Freediving in Dominica

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I think the question every freediver gets asked at least once is “what do you think when you are down there?”. The first answer is “nothing”. But then I realize that’s actually “everything.”

By Maria B. Battaglia
Dominica diving
Maria by the platform

SEE MORE ON INSTAGRAM: @blueelementfreediving; @sofigomezu @johnnydeep110 @daanverhoevenfreediver @mbbtt

I decided to visit Dominica taking each day as it came, without any planning: I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t do much research on the island. Word has it that Dominica is a paradise for the beginner freediver. Since I am always up for a new adventure and since I’ve been wanting to try this sport for the longest time, I booked my flight. As soon as I got to the island I thought “this place is magical”: it’s an island decorated in mountains, rivers, waterfalls, hot springs, lianas and trees that have been there for centuries, if not millennia. The place where I stayed is called Soufrière. A village of about 2000 people, in the South-Western corner of the island. This is where Johnny and Sofia opened their very own freediving school: Blue Element.

Jonathan Sunnex, free immersion (FIM) Photo by: Daan Verhoeven, freediver photographer

Jonathan Sunnex (aka Johnny Deep) and Sofía Gómez are world record holders. It goes without saying, when it comes to freediving, rest assured they know best. With them and Jon Fane as my instructors, I was lucky enough to learn how to freedive in the most optimal of conditions: their school is situated a 10 minutes swim from the beach and floats 150 meters above an extinct volcanic crater.  As they put it, “(we have) unlimited depth, no currents, exceptional underwater visibility and the average water temperature is 27º C”. As a beginner freediver, practicing the sport without the disturbance of currents and freezing temperature was truly a blessing.

On Earth Day 2017, we collected 15 bags (approximately 125 kg) of trash from the stream that leads to sea. Photo by: Maria B. Battaglia

I knew from the second I started that I would have loved freediving as it allows me to cultivate and explore my passion for water sports. However, I could have never imagined meeting so many like-minded people who share my same love for the ocean and its conservation. Every freediver feels a connection with the sea and everyone is dedicated to its protection. Like Sofía Gómez, co-founder of Blue Element, said, “the ocean is our life and it is important for us to conserve it as a pristine place”.

Freediver Sofía Gómez, Soufrière-Scott’s Head Marine Reserve Photo by: Jonathan Sunnex (Johnny Deep)

One of Blue Element’s stated missions is being Ambassadors for the Ocean and to inspire others to take care of the Planet. For example, the school organizes clean-ups on a regular basis. Because the community of Soufrière already does a good job keeping their beaches clean, the freedivers go where others cannot reach. During the 2016 Blue Element International Freediving Competition, the school gathered more than 20 freedivers and organized a large-scale clean up under the surface of the Soufrière bay.

Soufrière Valley – photo by Maria B. Battaglia

Growing up by the water made me love the ocean from day one. I remember swimming out to the sea with my mom, who was at the time a freediver, and dive with her for what felt like world-record time. I remember floating on the surface: if I looked above I could see the sun and the sky. When I looked down, a blue, infinite universe opened up before my eyes. Freediving allows me to submerse myself in that underworld that my seven-year-old self was craving to explore. What I could only admire for as little as fifteen seconds, is now a place I can explore in peace. Best of all, I can do this relying on nothing but my own breath. When I freedive, it is only me and everything below the surface.