Arnaud Jerald: “You have to face up to the risk”

      © Tim Mckenna

The French freediver, Arnaud Jerald set the world bi-fin record (constant weight) on 15th September 2020 by diving to a depth of 112 metres in Kalamata, Greece. He gives us his vision of the sport and describes the similarities with the world of ocean racing and more specifically, the Vendée Globe.

At the age of just 24, Arnaud Jerald shows incredible maturity. For him, freeediving means much more than a sporting challenge and mere records. Just like a solo round the world voyage, diving offers some real soul-searching opportunities. At the age of 16, the turning point came for the young, shy and reserved freediver who was suffering from dyslexia, when in February he dived to a depth of 30 metres: “I opened my eyes and there was nothing around me. Everything was blue. There were no fish, no wrecks. Nothing at all. It was like looking in a mirror and discovering myself for the first time, rather than seeing myself through the eyes of others.”

Emotions count more than results

Looking beyond this self-examination, he explains to us what the Vendée Globe adventure inspires in him: “What I like in sport are the human emotions that are spawned. In the Vendée Globe, winning is of course important, but if we listen to the sailor who finishes in tenth place, when he tells his story, we can see that he enjoys himself just as much as the winner. Everyone comes out of this experience richer. Step by step, I have tried to evolve towards that mindset in my sport. In every type of sport, it is possible to learn about yourself, whatever the result at the finish.”

      © Takuya Terajima

While for some, the performance of the sailors arouses genuine fascination, for others, it can be reduced to a feeling of incomprehension or fear. 

Why take up such a challenge? 

What leads a sailor to sail solo, non-stop around the world with no assistance? In the same way, the young freediver tells us that it is always tricky finding the right words to explain to those left ashore what leads him to try to push beyond his personal limits in his sport. Just like an ocean racer, it is hard to describe the pleasure he finds in this activity. 
He explains that diving allows him to take a step back and gain a different perspective, rather like the sailors, and that he can take advantage of this in his daily life: “When you find yourself under the water or on the water far from the coast, you are completely exposed. 
That can be unsettling, but it gives us a different perspective in our everyday life. We no longer try to control everything around us.”

© Alex Voyer

The importance of the team

As he descends along the rope guiding him deep under the water, the freediver is alone. But for each dive, there is a team supporting him on the surface. It is thanks to them that he is able to carry out these feats and set new records. The same can be said of the sailors, who would never make it to the Vendée Globe start line without the help of their technical team and the unfailing support of their friends and family.

Risk, an integral part of the sport

In freediving, as in ocean racing, as recent events in the Vendée Globe have reminded us, risk is an integral part of the sport. “You always need to find the right balance between risk and performance. If you do not manage to do that, you will be heading for an accident,” he declared. As they sail in the tough conditions of the Southern Ocean, it is this balance that the skippers in the IMOCA class are currently aiming for. They need to be fast, of course, but above all they have to ensure their boat is well looked after. As Charlie Dalin entered the Indian Ocean, he said it was time to learn a new way of sailing, adjusting his boat to allow her to slow down and cope with the huge risks they were facing in the mountainous seas in the Roaring Forties.

“Risk is something you have to face up to,” declared Arnaud Jerald, who is well aware of the dangers in his sport. “Sometimes, people prefer to turn a blind eye to the risk, in order to make their decisions easier. But it is possible to turn risk into one of your strengths. We must not forget that more men and women have gone into space than have dived 100 metres under the water.” The same can be said about the sailors taking part in the Vendée Globe. More people have gone into space than completed this legendary round the world race.

© Tim Mckenna