OCEAN LOVER #2: Arthur Guérin-Boëri
In what context did you start practicing freediving?
Having spent most of my summers in Corsica and Nice, I started freediving very young by putting my head under water to watch the fish. At the age of 14, I could already last two or three minutes without training. Not living by the sea, the idea didn't immediately occur to me to see if there were any freediving clubs. It was only after my studies as a sound engineer that I started to do research, and found that there were in fact clubs all over the place, apnea having become a very trendy sport, in the same way than yoga or tai chi. So, I started by giving it a try and I liked it so much that I joined the Apnée Passion club in Montreuil in 2011, which happens to be the biggest freediving club in France. I did a discovery year there, and in 2012, I was offered to compete.
What do you feel when you are in apnea?
Let's say there are two aspects. Practiced recreationally, it is a sport that brings a lot of pleasure. This is also why freediving is considered a well-being sport. Silence, weightlessness, contact with the element, sliding... When you practice regularly, this impacts phychism in a very positive way There is a very hovering aspect from the moment you put your head under the 'water. It can last longer or shorter depending on the freedivers, depending on the exercise you are doing… I call that the comfort zone. We are on another planet, everything is fine, life is good.
There is then a second phase which begins from the moment when one wants to breathe. Generally, those who practice tend to find a real interest in pushing themselves mentally to succeed in managing this urge to breathe and explore what is behind it. A phase that allows you to work on surpassing yourself, self-confidence, taking a step back from the challenges of everyday life...
Do you have to have a natural predisposition to practice apnea, as was your case as a teenager?
No way ! Everyone can go freediving and enjoy it: old, young, men, women, smokers, non-smokers, athletes, not athletes,… Obviously, I'm not talking here about the ten best in the world. It's like football, anyone can play it but to get to Ligue 1, you still need some genetic predispositions in addition to good training. Apnea is the same. everyone can practice even at a very good level… Nevertheless, there are people who are helped by a certain genetics and who suddenly manage to achieve extraordinary performances. This may be my case. Either way, don't focus on it.
There are different categories in apnea. What is your favorite: Static apnea? Dynamic apnea? Deep apnea?
I enjoy all disciplines but what I prefer in terms of sensations is descending in depth with a monofin. It's the most exhilarating and pleasant thing, even if it's not the category where I excel. My biggest performances in the world, I did them in horizontal distance with my monofin, like in Finland under the ice (175 meters) or in the swimming pool where I also broke a world record (300 meters).
In fact, in my opinion, the fundamental difference between horizontal dynamic apnea in the pool and deep apnea at sea is really for one, the mental difficulty linked to overcoming the desire to breathe and for the the other, the mental difficulty linked to taking risks where we are going. Finally, even if few freedivers say it, everyone knows that the real warriors in terms of the desire to breathe are the freedivers in the pool and the real warriors in terms of risk-taking, the deep-sea freedivers , without mentioning the technical differences between the 2 disciplines.
Do you have any particular mentors, people who have taught and inspired you a lot?
Yes, and besides, the people who taught me are not necessarily freediving celebrities. First of all, I'm thinking of Guillaume Lescure, my indoor apnea coach who has brought me a lot, but also of freedivers in the Nice region, to whom I am quite close and who help me progress in depth. I am thinking, for example, of Aurore Asso and Thomas Bouchard, both of whom I particularly appreciate.
You explained in a TEDx in 2018, that according to you, apnea is 90% mental. Do you sometimes not want to train? In these cases, what motivates you and keeps you going?
High-level apnea is a special discipline because it is a sport where you overcome a very closely anchored primary survival reflex, ventilation. I'm obviously talking about high-level apnea and performances where you go very far in the desire to breathe. I think there are people who are more ready to go into battle than others, but in my opinion you just have to be ready with yourself. We may consult the best mental trainers, there are days when we will crack without even knowing why, which has already happened to me, especially in competition. When it gets hard, you have to take out your war paint, leave your brain aside and continue swimming after 150 meters when you already want to breathe from the 50 meter stadium and you have to go up to at 300.
There are even times when it becomes insurmountable and when I no longer want to train. In this case, I cut completely for two to four weeks, and I come back to it afterwards. It is also very important to take breaks because otherwise we crack for good and we stop everything. I'm obviously talking about performances where you go very far in the desire to breathe. There, the dominant mental prowess is without common measure with other sports.
You recently broke a world record under the ice in Finland. And what happens to you to be afraid before such a performance?
Yes of course ! Many high level freedivers have already been scared before descending. In general, when you're scared, you wait until you're ready to go the next day, even if in some cases, like during competitions, you don't have a choice. We have to go. For this performance under ice, for example, I was scared but I couldn't put it off until the next day because I had planned a world record on D-Day. It was a performance that no one had ever tested, and I I also had little experience in freediving in very cold water. I was only able to do two tries before and I realized that it was excessively hard. So, on D-Day, I was anticipating a lot. There was really a big part of doubt on how my body was going to react to this extreme situation.
How do you project yourself in 5 years?
In 5 years, I would ideally like to be an embodied adventurer, speaker and documentary subject to raise awareness about ocean conservation. We have a documentary series being written at the moment. This is a project in which I would go to the four corners of the world to discover underwater biotopes and the people who live alongside them. The idea is that through the practice of apnea, I try to show how climate change modifies these underwater biotopes and the lives of these people.
What are your favorite dive spots?
I regularly go diving at the tip of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, in the Nice region. I also really like the solarium in Monaco, where the Toulonnais wreck lies, and the tip of La Revellata in Corsica, near Calvi.
A work related to the sea to share with us?
Of course, I really like “Le Grand Bleu”. It's almost too cliché to talk about it, but it's a film that I love. I could see it at any age, even after seeing it 50 times. There is a magic in this film and in this soundtrack by Éric Serra which brings me back to many things in my life... The South, Corsica, my family, my roots, my education... I identify a lot with the character and to the whole atmosphere of the film. I find there almost the journey of my childhood and the things I experienced.
Are you committed to protecting the seas and oceans?
I have been involved with Longitude 181 for 2 years, but as a Parisian, it is complicated for me to have a refined knowledge of the oceans, marine mammals, the biotope…etc.
With the documentary series that I want to undertake, I would really like to work on the question by setting out to discover the oceans, in order to confront myself with the impact of Man in these places and try to raise awareness to this cause. But before testifying, it is necessary to discover. Many people declare themselves ambassadors for the protection of the oceans when they know nothing about it. I prefer to have the humility to say that I don't know much but I have the desire to go to these places, in danger or not. Discover the wonders of the ocean such as ecological disasters, to then be able to speak about them legitimately.
Are you optimistic for the future of the planet?
There are more and more people who are sensitive to ecology around me, so I'm hopeful that we can save our planet. I think that human beings are capable of reasoning with themselves. On the other hand, I am wary of the commodification of ecology. I find that certain things make no sense, such as imposing a carbon tax on the French, whereas in China, there is a coal-fired power plant which is built every two weeks or so. A consistent policy must be pursued internationally, including in emerging countries which are exceptional polluters. It's certainly not my job, but you have to be realistic. our initiatives will not carry weight if countries like India, China and the United States continue in this way.