Red Bulletin

Meet the ‘BASE-jumping’ freediver Guillaume Néry

Freediving has a captivating appeal for Frenchman Guillaume Néry, but is it getting too dangerous?
© Ian Derry
By Frédéric Pelatan

Freediving has long captured the public imagination and with good reason. There is something uniquely entrancing about the sport of diving to impossible depths on a single breath of air. Descending to the darkness of the ocean floor is not just a physical thing – it has almost a mystical quality.

Guillaume Néry posing for a underwater portrait
Guillaume Néry is among the world's top freedivers © Ian Derry

This is especially true for French freediver Guillaume Néry. The video of him freediving into the world's largest bluewater sinkhole mimicking a BASE jumper has so far garnered over 16 million views (see top of this story).

“The most magical moment is when I escape gravity. It is liberation. It is breaking loose. I fly with my arms open. At those moments I am completely calm. Everything around me becomes one and I become part of that whole,” he tells this month's Red Bulletin.

Freediving is a natural expression for his childhood ambition – he wanted to go into space.

Guillaume Néry diving in the French Polynesian sea.
Freedivers can hold their breath for minutes © Ian Derry

“When I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut and was constantly looking up at the sky,” he says.

“One day I saw a documentary about freediving legend Umberto Pelizzari. That was the first time I was confronted with a completely different world.”

Guillaume Néry diving in the French Polynesian sea.
At depth, freedivers only see a blackness. © Ian Derry

Soon the Frenchman was practising holding his breath and diving at every opportunity to become one of the best in the world. His particular discipline is 'Constant Weight' where divers descend and ascend a line with just a monofin for assistance.

Like most freedivers, Néry does not practise the much more dangerous 'No-Limits' where freedivers descend on a weighted sled and ascend by pulling a balloon.

But since last November the small freediving community has been in shock following the death of Nicholas Mevoli, the first fatality to occur in a competition.

Guillaume Néry relaxing before his freedive.
Meditation and yoga are key to training. © Ian Derry

“Our sport is enormously demanding, from a physical point of view,” says Néry “but I don’t feel it’s dangerous because we have to stick to all these safety procedures. Or should I say I never used to feel it was dangerous? Of course, now I wonder.”

But if there's one thing he fears it's fear itself. “Once it sets in you lose the cool and serenity you need as you fight for every metre. That's the challenge, the art, the fascinating thing.”

Guillaume Néry posing for a underwater portrait.
Néry describes freediving as 'liberation'. © Ian Derry

Check out the rest of this feature in the April 2014 issue of The Red Bulletin, the global monthly magazine. For access to the international issue, download the free app for iOS or Android now.

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Feature abridged and adapted by Tarquin Cooper

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