“There is a Buddhist quote describing the space in between our breaths at the moment between inhale and exhale. A place we rarely notice or visit from which every thought, action, behaviour and movement arises. This quote is as close as I can get to the feeling a freediver has when he is dropping to the bottom of the ocean. You notice thoughts and emotions passing through, simply coming and going. And it’s a total mental disconnection from everything else.”
British-born David Phillips moved to Spain with his family when he was 12 years old. A friend at school in Marbella soon showed him the ropes, introducing him to the delights of tapas, San Miguel and a brand new language. But it was the after-school activities that truly fascinated him – long hours spent in the Mediterranean marvelling at his friend’s ability to dive down to the seabed some 30 metres below with one breath. A few years passed and the same friend opened a bar in a rough part of town. Crazy nights on LSD, stealing cars and regular visits from the Guardia Civil ensued and Phillips knew it was time to leave, but to where? Casting his mind back to his childhood he recalled a family trip to the island of Ibiza where the days were spent in crystal-clear waters and the nights were full of bizarre characters on stilts promoting nightclubs. Yet again, Ibiza had worked her magic.
Twenty-five years later and Phillips is now something of a legend on the island. A one-time resident DJ at DC-10 and Space and co-founder of Boutique Hostal Salinas, he is now the man behind Saltfish Freediving Ibiza, your gateway to exploring the undersea world of the Balearics.
Freediving is based on the mammalian diving reflex – as soon as cold water encloses the face, the body shifts its bloodstream from the extremities into the brain and heart and slows the heartbeat. “People freak out when they take that first look down – I know I did when I saw my friend disappear into the abyss all those years ago. But they relax when I explain that freediving isn’t magic – it’s one of the safest sports on the planet if they listen and follow the correct techniques and procedures. With that comes security, confidence, progress and ultimately, pure enjoyment.”
Accidents do happen of course. Seven years ago the sport was rocked when freediving world champion Natalia Molchanova disappeared two miles off the coast of Formentera after being swept away by strong underwater currents. But such incidents are extremely rare and today freediving is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.
“The first thing we teach you is what happens to your body when you dive, what gives you the desire and urge to breathe, and knowledge that it isn’t your oxygen levels dropping, it’s your CO2 levels rising,” Phillips explains. “Once you get more acquainted with what’s happening in your body, you are able to interpret sensations that you get when you want to breath. You start to see them as something not so unpleasant and begin to build up a mental and physical tolerance to them. It’s a bit like jogging; there are barriers in jogging –not pain barriers, but barriers of unpleasantness that you learn to run through. And freediving is just the same. There’s no massive plummeting, as your body won’t let you – we teach you to equalize, learn the correct posture and progress slowly. Let’s get you enjoying diving to 10 metres first and take it from there.”
For some of the best experiences Phillips will take you to the north of Ibiza where you’ll discover caves, tunnels and many swim-throughs. “There’s immediate depth in the north with fewer currents and more spectacular scenery,” he says. “Many people think Formentera must be amazing to freedive around, but just like Es Vedrà, the currents are unfortunately crazy there. There is, however, a dilapidated fish farm that’s completely submerged where you can swim through columns and cages, that’s pretty special.”
For a lover of the deep, Phillips’ life looks pretty idylic. While he spends his summers in Ibiza teaching the wonders of freediving, in winter he heads to the remote Bedouin fishing village of Dahab in Egypt. Rich in corals, abundant in marine fauna and with sites such as the 100-metre Blue Hole – “the world’s most dangerous dive” – Dahab is recognized as one of the globe’s top dive locations. And it is here that Phillips aims to soon increase his 80-metre personal best and join the magical “100 Club”.
“Once you get down to 50 or 60 metres you feel like you have been somewhere where nobody can ever reach you. The feeling of achievement is totally empowering and you are suddenly facing things you never thought you could do. And for me, I feel like I have been to the moon…”