Follow our “Meet the Team” blog series where we introduce you to us, so you know who we are and what you are in for 😉 Get to know your Instructors before traveling to Gili Trawangan or follow them after completing your Freediving Course. This week we have interviewed Gary McGrath, AIDA and SSI Freediving Instructor and competitive Freediver (Team GB). We met Gary at the Individual Freediving World Championships in Kalamata, Greece in September 2013. Gary joined our team in May and has been rocking the shop ever since. When he’s not inspiring new Freedivers from their first breath-hold or coaching others down to their deepest depths, you can find him training in the pool, pushing his depths out in the deep blue or maybe even at Gili Yoga on the yoga mat at his girlfriend, Lynne Padon’s, yoga class.
Where are you from?
I grew up in west London, in Twickenham, famous for its huge rugby stadium. My mum is Thai so I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Thailand over the years. I’ve got loads of relatives there and Bangkok is like a second home for me.
How did you get into Freediving?
I lived on the island of Menorca in Spain for a couple of years, right on the beach. I was in the water everyday and eventually started spearfishing. I would buy Spanish language spearing magazines and translate them with a dictionary. Somewhere in the back there was usually a small article on Freediving, this was the first time I realized that the sport even existed.
Then, one Thursday evening back in London I was swimming in my local pool and a guy walked past me with some long fins and a wetsuit, turns out there was a Freediving club training there every week. I joined up straight away and have been training with London Freedivers for 6 years!
My first open water experience was a cold one! AIDA 2 star in a flooded quarry in Wales. 5mm suit, gloves and boots and a flask of hot Ribena were essentials! It’s fresh water so there is a green tint to the water making one of the prettiest places I’ve dived in. I was totally hooked.
What do you love most about Freediving?
I guess the thing I love most about Freediving is the solitude. I treat my diving as a meditation. There are not many times in our daily lives when we take time to focus only on calming our minds, slowing our breath and nothing else. For me, being underwater is almost like self-maintenance, no matter how stressful my day has been, half an hour diving and everything washes away almost like a reset button.
What did you do before becoming a Freediving Instructor?
Back in London I was a Tree Surgeon. I got to play with some big chainsaws and climb some really tall trees, doing anything from removing dead or diseased parts to reducing the size of large trees to planting new ones. One of the things I miss the most is taking a cup of coffee and breakfast up top and having a break in the canopy whilst hanging from my harness, an amazing, peaceful perspective of a busy place like London. I guess Freediving and Tree Surgery have some things in common, the mental focus needed for both and the solitude felt from being under water alone and in the canopy of a tree.
What was your best Freediving experience?
My best Freediving experience happened years before I even knew what Freediving was. I was 20 and working on boats in the Whitsunday Islands in Australia. We would take groups out to the islands for 3 night tours. One morning just after dawn, Kirk, the captain (yes, I’m serious) shook me awake and told me to grab a mask and fins and jump in the tender. He rowed a little way from our boat and pointed down. Right underneath us was a blue whale and calf just hanging out in the bay we moored in! I slipped into the water and had the most exhilarating diving experience I’ve ever had.
You practice yoga. What are the parallels between yoga and Freediving?
For me, Yoga and Freediving are one and the same, the mental focus taught in yoga directly transfers to Freediving. In yoga it’s just you and your mat and underwater it’s just you and the ocean. Both disciplines allow you to really get to know your inner self in a way I haven’t found with any other activities.
Tell us about your greatest Freediving acheivement…
It has to be getting selected for the British team for the 2012 Team World Championships in Nice. This was the first time I had represented my country at anything. The competition was also celebrating the 20th anniversary of AIDA in the place where it all began, and the French made a huge deal of it! Lots of media, and divers coming from all over the world made it a real melting pot of ideas and training techniques. I learned a massive amount from talking to the other athletes there.
If you could have one super power what would it be?
It would have to be, Time travel. I’ve always wanted a pet T-rex.