Freediving for fun
Learning to take the plunge with Planète Apnée in Lake Annecy
We met Simon Chenu at “Plage du Plant” Beach in Veyrier-du-Lac for a beginner freediving lesson.
That’s right, contrary to popular belief, anyone can freedive for fun. As the sport continues to grow in popularity, more and more freediving schools have opened.
© Jerome Maupoint / Lake Annecy, a great place to freedive
Simon Chenu, trained by freediving world championship silver medalist Stéphane Tourreau, earned state certification in 2022 and then opened his freediving school Planète Apnée (“apnée” in French is the word for freediving or holding one’s breath) in January 2023.
The school focuses on freediving for fun, introducing the sport to as many people as possible; much different from competitive freediving where highly-trained athletes participate in competitions to push their limits and even break records. The latter type of freediving, immortalized by the movie The Big Blue, proved a revelation for Simon who, as a little kid, spent a lot of time with his brother on the family rowboat on Lake Annecy playing Jacques Mayol and Enzo Molinari, the movie’s iconic main characters.
However, Simon began his career in music as a professional guitarist. He never fully took to the lifestyle, and decided to pursue his passion, freediving, since he was already diving on a regular basis.
Year round he freedives for his own personal enjoyment and teaches the sport to students in a 20-meter deep diving pool at a facility in Chêne-en-Semine near Geneva. He also coaches the freediving club in Annecy.
© Planète Apnée / Simon Chenu, freediving enthusiast
During a two-hour beginner lesson, Simon teaches alongside Adeline Fissier, an Annecy-based hypnotherapist and relaxation therapist, and an experienced freediver who cured her fear of water through hypnosis. From the start, they both take the time to reassure the most anxious among us by explaining that the goal of our lesson is not performance oriented (holding our breath as long as possible or diving as deep as possible), rather to experience, relax, and progress at our own pace based on our current state of mind.
© Planète Apnée / Summer base camp
We start by lying down beneath the school’s tent. Simon explains to us how to reconnect with ourselves, how to relax our minds and bodies, and little by little, to enter a state of total awareness. After several specific breathing exercises, where we learn the difference between chest breathing and belly breathing, our anxiety subsides and we begin to calm down, relax, and focus.
These exercises can easily be performed as part of a daily routine. The outcome of the guided relaxation is rather surprising, and none of us could have imagined being able to hold our breath for so long. This first part of the lesson lasts approximately 45 minutes.
Next we gear up before heading into the water. After donning a wetsuit, hood, mask, and weight belt, we’re finally ready!
Simon, with his buoy that will serve as our home base as well as the attachment point for the cable anchored to the bottom of the lake (about fifteen meters below the surface), takes us a few simple strokes out into the water. For anyone with any worries before making their first dive, our instructor does everything possible to reassure us. He follows everyone down on their first dive, and his presence gives all of us the confidence we need.
The thermocline (the temperature gradient between two layers of water) provides an accurate indication of how deep we dive. After ten meters, the temperature drops significantly. Once again, the goal is not to dive as deep as possible, rather to dive just a few meters down.
© Planète Apnée / Freediving in Lake Annecy
Each one of us focuses on the present, on the sensation of being underwater, on trying to save energy by moving as little as possible, and on the fluid environment surrounding us with which we begin to meld. The feeling of well being is instant and lasts for hours after the session.
This first-time experience proves a true revelation and we all want to try it again, especially since the Planète Apnée team is so attentive, nonjudgmental, and present. The ideal time to dive is early in the morning to take full advantage of the calm, placid lake.
What is freediving?
Freediving means voluntarily holding your breath.
When freediving, we never stop breathing; we hold our breath, halting the inhaling and exhaling for a short time to explore the feeling of complete relaxation. The dive lasts for as long as one has the ability to conserve the oxygen contained in the lungs and throughout the body.
© Planète Apnée / Learning to freedive
- © Planète Apnée
Journalist: Aude Pollet-Thiollier
Translation: Darin Reisman