold your breath for and what is the deepest you have been under water?
I can hold my breath for six minutes and the deepest I have been is 80 metres.
Text - Mark Thomas
Photos - Mark Thomas and Free Dive Dubrovnik