Before emerging as one of the top freedivers in the Philippines, Aldric Suan first made a splash in the world of photography. He worked with Canon Philippines in a breathtaking photoshoot highlighting the beauty of Coron’s marine life. “I was doing an exhibit, and I had to shoot some photos. I had this idea of shooting something underwater. Back then, I didn’t have any experience in diving, not even scuba diving. I was trying to find ways on how I could achieve that. I got a mentor who taught me how to scuba dive and an underwater camera,” Aldric recalls.
While underwater photography may seem fascinating on the surface, it’s certainly not an easy genre to pull off. Photographers often grapple with dilemmas in lighting, reduced visibility, and loss of color in photos, to name a few. But despite the inexperience of capturing images in a vast aquatic environment, Aldric’s innate camera skills still created striking photographs for the exhibit. The whole experience got stamped on his memory, and a year later, freediving has enwrapped Aldric’s teeming interest.
“I guess it was all a great chance, my friend Valerie visited me in Cebu. She told me she’ll do an internship for a freediving school in Mactan. I accompanied her and got to see the school for myself. Since I’m already here, I thought, why don’t I just enroll in a course? I enrolled in a level one course, but honestly, I didn’t do well,” he reveals.
Freediving is not only about swimming extreme depths. Like any other sport, freediving demands intensive training and self-discipline to become good at it. The sport also carries potential risks that may affect a freediver’s physical fitness. But more than the hours of training, self-doubt is another massive hurdle that aspiring freedivers must overcome. It’s not an easy foe, and Aldric soon found himself slowly sinking in the ocean of his own thoughts.
“I thought I didn’t have the skill to become a freediver because I couldn’t complete the requirements during the course. I thought maybe freediving just wasn’t for me, so I didn’t go to the third day of the course because I kinda gave up the thought of me becoming a freediver,” Aldric adds.
Amid the surging doubt inside him, Aldric knows that bowing down to adversities isn’t his second nature. There’s an overflowing connection between him and the cerulean waters, which stems from childhood memories of playing underwater in Capul Island during summer. He’s meant to do this—to be a freediver. Armed with determination and an extra push from his friend to keep going, he heeded the call of the waters again—this time, with a renewed mindset. The Filipino freediver is letting go of clouding uncertainties and fully embraces the idea of where this new path will take him.
“Two months later, Valerie told me to ‘why not give it a try again?’ I’m also one not to back down from a challenge. When I tried again, I got pretty good without the pressure of completing any requirements. At that point, I was doing it because I love it — I was enjoying the water. Maybe that’s why I stuck with this sport because you don’t stay with something you don’t love too much,” he gleefully shares.
Possessing a trove of life experience, Aldric talked to us about his experience in competing at the AIDA Indonesia Apnea Competition, what freediving is all about, and his vision for the future of the Philippine freediving community.
For someone who’s not familiar with freediving, give us a background on what it’s about and why people are interested in it.
I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with scuba diving itself. Freediving is kind of like that, but take out the tanks, regulator, and breathing apparatus. You do the diving without a breathing apparatus. There are two sides to freediving; there’s a recreational and competitive side.
People try to acquire the freediving skill for the recreational side to maximize their vacation. In some ways, (freediving) helps you overcome water fear because some people have that. For the competitive side, it’s basically people testing their limits to see who can go the deepest, the farthest, or who can hold their breath the longest. People should also understand, all things must be done with a buddy. Never dive alone.
What does your typical freediving training day look like? What are the exercises you do to stay fit?
The basics would be weightlifting and yoga. Weightlifting because you need to strengthen your body, you need to have general fitness. We need to have a surplus level of strength to execute the dives without tiring ourselves. It’s one of the factors that would contribute to a successful dive. In some ways, weight lifting can make you tight, so this is why I do yoga to balance out all the stiffness I’d get from weight lifting. I need to maintain my flexibility because it’s vital in freediving.
If you’ll be given the power to switch lives with a famous freediver for 24 hours, who would it be, and why?
It would be Alexey Molchanov because the man is a living legend. He has the world record for the deepest unassisted dive—diving by his own power using only monofins to propulsion. Twenty-four hours as him? I’d want to experience how to dive as deep as he would.
As an experienced freediver, what are your tips for anyone who also wants to pursue it as a hobby or career?
Don’t focus too much on the numbers. Beginning freedivers tend to fixate on the depth—how deep they can go or how long they can hold their breaths. Don’t let the numbers dictate your happiness for freediving because some people only become happy once they get a PB (personal best).
Just enjoy the moment. The great thing about freediving is it’s an activity where you can detach yourself from everything momentarily—in some ways, an underwater meditation. I would encourage everyone to focus on these positive feelings. When you do focus on these positive feelings, you tend to free dive more often, and you become good without knowing it.
If you aren’t a freediver today, what career path would you be interested in pursuing?
Although I’m part of the Philippines Freediving Team and a freediving instructor, I’m also pursuing a business career. I’m doing my Executive Masters in Business Administration at the Asian Institute of Management.
The Philippine Freediving Team has competed in the IDAC 2019, a big event, and you’re a part of it. How was the whole experience for you?
IDAC 2019 was special because I won first place for the Dynamic Bi-Fins Category, Male Division. I broke the national record and did 151 meters in Jakarta’s pool discipline. One year from that moment, I had an accident in Bali, so I was really injured and couldn’t walk. Everything was reset to zero. At that point, I was basically another beginner again.
I wasn’t the type to give up on a challenge. With my friend’s help, who’s also a physical therapist and a sports coach, he gave me a program that would lead up to the competition season. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to win anything. I just want to join competitions because it’s enjoyable. I just proved to myself there isn’t anything impossible. Even if you experience something as bad as a motorcycle crash, you could still win a competition. That was a pivotal moment for me.
What lessons have you learned as a freediver that you also practice in your everyday life?
That’s the great thing about freediving. It teaches you about life. The most important thing I try to practice in my daily life is being present in the moment. If you fixate too much on what’s about to come, you detach yourself from the current situation, and that’s where everything goes wrong. Being in the present is the best thing I practice daily.
What are the most important characteristics that every freediver should have?
Patience is the first attribute a freediver must have. If you’re not patient, nothing good will come. Just enjoy the moment. Discipline is another critical attribute a freediver must possess. Even if you’re enjoying the moment, but you’re indulging in too many vices like alcohol or cigarettes, it will also affect your freediving.
This is just me, I’m sure a lot of people have different opinions, but one of the important things is the willingness to learn—humility. A lot of people think they already know everything. If you start thinking that way, you close yourself to new information. It’s critical to have a beginner’s mind—to always accept new information. Whatever is useful, you keep.
Is there anything you still want to achieve as a freediver? What is it?
I’m happy with how far I’ve gone in freediving, and to be honest, I’m really contented. I don’t desire anything more than what I have currently. If I win more competitions or break records, that would be just a bonus. Maybe, I’d just want to help the next generation of freedivers succeed. I want to teach them what I’ve learned so far, and hopefully, they can continue the spirit of freediving for the Filipinos.
How do you envision the freediving sport here in the Philippines five years from now?
Five years from now, it’s going to be very interesting. I’m predicting a lot of the records the Philippine Team has made will all be broken soon. The Filipino freediving community is very supportive for the most part, and we have a culture of bringing other people up. One of the reasons why the Philippine Freediving Team was started is to inspire the people—to take this sport more seriously. We’re just normal individuals, but we’re trying to help each other out.