In this latest article in The Guide, DPG’s Photo Editor Lia Barrett talks to adventure freediving photographers, filmmakers and ocean lovers—and husband-and-wife team—Eusebio and Christina Saenz de Santamaria.
Christina kneels beneath the belly of a large tiger shark in the blue Caribbean waters of the Grand Bahamas
DPG: Eusebio, how long have you been freediving, how did you get into it, and what are your competitive freediving achievements?
Eusebio: I have been freediving for the last 12 years. While I was doing my scuba-diving course, I saw some people holding their breath in a swimming pool in Thailand. I decided to give it a go myself, and I liked the sensation. I am a former national record holder in the three depth disciplines for Spain, but my focus is now more on training others, underwater photography and film, as well as personal challenges.
The silhouette of Eusebio appears like a phantom as he freedives in the magical cenote “The Pit” near the town of Tulum on the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico
DPG: Could you give us some insight into starting the freediving curriculum and school, Apnea Total?
Eusebio: I co-founded Apnea Total in 2003 with my business partner Monica Ganame because we felt there needed to be a system of freediving instruction that was more accessible to the general public. Since the very beginning of Apnea Total, our aim has been to make the sport accessible for everyone. Freediving is a sport, but our philosophy is more to represent freediving as an underwater experience and one that enables you to interact with marine life in the most natural way. Our teaching system has been developed and improved over the years due to the vast experience that we accumulate thanks to thousands of people that decided to try freediving with us. This has helped us enormously to tailor our courses to what people want and expect.
A curious lemon shark cruises by Eusebio as he kneels on the grassy seabed of the Grand Bahamas
DPG: Christina, tell us about finding freediving, Eusebio, and subsequently, a life-changing passion?
Christina: I have always been involved with the ocean, as I grew up on the shorelines of Sydney, Australia. While traveling through Southeast Asia in 2005, I initially started scuba diving and became an instructor, but I soon discovered the Apnea Total school and completed my first course. I was immediately hooked by the sensations of complete freedom underwater and by the challenge to go deeper. I began training more seriously in 2010 and now freediving is part of who I am and my way of life. I currently train and coach at Apnea Total when we are in Koh Tao (Thailand). I met Eusebio through friends and got to know him more closely as I continued my training there. He is now my husband but he remains my trainer, and so we juggle two different dynamics between being in the water and out of the water!
Christina freedives above a dreamy seabed of Posidonia grass off the island of Ibiza, Spain
Christina walking and dreaming underwater off the island of Roatán, Honduras
DPG: How easy is it to separate the two roles?
Eusebio: Coaching Christina in a competition and all the training hours that happen before those final dives is a process that we really enjoy together. I get a personal satisfaction from seeing how the techniques and the applied training work so successfully, making Christina one of the best female freedivers in the world. Our training system allows us to enjoy the water without pressure, and competitions are only five percent of our underwater activity and not our main goal. In the water, the personal dynamics between Christina and I are not of husband and wife, but of trainer and student, which is an important key to success.
Christina: Freediving is a very personal experience. I dive deep for myself and no-one else, so the idea of competing is not entirely natural for me. However, competitions are a good test to perform under the pressures of new faces, cameras, changing dive schedules and water conditions. I definitely don't seek out competition, as this is not my motivation to freedive, but I always consider it if I happen to be in a location where a competition is running. I prefer to organize separate record attempts, as I did with my Australian records, as this is more of a personal event and not a competitive one, and it is good to challenge yourself to perform on the day. I am now an eight-time national record holder and hold the current Australian records in Free Immersion and Constant Weight, both to 80 metres, although I am now freediving deeper than this.
Eusebio ascends from a deep freedive while training off the island of Roatán, Honduras
DPG: Tell us about your joint world record and the added emotional toll of doing such a big dive together in a sport that is, according to many, so spiritual and mental.
Eusebio: Tandem Variable Weight is a dive that had never been attempted before. It involves both of us plunging together to a specific depth with a specially designed weighted sled and then ascending self-powered using either our arms or fins only in synchronicity with each other. We established this new record to a depth of 100 metres, which is a mythical number for freedivers. As freedivers, we normally experience depth by ourselves. It can be a very lonely and internal experience, so we imagined that sharing this would be something very special and unique—plus we know each other intimately and so we knew that we could successfully and safely achieve such a dive. There are many challenges for this type of dive: It is a double risk, and we both have to be ready at the same time. However, diving with someone you know so well gives you a boost of confidence and makes you believe that you are invincible. Still, we obviously know the seriousness and dangers of such a dive, so we never forget our maximum priority—each other’s safety.
The duo descends to a depth of 100 metres on their freediving sled for their Tandem Variable Weight world record
DPG: Freedivers are some of the most graceful creatures underwater—ideal for underwater photography. Tell us about your early days of freediving with a camera. Was it difficult or did it come naturally?
Christina: Eusebio was already filming freedivers underwater from the early days of Apnea Total, but we both started to take a greater interest in underwater photography and video in 2011. Without a clue of what we were doing, we started to take the camera to most of our dives—especially when we knew there was an opportunity to interact with animals. Shooting as much as we could gave us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, become more creative, and educate ourselves about our equipment as well as photographic and film techniques. Thus, we are completely self-taught, but we had a big advantage already as we were strong freedivers before photographers, which helped us to focus on learning about the camera. We never found it difficult, as we are only trying to express creatively how we feel in the underwater world. However, we are constantly learning!
Eusebio follows the tail of a large tiger shark in the Grand Bahamas
Christina ascends from a dive followed by playful spinner dolphins, Big Island, Hawaii
DPG: Other than diving with a buddy, and having proper freediving training, any tips for freediving and shooting?
Eusebio: For freediving, always enjoy the water, regardless of the depth. We never make plans until we do our first dive of the day. From there, we know what kind of day it is going to be, and we can adapt our training or underwater activity accordingly, which removes the pressure of failing to meet expectations. Every day is different in the water—no matter how well you prepare the night before. As for underwater photography: Shoot, shoot, shoot!
DPG: Future projects?
Christina: We have many! This year, we will be in the Mediterranean and continue training for depth including more sled-diving and, of course, documenting everything that we do underwater. We have an endless list of underwater animals we want to freedive with, including orcas, great white sharks, blue whales and humpbacks.
Christina and Eusebio in Koh Tao, Thailand
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