Belgian photographer and apnoeac Frederic Buyle is both an innovator and a hero to the international craze that is freediving. Starting out in the ’90s, Buyle spent much of his youth around the water, where he found his first love: snorkeling. This developed into an incredible lung capacity that saw him begin to compete, and help pave the way for freediving to become a widespread sport.
In 2005, he combined his skills as a photographer with his love for the sea, and began to snap some seriously great shots of the depths below, with no snorkel or SCUBA equipment to keep him alive.
“I was spending lots of time on a sailboat with my parents and as far as I remember I wanted to go underwater and see what was happening under the surface”, says Frederic.
“Freediving was the most natural way to do it.
“Like all nature related sports freediving requires time and lots of practice. It’s an adaptation sport like mountaineering for example. You need to adapt your body to the pressure changes and the limited supply of oxygen. It is a long process. You have to listen to yourself.”
Frederic Buyle’s wrist sports a lovely Diver Deep Dive from Swiss horological stalwart and pioneers Ulysse Nardin. Elegant and practical, it’s a watch that many who spend their time under the sea choose as their primary time-telling instrument.
“For my activities I need very strong tools. My camera housings are bulletproof, my diving gear is minimalist but very reliable. Having a strong and readable automatic watch is the logical add on to that. [The Diver Deep Dive] is readable and well balanced on the wrist. What I found interesting is that it is surprinsingly discreet despite its large size.
“When you are on a remote location without access to parts or batteries your comfort and even safety relies on equipment. Not having to worry about equipment helps you to focus on the job.
“When I was a kid I was fascinated by watches. Back then I thought they were some kind of magical instrument able to give you time. Then later I understood how they were working and when I discovered that an automatic watch could work only thanks to gravity I was hooked.”
His combined love for the sea, and sharing what lies below the surface, has taken him to some pretty incredible locations during his time as a diver and photographer, though he definitely has a few favourites.
“I love the Eastern Pacific: Guadlaupe Island Revillagigedos in Mexico, Galapagos, Malpelo…for me that part of the world has the most sea life and the potential for amazing encounters.”
One thing that separates Frederic’s love of sharing the sea with the rest of the world from others’ is his different approach to enhancing conservation efforts.
“When you protect a place, within a few years you can see that marine life comes back and the situation improves a lot. So we need to create new protected areas, it is simple. But we need to create them involving the community, conservationists, scientists, fishermen, touristic operators have to work hand in hand otherwise it doesn’t work.
“I believe in the power of positive imagery. People are tired of seeing pictures of dead whales, of thousand of shark fins or oil spills. They feel powerless and then don’t get involved in conservation because they think it won’t change anything.
“When you see a picture of a freediver with a large shark or a whale you can easily identify to that and be willing to discover the underwater world. Then the next step is to fall in love with the ocean and it is always easier to protect what you love.”
While he’s managed to (so far) stay out of the jaws of a Great White, Buyle is aware of the dangers of his chosen profession, and happily shares a bit of wisdom.
“When you spend 250 days in the water per year of course you can find yourself in not that comfortable situations, but when you’ve got there through years of practice and experience you can deal with it peacefully.
“The key is to be honest with yourself and your abilities. And remember, if there is one thing you have to remember, it is to never ever dive alone.”