The Real-life Mermaid

Free Diving
(photo: Lyndsay Bilodeau)

In my early youth, my summers were not particularly eventful. I used to find great joy in sitting down and watching the occasional Disney movie here and there while imagining what it would be like to live in their world of magic, adventure and happy endings. While I made sure to watch a different one every day (my mother did not give me much of a choice; she refused to listed to ‘Part of that world’ for more than twice a day), a particular one remains very close to my heart. The little mermaid made me envious of life underwater, and while swimming in the clear Maltese waters, I often found myself lost in a part of my imagination where I was a mermaid in mid-sea. I hoped and prayed that a little Sebastian might come by and suddenly burst into song about why anyone would ever want to leave such a mystical and magical under-sea land. Thank God he didn’t, I would have been convinced in no time.

Although I myself am not merely graceful enough to ever be considered as any form of a mermaid, VIDA’s underwater competition from 2 months ago might have served to introduce us to the closest thing to a mermaid we might ever get to.

Free diving is a sport which is slowly growing in popularity here in Malta. The whole idea behind it is to submerge yourself into deep water lengths without any breathing gear. It is just you, the water, and your breathing capacity. While it may sound like quite a distressing situation to be in, people involved within the sport cannot seem to get enough of the relaxing sensation it leaves you with. Lyndsay Bilodeau, a free-diving guru, sits down with VIDA to tell us all about the human body’s incredible ability to naturally adapt itself to an underwater environment.

Free Diving
(photo: Lyndsay Bilodeau)

Why did you take up free diving?

I have always been a water person; in fact, I swam a lot as a child. I remember how even back then I was always hanging out at the bottom of the pool, completely unknowing of free diving, but still managed to get to the bottom. When I got older, I moved away to Costa Rica and was introduced to the open ocean, which is how I got into surfing, my own way of having fun with the sea. When I moved to Malta, I couldn’t really surf, so I needed to find a way to fix my urge for the sea. I used to take my snorkel out into the water all by myself and I was managing a depth of 10 to 12 metres without any breathing assistance or any knowledge about free diving and its safety requirements. Eventually, I came across it on TV and said to myself “hey that’s what I’m already doing!”, so I took a course, did really well and here I am. I spent my whole childhood pretending to be a mermaid so I finally got to be one. It just felt natural to me, like I had finally found a name to what I was doing.”

How long can you hold your breath underwater?

My personal best is 5 mins 25 seconds as a static apnea, which means that you just hold your breath under water without travelling any particular distance. It took me some time to build up to that, but it is quite a relaxing sensation to submerge yourself underwater and just stand still. One of the biggest benefits of free diving is relaxation. Given that it is not and adrenaline pumping sports, you can just shut down all of the mind chatter and trust in a body that it will adapt to environment. It is 90% mental 10% physical- you really have to put your mind to it.

What goes into your daily routine to prepare yourself for rigorous free-diving sessions?

I consider myself to be quite an active person. I run, swim, I do cross fit, I teach yoga, all sorts of stuff. I think yoga is probably the most beneficial; it teaches you to breathe properly and use all the sections of your lungs which you’re generally not taught to use. A nice yoga session before a dive together with a number of breathing exercises does the thing for me. In reality, each person has a different training routine; some are set on one thing others like to try things out – I like to mix it up, that way I never get bored.

How does it feel to be a successful female in this male dominated sport?

I am nowhere near any of the records but I am very happy with what I have achieved so far; I am able to teach people through being an instructor. Lots of women are actually becoming interested in this sport each year. Women have a tendency to shy away from extreme sports, but in reality they are actually better suited, as they are not driven by adrenaline and already practice different forms of meditation. As an instructor, I have seen the difference, and I can tell that women are there to purely enjoy it; the competitive component is not as evident.

Free Diving
(photo: Lyndsay Bilodeau)

How do you take those amazing photos?

For me it is as easy as doing it on land; water is element and I feel completely comfortable in it. When I am down there, everything fits into place; I have come to enjoy the silence. In reality, I am not graceful, but the water is the only place in the world where I feel the at ease. The weightlessness allows me to move my body however I want it to.

I have a go pro, so really I just take it out with me on regular basis, and after years of practice, I figured out the secret of capturing the moment. I just place it on a reef down below, set a timer and just go to town- I start dancing and moving underwater. My aim is to convey the feeling that I get when I am down there, the weightlessness and the letting go. Sometimes I manage.

Does it get painful after a while?

If it is painful, then you are doing something wrong! Regular equalising is necessary so you should feel completely relaxed. Tensing up will only deplete your oxygen quicker, so you need to scan your body and check for tension so that you can let it go and succumb to the sea.

Why should people get into free diving?

It is a sport that is guaranteed to change your life. The minute you head underwater, you start a different internal journey. You learn a lot about yourself and your limitations. There are absolutely no restrictions when it comes to free diving; all ages, sizes and genders are welcome. It is mostly all about the mind and has to do with pushing yourself to reach new limits; however, it is the relaxation that people talk about the most after having experienced it.

What is the best thing about freediving?

Free diving completely allows you to be at one with sea and interact with marine life and the surrounding environment. The element of sport is great and I love that it provides a challenge, but what truly draws me to it is the beauty of the sea.

When down there, you are just an observer. Sometimes, if you’re not making any sudden movements, different type of fish might come up to you. They’re curious and they want to see what you’re doing. It is another world down there; it is where you can escape anything in life, be who you want to be and imagine whatever you want to imagine. It is just you and the ocean, that is it.

For more information about Free Diving contact Lyndsay on [email protected] or visit the website www.deepmedcentre.com.

© 2016 – VIDA Magazine – Thea Formosa