The invitation from Tudor sounded like sun, beach and adventure – we were all fired up at the thought. But now we find ourselves floundering about on the open sea, clinging tightly to a buoy. Diving along a rope down into who-knows-what with just a single breath? Equalising the pressure every metre-and-a-half? Without panicking? Your heart is pounding in your throat.
That’s exactly what it shouldn’t be doing, we learned yesterday. Morgan Bourc’his welcomed René Beyer and the beyond team to the hotel pool for the first part of the workshop. And because the three-time world freediving champion exuded such an infectious calm with his deep, sonorous voice, his slow, elegant movements and his unshakeable confidence, we just assumed that a pounding heart would not be a problem.
Pool position: after the yoga session, Morgan Bourc’his tries to break the beyond team’s fear of oxygen deprivation.
“RELAX. PRETEND YOU’RE IN A DREAM.”
Especially as the first thing he taught us was how to breathe properly – from the lower abdomen in waves to the collarbone, deeply and consciously. We lie down on the yoga mat, let our breath circulate in a kind of square: suck air in, hold it, empty your lungs completely, hold it. In a confidence- boosting exercise, we managed a minute and a half of not breathing with relative ease. And of course we believed Morgan’s every word: that proper breathing has an effect on body and mind, that it can change your character and that anyway it is the basis for being able to have fun in the sea the next day.
YOUR HEAD SCREAMS: “NO!”
After that we adjourned to the pool – which was nice, because the temperature-controlled water was also much more pleasant than the scorching midday sun. So pulling on a wetsuit and donning a mask, we practised equalising the pressure, stretched out to the edge of the pool with our heads under water. 30 seconds. 40 seconds. One minute. “Relax. Pretend you’re in a dream. It’s not about performance, it’s about savouring the moment,” Morgan repeated his mantra as he glanced at his watch and announced the time intervals.
Only one of us seemed reluctant to come up for air and reached the one-and-a-halfminute mark in the pool too – the Boss. René Beyer had no trouble at all letting go and surrendering to the here and now, utterly relaxed. “Are you sure you want to come into the sea with me tomorrow?” he teased, grinning broadly from behind his diving mask.
“In freediving, there’s a whole lot going on in your mind,” Morgan had said. And now, in the open sea, my mind is doing cartwheels. There is no more pool edge to hold onto, no more ground beneath our feet. We’re not even wearing fins. A lead belt is supposed to make it easier for us to get to where we don’t want to go at all: to the yellow weight below us, at a depth of five metres. Five metres! That might not sound like much of an epic feat, but at this moment, getting there feels all but impossible. Because a whole chorus of voices in my head is yelling: Don’t do it! Stay in the air! You’ll drown down there!
A LEAD BELT IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE
IT EASIER FOR US TO GET
TO WHERE WE DON’T WANT
TO GO AT ALL.
Only one person is clinging to his buoy with a grin: the Boss. Shamelessly relaxed, he volunteers to be the first of our group to dive into the depths.
Freediving, also called apnoea (ancient Greek for ‘non-breathing’) diving, is the oldest and most original form of diving. As long ago as the Stone Age, people took to the underwater world without breathing apparatus for minutes on end to search for pearls, sponges and shells. It’s the way spear fishing is still practised today. The feeling of being one with nature, they say, is nowhere greater than in freediving. The undisputed legend of the scene is the Frenchman Jacques Mayol, who in 1976 became the first person to reach a depth of 100 metres without an oxygen tank. The 1988 cult film “The Big Blue” tells his story.
We have a different hero: for Morgan Bourc’his, no water is too cold, no fish too dangerous. With just one breath, he takes a stroll beneath thick layers of ice in frozen lakes, dances with whales in Norway, visits underwater caves as if he could breathe there. And those who are privileged to watch how he moves in the depths think they are witnessing a hybrid of man and fish, the modern interpretation of a merman. It goes without saying that he leads the way on each of our dives to check that everything is how it should be.
Once René Beyer returns to the surface, beaming and gasping for air, the rest of us have to go down too. Well then, it’s farewell sweet world!, I think, take a deep breath and try to glide along the rope into the depths using the most energy-saving movements possible, blocking out the alarm bells that have gone off in my head.
LEAVING BEHIND A LEGACY
His grandfather’s watch was not alone for long: With the same dedication that made his medical projects a success, he pursued his passion for watches across the decades – and, to this day, he meticulously writes down every detail, every measurement, every finding in a book. He also notes which of his six children will inherit which watches one day: “I don’t just want to leave them money; I want to leave them with stories, memories, a bit of passion.” René Beyer nods:
“When it comes to collecting, you need to have a plan for what you’ll do with your collection one day.” Apart from that, he says, a collection needs to bring the collector joy in the here and now.
When you observe how carefully Paul Scheidegger handles the case of his grandfather’s pocket watch, how he appreciates the unique brushed finish – this soft and yet distinctive structure that is now impossible to find – with the skill and sensitivity of a trained dermatologist, then it’s clear that his watches have found a wonderful home. That he would never barter with them or trade them in for more valuable pieces: “My watches are a part of my history: When one finds its way to me, then it stays with me.”
THE MOMENT SEEMS
COMPLETELY UNREAL AND
YET IT GRIPS ME WITH AN
Interview with Morgan B'ourc'his
“THE PASSAGE OF TIME BECOMES DISTORTED”
Three-time world freediving champion: Morgan Bourc’his on the rapture of the deep, life in Marseille and his role as a Tudor ambassador.
With nothing but a breath, you disappear into the depths of the sea for six, seven minutes. What kind of buzz are you looking for? Danger?
Danger’s the last thing I want! I know my body and my limits and I know what I’m doing at all times. I would never put myself in mortal danger. Even if one part of my brain were to go blank during a competition, there would still be the other part that keeps its bearings. Skiers also go to the limit, that’s normal in professional sports.
Let me put it another way: What do you find down there?
A magical, silent world. Freediving is less about the adrenaline rush and more about a kind of trance, a flow, the energy of absolute inner peace.
Can you describe that flow?
I’d say it’s shifting states of consciousness, similar to what other people experience with dancing, with extreme breathing exercises, perhaps also with drugs. The passage of time becomes distorted. You think of nothing but the here and now. It is the highest form of concentration. At the same time, your senses explode. You’re overwhelmed.
Still? After 22 years?
Every single time. There’s a difference between taking part in a competition and diving for myself. Competition is all about winning, you hardly feel at one with nature. When I dive for pleasure, I become a part of the universe and feel completely at one with the sea.
You also take amateurs into the sea with you who have never dived before. Isn’t that a bit boring for you?
n the contrary, there’s a wonderful energy! Holding your breath for 50 or 60 seconds as you dive down deep is a surreal experience for most people. When they overcome their fears and finally succeed, happiness is written all over their faces. It’s nice to be able to open this world up to someone.
You’ve made Marseille your base. What do you most like about this city?
In the nineties, when I first came here, Marseille was rough and dangerous, and sometimes it still is. It’s a melting pot of very different cultures that try hard to coexist more or less successfully. But above all, Marseille is characterised by the sea and by people who come from the sea. The sea is omnipresent.
This sea – is it different in Marseille from elsewhere?
What’s different is how the city and nature exist alongside each other. Here you have an urban nightmare with 1.5 million people, a colossal chaos. Just a few minutes down the coast is another world in which you’re often all alone and feel a bit outside reality. The snow-white limestone cliffs, the lush-green vegetation and the deep-blue sea: it’s a sight you never tire of.
“I TRY TO FORGET ABOUT TIME
AND MYSELF FOR A BIT.”
What is the most important thing you’ve learned from this stunning nature?
That everything is interconnected: plants and animals, water and forests, clouds and mountains. We need to understand that we too are a tiny particle of the same nature – and by no means the strongest. If we don’t take care of nature, we’ll go down before she does.
You’re not only a passionate ambassador for the sea, but also an ambassador for Tudor. How did that come about?
When they were shooting the first commercial for Pelagos watches, I was asked by the director to be a stuntman: for a ‘stroll’ in the water of a frozen lake. There was an instant chemistry with the Tudor guys. Then I won my titles and hit the media spotlight. Well, one thing led to another and ultimately to a very friendly collaboration.
How important is time for you?
Time is an essential component of freediving. What’s the maximum length of time I can hold my breath? How long will my dive last? Do I have enough air and time to get to the surface? How much time do I have left to recover? When I’m well trained, I try to forget about time and myself for a bit. That way, I squeeze out a little more time for myself under water. Time expands until my watch brings me back to reality and reminds me that it’s time to head back up.
How important is a good watch for diving?
owadays, as a top athlete, you need a computer with a set of precise data. When I dive for myself, I only need to know the time. So I need a reliable, easy-to-read watch. Whether I’m diving with whales in Norway or sharks in the Azores: for my projects, I rely on my Tudor “Pelagos”. It’s my favourite watch because it’s what everything began with. And of course: because I also like how it looks.