I had the pleasure of giving an interview to Insidetaiwan.net, a French webzine based in Taiwan. I wanted to share it with you, so here is the translation from French to English.
We had the opportunity to speak with Anthony, a Freediving specialist, AIDA, and Molchanovs Instructor Trainer, and professional coach, who talked to us about his life, his school, and, of course, his love for freediving—an in-depth interview with a man who opens up and shares his passion like no other.
Anthony, please introduce yourself and tell us about your journey.
I fell in love with freediving and have made it my profession. With Jiayin, my wife, we founded our school in Taiwan 5 years ago. It’s called VD Freediving, and we are currently based in Xiaoliuqiu.
I was born in the Southwest of France 44 springs ago, in a village of 766 inhabitants, known for its French delicacies, wine, Armagnac, post-match celebrations, and distinctive singing accent. Proudly Gascon, from the Gers region, I’ve always felt a deep connection to my roots. Yet, the urge to explore what lay beyond the vineyards and oak forests was irresistible. This insatiable curiosity led me across borders, over mountains, and through seas, taking me to the farthest corners of the world.
My professional journey has been diverse and global: I’ve worked as an electrician in Switzerland, crafted melodies as a music composer for commercials in Paris, captured moments as a professional photographer in Indonesia, and managed operations at a t-shirt factory in Bangkok, among other roles. Additionally, I spent five enriching years in India, where I traversed the country for nearly three years on a Royal Enfield, the iconic Indian motorcycle.
India was a transformative chapter in my journey, unfolding in two distinct stages. Initially, I embraced the stereotypical hippie lifestyle in Goa, with its sun-kissed beaches, vibrant parties, close-knit friendships, and indulgences. This period took a toll on both my body and mind. The subsequent stage was a stark awakening. I found myself back in my beloved Gascogne, lost in a sea of depression and uncertainty about my future.
I weighed only 52 kg, and my mother, with eyes filled with concern, told me I was fading away. In Gascon, there’s a saying: “Mès vau aulir ua candela que de díver mau de l’escúr.” It translates to, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” So, I chose to transform my life. This shift was immensely challenging, both mentally and physically. I believe my journey towards freediving began at that moment, with the decision to “light a candle” and truly cherish the incredible gifts of the body and mind.
Before leaving, I had composed music for a commercial that brought me some royalties, enough to allow me to return to India, buy this fantastic motorcycle, and roam this extraordinary country. There, I began writing my first book, a French novel titled “Le brasier météore.“. Scribbling these lines, memories of sunrises in the Rajasthan desert, the magnificent landscapes of the Himalayas, and the streets of Varanasi come back to me, along with the challenges: crossing Delhi for the first time without GPS (it was well before the advent of smartphones and Google Maps), sleeping in temples on the floor to save hotel money, crossing the muddy Rohtang pass and breaking down in the middle of nowhere.
I was free, without a schedule, with no other obligation than those I had chosen for this new life. It was just about jumping on my bike and leaving. A bit like the image of the cowboy, a blade of grass in his mouth, riding his horse into the sunset. When I think about it, even if this comparison can make one smile, that’s how I felt. I was a lone cowboy, except my “horse” had a single cylinder, and I had neither a revolver, nor a Stetson, nor a blade of grass. I wish everyone could have such an experience.
It was on this road that I began to really take care of myself, practicing meditation, yoga, and sports. Getting the blood flowing, as they say, and loosening up the machine. I was reborn there. And nothing seemed impossible to me. Yet, at that time, I was far from imagining that, a few years later, I would go from Clint Eastwood to Jacques Mayol, becoming a professional freediver.
How did you come to practice freediving?
It was during a trip to Indonesia while preparing a series of photos for an exhibition that I literally stumbled into the ocean. I was in Bali, and the manager of my hotel, knowing I was looking for the perfect photo, suggested I go to Amed, a small fishing village on the east coast of the island. He described how, at sunrise, the fishermen all leave together, sails unfurled, looking like butterflies taking flight. I admit he sold it to me well.
The next day, I found myself on a scooter, far from my 500 cc Indian bike, on my way to Amed. Bali, the Island of the Gods, is breathtakingly beautiful. I decided to go through the north to see Mount Batur, stop at the Sekumpul waterfalls, and spend a night in Lovina before heading south along the coast. There, I met a French woman who was going to Tulamben, a neighboring village of Amed, to attend the Australian National Freediving competition.
Freediving, for a Frenchman of my generation, is “The Big Blue“. It’s the music of Éric Serra, Jean-Marc Barr, and Jean Reno drunk, holding their breath in a pool, and this story about self-transcendence and dolphins. “The Big Blue” deeply marked my childhood. I had watched this film countless times without ever realizing that it had been a real gift to me. (Thank you, Mr. Besson).
A few days later, I was near the competition area and was finally going to open… this famous gift. I’m sure I was the only one at that moment who knew nothing about freediving. Today’s freediving is nothing like what was described on the big screen back then. I will always remember this diver who began to descend, pulling himself along the rope. The judge announced: “Thibault Guignes, France, free immersion, 90 meters”. I watched Thibault disappear into the abyss and thought I had misunderstood the announced depth. And then… nothing… he didn’t come up; I looked around, but no one seemed worried. After more than 3 minutes, he resurfaced. Incredible.
The next day, I signed up at Apnea Bali, the local freediving school, for a discovery day. And for some reason, they enrolled me for the full three-day course. I just seized the opportunity without thinking too much about it. After all, I didn’t have much else to do. Because if you’re wondering if fishermen fly like butterflies towards the horizon, the answer is no. They all use engines and only rarely deploy their “wings” (sails). The quest for the perfect photo could wait a few more days.
From that day on, at the foot of another Balinese volcano, every day of my life has been rocked by freediving and the ocean. I instantly fell madly in love with this sport and knew it was what I wanted to do for the years to come.
I spent two years in this fishing village training, and I was incredibly fortunate to have Julia Mouce Domínguez, one of the best freediving coaches and instructors in the world, by my side. She guided me, Lo pichòt Gascon (the little Gascon), throughout my career, from my first clumsy meters underwater in Tulamben to the turquoise sea of the Bahamas, Vertical Blue, and the top of the freediving world.
What makes freediving unique compared to other forms of diving?
Every form of diving is unique. I also love scuba diving, and every time I go “blowing bubbles”, it’s a treat. What matters is the approach and the intention you put into it. And I want to take this opportunity to salute all the “scuba” friends; we share this unconditional love for the ocean and this insatiable thirst for adventure.
The main difference, apart from the fact that in freediving you don’t breathe, is that freediving is a sport and scuba diving is a leisure activity. From the first day, freediving requires a certain physical and mental condition. From the first immersion, there is this notion of self-transcendence. Umberto Pelizzari, one of the legends of our discipline, said that the scuba diver dives to look at the Ocean while the freediver dives to look inside himself. And I completely agree with that. The intention is just very different.
Imagine: You float peacefully on the surface. Your breathing is soft and deep. It’s a beautiful day; the sun is shining, and a gentle breeze caresses your cheeks. Gradually, every muscle in your body relaxes, and your mind calms down and drifts away, transporting you to the gates of sleep in a state of total relaxation.
Then you take a slow, deep breath, filling your lungs fully. The descent begins, guided by the line. At first, your lungs, filled with air, act like buoys that hold you to the surface. However, by 10 meters, the pressure has reduced their volume by half, plunging you into the negative buoyancy zone. Only the present moment matters. You are a drop in the ocean. You are an ocean in a drop. At 20 meters, the real journey begins. You enter the freefall phase, your favorite moment. You’ve trained diligently to prolong this sensation, to delve a bit deeper each time. There’s no need to exert effort; the ocean gently takes your hand, guiding you deeper into its abyss. Freefall encapsulates everything you love about freediving: relaxation, mastery over your body to enhance hydrodynamics, total surrender, a slowed metabolism, profound silence, and the enveloping embrace of the ocean. It’s all there.
You touch the end of the line. It’s time to go up. Down there, you are heavy, your lungs are the size of an orange, and you redouble your efforts to pull yourself out of the depth. But as you go up, they inflate back, helping you in your ascent. Your training partner comes to meet you and will escort you the rest of the way up. You break the surface and breathe deeply. That first breath of air is pure magic.
Freediving is a way of life. The true freediver is not guided by his ego. He trains prepares so that every dive is a success. And when he resurfaces, he brings back with him a little something from the depths, a piece of his puzzle.
It’s true that it’s a bit crazy, but I’m not a daredevil; no freediver is. We dive above all to celebrate life.
Can you tell us about the evolution of freediving in Taiwan?
Freediving experienced a real boom in Taiwan, as well as in the rest of the world, about five years ago. Today, Taiwan is the third-largest market for this sport in Asia, and the growth shows no signs of slowing down. I’d like to say that this enthusiasm is mainly due to a rediscovery of the ocean and its wonders. But, in reality, the Instagram phenomenon and the desire to take photos for social networks played a triggering role. However, once you experience freediving, you immediately discover the immense potential of this sport and the extraordinary impact it can have on our lives.
An entire ecosystem has developed around freediving. Equipment manufacturers, of course, have seen their products improve not only in terms of functionality but also in appearance to satisfy the growing desire to look “cool” on said social networks. This equipment includes wetsuits, fins, snorkels, and many other necessary (or not) accessories.
Furthermore, the competition field has seen significant expansion. In Taiwan, many pool competitions are organized each year, including the Pacific Rim Cup (PRC), which is the largest pool competition in the world. On the other hand, sea competitions are much rarer in the region, mainly due to more favorable conditions for deep dives available a few hours’ flight away, especially in the Philippines, where freedivers can find dive sites with optimal conditions. This peculiarity encourages enthusiasts of this sport to seek competition opportunities beyond Taiwan’s borders.
The tourism sector has also expanded, with trips organized to popular destinations such as Raja Ampat, the Tonga islands (where you can swim with humpback whales), Japan, the Maldives, the Philippines, and closer to home, the fantastic islands of Penghu, Ludao, Lanyu, and of course Xiaoliuqiu, where we established VD Freediving, my school.
Moreover, a new generation of photographers and videographers has specialized in this field, thereby helping to develop a real “mermaid” culture, fueling the dreams of many Taiwanese children.
And there are also sports physiotherapists and physical trainers who have joined the adventure. It’s unique in the world. When we talked about it with athletes at Vertical Blue, they were all amazed. How lucky to live in Taiwan!
Freeding in Taiwan will continue to evolve. The curriculum to become an instructor is not that difficult, offering an exciting new path for those looking to connect with nature, with themselves, and to change their lives.
And the new generation is coming; more and more semi-professional pool swimmers are getting interested. They bring with them knowledge, training discipline, and an understanding of physical preparation that will undoubtedly change our approach to the sport. All of this is very promising to me.
What are the biggest challenges you faced as the owner of a freediving school?
I had to think for a moment (Editor’s note: about the question…). This probably means that these challenges didn’t seem so big at the time. In retrospect, I would say that opening VD Freediving, our freediving school in Taiwan, was no small feat. There was, of course, the language barrier, then the need to make a place for ourselves, to continue training while teaching, to obtain new certifications, to work tirelessly without ever counting the hours, and never to get discouraged. All of this would not have been possible if I had been alone in this adventure. Fortunately, I was lucky to have an exceptional wife who is also an incredible freediver and instructor. She has been unwavering support throughout these years.
We taught for two years in Taipei before deciding to settle in Xiaoliuqiu. Xiaoliuqiu is the ideal place to practice freediving. It’s easily accessible, a twenty-minute boat ride from Taiwan, with good weather almost all year round. Thanks to its geographical location, there is always one side of the island protected from wind and waves, which is perfect for us. And there’s the depth, almost unlimited, and that’s the Holy Grail for a diver.
This adventure was a series of fortunate events. An acquaintance was renting a two-story house, and due to the downturn in his business because of COVID-19, he offered us to rent the second floor. We immediately accepted without even seeing the place. But when we got there, we realized that we would have to repaint everything, fix everything up; the electricity was entirely to be redone (luckily, I’m an electrician), and so on.
At that time, we split our time between Xiaoliuqiu during the week to renovate the place and Taipei on weekends to continue teaching. We drove every week to save some money, as the HSR price is not cheap. We made countless round trips. I think I know every gas station between Kaoshiung and Taipei like the back of my hand.
It took time, but we finally managed to transfer all our activity to Xiaoliuqiu. VD Freediving is doing well, and we even managed to open a second school on the island, again doing all the work ourselves. When you love, you don’t count.
Everything was done step by step. I never saw the mountain to climb as an obstacle; I just put one foot in front of the other. I’m passionate, I move forward with heart and guts, whistling along the way.
Do you have a memory or freediving experience that particularly marked you?
There are so many, but I’ll choose one. I’m in Bali and not even an instructor yet. I’m training to break the 50-meter barrier for the first time, an important milestone for a freediver. In the past, scientists believed it was impossible to go beyond this depth without risking one’s life, claiming that the lungs would collapse beyond this threshold due to too much pressure. But a freediver named Enzo Majorca, yes, just like the character in the movie “The Big Blue,” defied this theory by diving 50 meters and coming back alive. I can only imagine the mindset he was in before that dive, with everyone telling him it was impossible.
Anyway, the day before my first attempt to reach 50 meters, we were on the training line, and in the middle of our session, a gigantic whale shark appeared, literally emerging on the line, a few meters deep. It was the first time I saw such a massive creature in the wild. I took it as a sign, perhaps a positive omen. The next day, carried by this encounter, I succeeded in a 55-meter dive. This dive marked the beginning of my quest for depth, and I like to believe that by my side during this descent were this whale shark and the encouraging spirit of Enzo Majorca.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get started in freediving?
It is absolutely essential to undergo training with a certified instructor before embarking on freediving. Nowadays, there are many certifications available, but it is essential to understand that obtaining a certificate should not be your only goal. More than just the piece of paper, what really matters is the instructor’s skill and experience, as well as the connection that can be established between you. After all, the ocean is a beautiful place but can also be dangerous if not approached with the necessary respect and caution. It is crucial to adopt the right reflexes from the start and always dive accompanied by someone who masters rescue techniques and procedures.
When choosing your diving school, make sure the pool training is robust. Indeed, it is mainly in the controlled environment of a pool that one perfects one’s technique. Many schools, unfortunately, neglect this aspect of preparation, favoring too rapid progression to sea dives. Take the time to solidly develop your skills in a controlled environment before venturing into the ocean depths for a safer and more enriching freediving experience.
What safety measures do you recommend for every freediver, beginner or experienced?
Regardless of your level, you really need to realize that you are only a guest in the ocean, and it will swallow you whole if you believe you are indestructible. A dive is meticulously prepared.
Knowledge of the dive site: Before jumping into the water, gather detailed information about the chosen site. Identify the entry and exit points, locate the ideal spot to anchor your buoy, and familiarize yourself with the depths and currents of the area. Of course, check the day’s weather; sometimes, it gets windy in Taiwan. In areas frequented by boats, like Xiaoliuqiu, where many small fishermen operate, signal your position with a brightly colored buoy (orange or yellow) and a flag. Keep the Coast Guard, fire department, and emergency medical service numbers on hand for emergencies. Also, carry a first aid kit and undergo first aid training.
Local fauna: Find out about the fauna you might encounter. In Taiwan, the main danger is jellyfish, but rest assured, there are no sharks.
Equipment: It’s essential to have equipment in perfect condition. Opt for a buoy specifically designed for freediving, easily visible on the surface, accompanied by a red flag with a white diagonal. Avoid dark-colored buoys, such as black or dark blue; the goal is to be easily spotted, not to look cool. Equip yourself with a special pulley, a rope suitable for freediving, and a weight between 8 and 10 kg. Always use a safety lanyard that connects you to the line.
Safety and preparation: Diving alone is never an option. Having a partner capable of intervening when needed is a golden rule. Avoid hyperventilation at all costs: it reduces the carbon dioxide level in the blood and disrupts your vital instinct to breathe. Although it may seem like a good idea, know that it’s the leading cause of syncope. Remember, you’re not a fish. There’s no need to try to reach extreme depths in record time: the pleasure of the experience is more valuable than the final destination. Savor every moment of your dive by mastering all the details rather than focusing solely on your dive computer data. Stay hydrated and be honest with yourself. If you feel fatigued, adjust your plans and consider a less ambitious dive.
Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions; I’d be happy to help.
Can you tell us about your role as a coach for athletes participating in Vertical Blue?
Vertical Blue is the Wimbledon of freediving and hosts the global elite of this sport. Participation is mostly by invitation.
Learn more about Vertical Blue: In 2022, I created a specialized training program to prepare my students for deep dives (from 40 meters to 70 meters) and to participate in competitions. This course was a great success, earning me the honor of being asked to accompany the selected Taiwanese athletes during the competition in the Bahamas.
The coaching role is very demanding, requiring meticulous management of all logistical aspects so that athletes can focus entirely on their preparation and performance. This encompasses a range of tasks, from cooking to driving, handling administrative documents like visas and plane tickets, and ensuring safety in the water during training. Of course, the role of strategist and emotional pillar during the competition is just as crucial.
In the water, during competition dives, the coach is there, ready to intervene, especially during the surface protocol. This is a critical phase where the athlete must perform a series of actions within 15 seconds of returning to validate their dive. In these moments, when some are pushing the limits of their abilities on the verge of syncope, my voice resonates, pushing and guiding them to successfully complete this essential protocol. You can observe this aspect of the coaching role in the following video.
This role also goes well beyond immediate responsibilities. It’s essential to master each of the rules governing the event in which the athletes participate. You must always be ready to challenge the judges’ erroneous decisions. Even if this is rare, it can happen. In this environment, I felt like a fish in water. Although I had participated in competitions as a coach, judge, or safety, I had never been a competitor in events of this magnitude. I excelled in this high-level coaching role, receiving congratulations from the greatest champions and the unofficial title of ‘coach of the year’.
How do you prepare with your team for a competition as prestigious as Vertical Blue?
Mental preparation, at this stage, is perhaps even more important than the physical aspect. The selected athletes are already at the forefront in terms of physical condition, but a competition of this magnitude, where every detail counts, can generate enormous tension. Imagine nine days where every movement, every breath is scrutinized in the beating heart of the freediving universe, under the spotlight. The pressure on the athletes’ shoulders is truly titanic.
To further hone our skills, we headed to Roatan, Honduras, for a month of intensive training. This final stretch in preparation is a delicate dance, pushing the limits in depth and gaining confidence while avoiding the pitfalls of diving too deep and injuries. This extreme practice of freediving puts considerable pressure on the nervous system. You need to know when to take a break, as physical rest and mental recovery are essential a few weeks before a competition of this level. You have to find a balance between all of this.
Every detail counts and must be repeated until it becomes second nature. In this type of competition, the success of a dive recognized and validated by the judges requires, among other things, the completion of a strict surface protocol. This protocol requires the athlete, as soon as their airways emerge from the water, to remove their nose clip, look at the judge, make the “OK” sign, and declare “I am OK,” all within 15 seconds, followed by an additional 15 seconds during which they must avoid any loss of consciousness. After a three-minute dive where every molecule of oxygen counts, it’s no small feat. So we leave nothing to chance.
Forty days before the competition, we headed to the Bahamas to acclimate. It was about familiarizing ourselves with the place, the local food, the atmosphere, and, of course, the diving area. And what an exceptional place! A blue hole 200 meters deep, sheltered from currents and waves, framed by pristine white sandy beaches. It’s simply unreal.
Every element that could reduce pre-competition stress is meticulously considered. Thus, I establish checklists for each athlete to ensure they forget nothing on the day. Everything is checked twice. I’m aware of the exact time needed for our journey. I check the car’s condition, the tires, the oil level because the last thing we’d want is a car that refuses to start at a crucial moment, and so on.
We lived together, forming a close-knit and united family, working hard but also sharing moments of relaxation, exploring the surroundings, and absorbing some of the local culture.
The competition went wonderfully well. Each Taiwanese athlete showed their strength. They are true champions, having proven themselves in handling pressure and performing breathtaking dives. They all shone and filled us all with pride.
What do you think distinguishes a good freediver from a great freediver?
The great freediver understands that the real quest is not just about diving deeper and deeper. The journey matters more than the destination itself. Depth, the number on the dive computer, is the result of discipline, training, but also experimentation. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. It’s necessary to get to know oneself on all levels. This includes not only one’s relationship with depth and physical preparation but also nutrition and mental training.
The journey matters more than the destination itself.
It’s a journey between two breaths; each dive becomes a work of art, a symphony of movements and emotions, a deep meditation on the nature of life and existence. A good freediver dives, but a great freediver explores, finding in each descent a new opportunity for growth, discovery, and wonder.
What are the future plans for your school? Are you considering expansions or partnerships?
We now have four instructors and are considering expanding our small business further. I spend a lot of time writing, and after publishing my first book called Breath – Hold about Dry Training in 2022, a new one is in preparation and will be printed in English and Chinese in 2024.
All the knowledge I gain from studying for these books, all my personal experiments for my own preparation and training, translates into the way I teach. I created the “best Master course in Taiwan,” and we are extending this concept to other courses.
More instructor training is also on the agenda, giving my students the chance I had years ago to change their lives. We are developing an online platform where they can find exclusive video courses and exclusive content.
We are launching our first competition and plan to organize trips to explore underwater wonders in Taiwan and abroad.
We have established a partnership with “Wild Ocean Taiwan.” An NGO, founded by Guillaume Brissaud, that promotes education through making films about the Ocean. It raises awareness about the impact of human activity on our beautiful blue planet and organizes clean-ups along Taiwan’s coasts.
In November 2023, we are co-organizing the biggest event of the year. It’s called “Deep Week,” a training week featuring the four current top Taiwanese champions alongside world record holder and legend Alexey Molchanovs and Adam Stern, the Australian champion. Over 100 freedivers will train together in Xiaoliuqiu.
We are developing a branch of our school in Taipei and are also considering expanding our activities to other cities. A new course is in preparation, titled “Discovering the Big Blue,” but it’s a surprise; I’ve already said too much.
Freediving is a vast subject that encompasses physical training, relaxation, mental preparation, nutrition, and much more. We are open to any partnership that aligns with our approach and philosophy.
If you’re reading this and have a project that could fit into this vision, don’t hesitate for a second to contact us.
Finally, apart from underwater, what are the three places where one is most likely to run into you in Taiwan?
Freediving is my whole life. When I’m not underwater, I’m flirting with its surface. In the early morning light, you might well find me at Dafu, this small port in Xiaoliuqiu, swimming. Otherwise, I’m probably on the roof of my school, lifting weights or maybe running, following the contours of the island. Not far from Secret Beach, which is only secret in name, you might find me doing breathing exercises or simply watching one wave chase another.
If by chance I disappear, I’m probably nestled in one of the nearby cafes, engrossed in a new book, designing a course, or bringing a unique project to life. And if, despite your efforts, you can’t locate me, it’s probably because I’ve opted for solitude, away from prying eyes, dreaming of new horizons and my next adventure.
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