Four-time world-record holder and twice world-champion in freediving, Guillaume Néry considers the extreme sport a way of life. We dived into a freewheeling chat with the French champion on the sidelines of SIHH, Geneva, where Néry represented Panerai. By Mitrajit Bhattacharya
1. What does it take to make multiple world records in freediving?
It’s a long journey. I have been freediving for 22 years now, since I was 14. It has always been a real passion for me…[I have] been fascinated to explore the unknown world of the deep.
2. Tell us about your most memorable dive ever.
One of the most memorable dives was at the Galápagos Islands. While I was at my dive spot, a school of several hundreds of hammerhead sharks passed by me. I was all alone at that time, but I decided to be a part of that group. I left with just my fins and mask. I was surprised to see that they moved a bit and left me a little space to start swimming with them. That’s the first time I realised that I am not a human looking at nature, but I am part of nature.
3. And the toughest one?
The toughest one has to be the 2015 one, when I was attempting to break the world record for the fifth time—at 129 metres [then]. Due to reasons not under my control, I dived to 139 metres, and while coming up, I lost consciousness. Hence, the record could not be counted.
4. What’s your favourite travel destination?
Mo’orea. I keep going back there. This year, 15 customers of the limited- edition Panerai Submersible Néry watch will join me at Mo’orea for a diving workshop. That should be fun. I also like diving at the Yonaguni Island in the south of Okinawa, Japan.
5. A destination on your bucket list?
Kamchatka in Russia.
6. Ideal travel companion?
7. Three things you don’t leave home without?
My mask, fins, and camera.
8. Where are you headed next?
9. Ideal diving destination?
The Mediterranean, where it all started for me.
10. What brought you close to Panerai?
We both share the same DNA, that of the sea and diving. I was born in Nice, not so far from the Italian borders, where Panerai comes from.
11. What do you like in the Panerai Submersible Néry edition as a diver?
The watch is the connect between the land and the deep. It’s a symbol of time passing—when you are under water, in a single breath, time is life. Panerai understands the underwater universe and makes incredibly good-looking and highly- functional watches. I wanted to bring the unique mix of green and blue colour from the depths of the Mo’orea Islands and put it in the special edition. Functionally, a good diving watch should be big enough to read easily, and a good chronograph is a necessity as time is life in free-diving. Also, the watch needn’t be heavy.
12. When do we see you in India?
It’s a pity that I have been to Maldives and Sri Lanka, but haven’t visited India yet. When I do visit India, more than the waters, I would be travelling for the mountains to do some yoga. In freediving, you need to be very focussed and be able to control your mind. Besides, you need to be very flexible because the pressure squeezes your body. I am using a lot of yoga and breathing exercises like pranayama to control the flexibility of my lungs, my emotions, and stress. So, it’s a big part of my training.