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Interviews

The Life & Times of a Professional Freediver Interviews

The Life & Times of a Professional Freediver
Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

You don’t need tons of expensive equipment to be a freediver. For this type of underwater diving, all you need is a big pair of lungs, a decent pair of fins and some serious determination. Freediving gives you the opportunity to explore the underwater world in complete serenity. Sounds cool, right? But I bet you didn’t realise you could make a living by holding your breath underwater! Emma Farrell does just that. She is one of the world’s best freediving instructors and Europe’s only SSI Freediving Instructor Trainer. We chatted to Emma about her professional life as a freediver and found out exactly how long she can hold her breath for…


When did you start freediving?

When I started freediving in 2001, it was an incredibly niche sport. There were no courses, and I didn’t even know that you could freedive in the UK. I just started with some friends, grew to love the sport, and then went and freedived abroad. I was actually one of the founding members of the AIDA Education Commission, an international group of seven people who wrote course standards on behalf of AIDA for a set of courses that could be taught worldwide.

I then became the Head of Freediving Education for Deeper Blue. I’ve been teaching courses for the last eight years, as well as leading summer schools in Greece and in Malta, and spring camps in Egypt.

How did you actually learn to freedive? Was it just something you tried out?

Well, I’d read about it and then I found out there was something called the SETT tank (Submarine Escape Training Tank), which was open to the public. A group of freedivers used to go down there to train, and so that’s where I first had a go at freediving. I just took it from there really.

Why did you decide to give freediving a try in the first place? What was it about freediving that appealed to you?

It just looked really, really cool; a way of being underwater without lots of noise and equipment. It just seemed to be a really peaceful way to spend my time. And it is. It’s very, very relaxing.

Had you ever done any other forms of diving before you started freediving?

Many years ago when I was 19, I did two scuba dives. It was alright, but it never really appealed to me. I think I was very cautious about the idea that the equipment could go wrong, whereas, with freediving, everything is under your control.

You decide how deep you go, you decide how long you hold your breath for, and if you ever get into difficulty, you know you can bolt to the surface. Despite what people may think, freediving is far, far safer than scuba diving. For me, it just gives me a sense of freedom underwater, and I feel safe doing it.

How long can you actually stay underwater for?

The longest I’ve held my breath is four and a half minutes. And the deepest I’ve dived is 40 metres.

There are eight different forms of freediving. Which ones do you enjoy the most? And which ones do you think are the most challenging?

I enjoy constant weight freediving the most, where you just fin down and fin back. And I think the most challenging is static freediving, where you just hold your breath on the surface of the swimming pool, because there’s nothing to take your mind off the fact that you’re holding your breath.

Do you have to complete an AIDA qualification in order to compete in freediving competitions?

Yes. You have to complete a freediving qualification, which would either be an AIDA 2 Star qualification or equivalent, so that could be an SSI Level 1 Freediver qualification.

Once you’d started getting into freediving as a hobby, was it something that you knew you wanted to develop as a career?

No, not at all. I like challenges and I’m inspired to teach. I wanted to help people get into the sport and help them avoid making the mistakes I did. When I learnt there wasn’t proper tuition, but nowadays you don’t have the same barriers.

I also did a personality test, the Myers-Briggs one I think, and it said that I should be a teacher. I’m a natural teacher, so that would probably explain why I turned freediving into my career.

I also found the academic side of writing all the course materials intensely challenging. And I love challenges. I also like setting stuff up.

You studied anthropology at the University of Manchester. Did you have any idea what you wanted to do with your career at that point?

Yes. I wanted to be a filmmaker and I did my master’s in anthropology and documentary filmmaking. I then actually developed a career in filmmaking and won quite a few awards for my work. But it just reached a point where it was very difficult to find work and very difficult to make ends meet.

Therefore, I had to branch out into other areas. Now, ironically, I do a lot of television work, but I’m in front of the camera rather than behind it.

Do you think your media background has helped you make that leap into doing more television?

I think it helps in the sense that I know exactly what they want, and I know exactly how to give it to them. I know exactly why they’re doing different shots and what shots they need. I know how they want me to speak and I know where they want me to look. So it just makes their life a lot easier.

There’s actually a really cool new TV series coming out in the next couple of months called The Hidden Talent Show. The two launch episodes are about freediving, and so I’m on that, finding somebody in the population with a hidden talent and then teaching them to freedive.

Did you make a conscious decision to move away from filmmaking in order to focus on freediving?

I think it was an unhappily conscious decision. I didn’t want to leave filmmaking but I just wasn’t making any money whatsoever. I couldn’t keep making films for free, winning awards and then going: “Ooh! Isn’t that great? I won an award.” That doesn’t pay your rent.

I realised that I wasn’t making any money making films, so then I thought: what other areas of my career can I focus on? So I got a reflexology qualification and I started organising the freediving courses as a way of trying to bring in a little bit more money.

How can you make money out of freediving? Is there prize money at stake in competitions?

No. There is only one competition in the world where you actually get a cash prize. It’s a breath-holding competition in Dubai called ‘The Fazza Competition’. It’s only open to men, and if you hold your breath the longest, you win a Range Rover.

Essentially, people compete in freediving because they want to. They pay for all their own expenses and the prizes are pretty nominal. For example, you might win a piece of equipment.

There are a few freedivers who get sponsorship, but it’s not a lot of money, and they are few and far between.

In terms of making a career out of freediving, however, it’s actually a very, very exciting time. Two years ago, a company called SSI (Scuba Schools International), which has been going since 1970 as a course provider for scuba diving, started writing a freediving course programme, which has grown immensely. They’re now launching the freediving course in the UK. I’ve just returned from Egypt where I’ve done my crossover, so I’m now Europe’s only instructor/trainer for SSI freediving courses as well as AIDA courses.

Even if you’d spoken to me a year ago, I would have said that it’s really difficult to build a career in freediving. However, there are already two jobs for freediving instructors on the SSI website, including: the first one ‘SSI Freediving Instructor and Whale Shark Spotter’ in Ningaloo Reef, Australia, and another job for an SSI Freediving Instructor in Ko Tao, Thailand.

The SSI freediving programme has only been out a year in Australasia, and they’ve only just launched it in England, but already there are two really, really cool freediving instructor jobs available. Freediving is the fastest growing segment of the dive market.

What kind of courses do you offer?

I’m based in Somerset. I teach in the UK for seven months of the year and abroad for the rest of the time. I teach all levels of courses, from complete introduction up to instructor level.

Which areas of freediving do the courses focus on?

On every course you will do static, dynamic, free immersion and constant weight freediving. You get a complete grounding in the whole of freediving.

Do you miss competing at all?

No. I hated competing. It was incredibly stressful and I didn’t like it. It wasn’t why I got into freediving. I got into freediving to feel all relaxed and chilled. I think the competitions were great for my experience and for a personal challenge, but I don’t miss it in the slightest. Pushing yourself to those limits can feel really, really rotten. I just love freediving and I want to enjoy it. I don’t want to do something that really stresses me out.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

There have been so many highlights. Taking people swimming with dolphins in the Bahamas is pretty cool. Teaching high-end clients on private yachts was lots of fun. I’ve even taught Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Terence Stamp, which was fantastic.

Can anyone become a freediver?

Anyone can freedive, and if you’ve got the motivation you can work your way up to be an instructor.

If you want to make a career out of freediving, what do you need to have?

You have to have motivation, drive, determination and you have to love freediving. You also have to love teaching. You have to really be inspired by teaching, because if you don’t love helping others, there’s no point in becoming a freediving instructor. You’ll just be an arse and no-one will want to learn from you.

At the moment, if you want a career in freediving, the only way to make any money and to have a career that takes you around the world is to be an instructor. In fact, now that I’m moving over to SSI courses, I’m also looking for people who live locally to volunteer for me in exchange for free courses.

Alternatively, if you want to get into underwater filming or underwater photography, you’re much more likely to take better photos and better video if you are breath-hold diving. In fact, I’ve also taught people who work for the Bristol Natural History Consortium, who do the filming for Blue Planet, because they need to freedive to do their job better.

If you blow bubbles, fish will get scared away, but if you’re holding your breath, they’ll come and check you out. Freediving also offers much more flexibility. If you scuba dive, you pretty much have to stay at a certain depth for 45 minutes until your air runs out. And you can do that twice a day. With freediving, you can dive all day without any problems.

To find out more about freediving courses, check out: www.emma-freediver.co.uk

Image courtesy of Simon Reid

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Interviews

 Using Your Internship to Get into Investment Banking

Using Your Internship to Get into Investment Banking

You’ve probably heard that work experience is the best way forward when it comes to securing that golden graduate job. But how do you go about making the most of your internships to get into the highly competitive investment banking industry? Raisah, who is now a credit trading analyst at international bank J.P. Morgan has is covered…

Interviews

Gavin Thomas, Travel Writer

Gavin Thomas, Travel Writer

After a two-year round-the-world trip, Gavin Thomas decided to move away from music journalism and started working as a travel editor with Rough Guides. After several years of editing, he was given the opportunity to author the first edition of the Rough Guide to Sri Lanka. Since becoming a freelance travel journalist in 2005, he has written a range of guidebooks about Dubai, Oman, Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra. We chatted to Gavin about becoming a travel writer, avoiding cliché and the time he was shot in the stomach by armed bandits in Mexico…

Interviews

Finance Apprenticeships: A Smith & Williamson Insight

Finance Apprenticeships: A Smith & Williamson Insight

Finance apprenticeships are increasingly on the up as an alternative to university for top school leavers. But what does an apprenticeship actually involve? Josh and Katie came from slightly different routes (A-levels and a Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma in Business) and have now taken up tax and audit apprenticeships with financial services firm Smith & Williamson. They let us in on what their programmes involve…

Interviews

Diversity in Banking: An Insight

Diversity in Banking: An Insight

You’ll often here that nowadays banks implement diversity policies and programmes in all elements of their business. But what are they actually doing? Vinay Kapoor, UK Diversity & Inclusion Manager at BNP Paribas told us about how things are changing within the industry and what diversity and inclusion means at the Bank…

Interviews

Devan Nathwani, Actuarial Intern and Graduate at Aon

Devan Nathwani, Actuarial Intern and Graduate at Aon

Devan was curious about what an actuarial career may hold as a mathematics student, but wasn’t 100% sure what the industry actually entailed. A couple of years later, he has completed a summer internship in actuarial consulting within pensions with top actuarial firm Aon, and has now moved into their graduate scheme. So what did he gain from his summer internship?

Interviews

Deutsche Bank Experiences: Private & Business Clients

Deutsche Bank Experiences: Private & Business Clients

Private and business clients is a highly desired career path focus in the banking and finance world. Roya is gaining experience in this area with Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, Germany – one of the world’s biggest financial hubs. She told us about the opportunities this is opening up.

Interviews

Deutsche Bank Experiences: Graduate Global Technology Strategy Analyst

Deutsche Bank Experiences: Graduate Global Technology Strategy Analyst

Leo is a Global Technology Strategy Analyst in Group Technology & Operations in London. His team pioneers technologies and re-engineers business processes to deliver innovation and world-class client service. From moving trillions of Euros through a business every day to integrating two organizations after a major acquisition, they face the technological challenges caused by growth, market change and constant competition…

Interviews

Dave Benson Phillips, Children’s Television Presenter

Dave Benson Phillips, Children’s Television Presenter

If you watched children’s television in the 90s, you will probably recognise the trademark smile of Dave Benson Phillips. Yep, that’s right! He’s the charming chap who presented Playdays, Get Your Own Back and Wake Up in the Wild Room. We caught up with Dave to chat about his life as a children’s television presenter, the 'World’s Largest Gunge Fight', and the internet death hoax that threatened to ruin his career…

Interviews

Confessions of a Recruitment Consultant

Confessions of a Recruitment Consultant

Prepare to be shocked, appalled and amused! We interviewed a graduate recruitment consultant to find out what really happens to your CV when you apply for a job through a recruitment agency. If you want an honest insight into the recruitment process, you’re in the right place. The person we interviewed has asked to remain anonymous. Get ready to find out why!

Interviews

Chibundu Onuzo, Student Novelist

Chibundu Onuzo, Student Novelist

Chibundu Onuzo started writing her debut novel when she was just 17 years old. Having secured a two-book deal with Faber at the age of 20, whilst studying history at King’s College London, she went on to receive widespread critical acclaim for The Spider King’s Daughter, which was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Dylan Thomas Prize. We chatted to Chibundu about tackling the writing process, getting published, and balancing academic work with a literary career…

Interviews

Catching Up with Browne Jacobson’s New Training Principal

Catching Up with Browne Jacobson’s New Training Principal

Mark Hughes has recently been appointed training principal at Browne Jacobson. Mark, a partner in Browne Jacobson’s corporate team specialises in all aspects of corporate advice, including acquisitions and disposals and has been with the firm since 1999. AllAboutCareers.com caught up with Mark, finding out about changes to Browne Jacobson’s trainee recruitment programme…

Interviews

Building a Brand: The World’s Best Tasting Popcorn

Building a Brand: The World’s Best Tasting Popcorn

Fresh from his recent appearance on Dragons’ Den, Martin McLaughlin (a.k.a. Ben ‘Jamaican Me Crazy’ McLaughlin) chatted to us about starting his own popcorn company, Love Da Popcorn, with two close friends. With a background in advertising and a tidy little bit of investment from Peter Jones, Love Da Popcorn’s products are likely to be making your tonsils tingle with happiness very, very soon…

Interviews

Are apprenticeships the best route into the accounting industry?

Are apprenticeships the best route into the accounting industry?

Mike Day is the Head of the Accounting Academy Partnership, an apprenticeship scheme which helps young people to become qualified accounting technicians in just 14 months. We chatted to Mike about the increasing importance of apprenticeships in the accounting industry, especially now the government has announced its scheme to create 360,000 apprenticeships in the UK this financial year…

Interviews

An Interview with the Attorney General

An Interview with the Attorney General

Appointed as the Attorney General by Prime Minister David Cameron in May, 2010, Dominic Grieve QC MP is the Chief Legal Adviser to the Crown. A champion of student pro bono projects, he also chairs the Attorney General’s Pro Bono Committee. We were lucky enough to get the chance to talk to the Attorney General about the importance of student pro bono projects, his own personal experiences of pro bono work, and the possible impact that the proposed legal aid cuts will have on pro bono initiatives in the UK…

Interviews

An Interview with an Ambassador

An Interview with an Ambassador

His Excellency Ric Todd has recently been appointed Her Majesty’s Governor to Turks and Caicos Islands. Previously he was the 56th British Ambassador to Poland. We were lucky enough to get the chance to talk to Ric about his career so far, his advice for people considering a career as a British Ambassador, the challenge of learning new languages and meeting Pope John Paul II...

Interviews

An Insider’s Guide to City Vacation Schemes

An Insider’s Guide to City Vacation Schemes

Sussing out the law firm you want to work for is a tricky old business! It can be difficult to really pinpoint the best way to do it. Of course, one the best ways is to get yourself onto a vacation scheme with a firm. But what will you get out of your one or two weeks in the office? Andrew Pollock is now a trainee with top City firm King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin after finding the perfect fit through a vacation scheme! Here’s what he got up to…

Interviews

An Employer’s Perspective on Modern Apprenticeships

An Employer’s Perspective on Modern Apprenticeships

Employers Jessica Addis and James Vaughan-Smith needed to hire additional staff recently and took a chance on apprentice Chloe Hutchinson-Brown. Having had a positive experience of utilising an apprenticeship scheme, Jessica and James spoke to AllAboutCareers.com about how hiring an apprentice worked for their company and should be a serious consideration for all school leavers.

Interviews

Alice Coates, Teach First Maths Ambassador

Alice Coates, Teach First Maths Ambassador

Alice Coates gained a multitude of different experiences working with young people through her studies before she took on the challenge of the Teach First Leadership Development Programme as a maths teacher in the Yorkshire and The Humber area. A couple of years later, she’s now a Lower School Assistant Head in Sheffield! She chatted to us about her experiences on the programme and what teaching means to her…

Interviews

Adam Gamsa, Trainee Solicitor @ Field Fisher Waterhouse

Adam Gamsa, Trainee Solicitor @ Field Fisher Waterhouse

Having completed a DPhil in Physics at the University of Oxford, Adam Gamsa decided to move away from academia and join Field Fisher Waterhouse as a trainee solicitor. We caught up with Adam to chat about his first nine months as a trainee, his vacation scheme and his enthusiasm for intellectual property law…

Interviews

A Vacation Scheme with International Law Firm Taylor Wessing

A Vacation Scheme with International Law Firm Taylor Wessing

Clara Garfield completed a vacation scheme at international firm, Taylor Wessing in 2011. Throughout the scheme, Clara felt well supported by the firm and commends the ethos of the firm and their hiring policy – Taylor Wessing look for people who are a good fit for the firm’s culture, not just those with top grades.

Interviews

A Life in Social Care

A Life in Social Care

Many of the people who pursue a career in social care are initially drawn by the simple motivation of ‘helping people’ or ‘giving something back’. Behind such simplicity is a complicated range of values. For example, a recognition of the inherent value of every person and their right to be considered equal with every other citizen.

Interviews

A Different Kind of Accountant

A Different Kind of Accountant

When you hear the word Mazuma, you might think of those irritating adverts which invite you to exchange your mobile phone for cash. But wait! There is another company with the same name. Started by two friends, Mazuma provides expert accountancy services to small businesses and independent contractors. We had a chat with Sophie Hughes about starting up her own business and what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry…

Interviews

A Day in the Life of a Trainee Actuarial Consultant

A Day in the Life of a Trainee Actuarial Consultant

After graduating from the University of Warwick with a degree in Maths, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics (MORSE), Tom Williams joined Aon as a trainee actuarial consultant. We caught up with him to find out more about the professional life of an actuary… 

Interviews

Why I Chose My Sponsored Degree in Engineering

Why I Chose My Sponsored Degree in Engineering

Sponsored Degree Programmes can be ideal for those looking for a career change too. Lee Dennis was initially an engineer with the Royal Navy, and took his career in a new direction into the power system industry through the National Grid Engineer Training Programme…

Interviews