Team UN: World Champion Freediver Alessia Zecchini Talks About Her Love For The Ocean, Whales, And Watches
Watchonista talks to one of the world’s leading female professional free divers. With 27 world records under her belt, nothing is slowing down this Italian mermaid.
Born in Rome in 1992, Alessia Zecchini’s love for the water started with standard swimming. Until that is, she discovered freediving at the age of 13 while on holiday with her parents. She hasn’t looked back since.
I was fortunate enough to sit down with the phenom known as the "deepest woman in the world" for her world record-breaking -113 meters dive off the shores of Roatan in 2019. We discussed freediving, blue whales, and the Ulysse Nardin Lady Diver.
Sophie Furley: How did you become interested in freediving?
Alessia Zecchini: It started when I was really young when I went on holiday with my parents, and I jumped into the sea, and I just wanted to be under the water. But I really discovered freediving when I was 13, and I asked my father if we could find a course on freediving, and he found one. I just fell in love. In Rome, since I was six years old, I had been going to the pool, swimming on the surface, but when I discovered swimming under the water, it was just amazing.
How does it feel to go so deep under the water?
I feel a lot of emotions. I love the silence around me, but what I love most is the blue. It really is so blue and so beautiful. And the feeling of the water touching your skin and everything around you.
It is also the feeling inside of you. You can feel your heartbeat and the calm inside you. And if you are going for a world record, you feel even more emotions.
When you are going for a world record, do you get nervous?
It is a process, of course. Now I am not stressed at all before a competition because I can control my body and I can really believe in my mind that it is just a dive. I already did so many. And I know that I am making an attempt because I can do it. This is in the sea. In the pool, it is a lot different as there is not the sea and its beauty to calm you in the same way.
How do you train to go to such depths?
I train a lot in the gym and the pool, of course. I train around 18 hours per week.
When did freediving become a profession for you?
I decided when I was 14. It was already a goal for me when I was at school. So, when I found my first sponsor, and they gave me some equipment and some money that was the start. It was then that I understood that it could be possible. So, I worked harder and worked towards even more records.
What does your family think about your choice of career? Are they also into freediving, or is it just you?
It is just me, and my father just followed me. He had to do a scuba diving course so that we could dive together. In the beginning, he helped me a lot. When I started to go down to 100 meters, my family was a bit scared, but now they are just happy for me and only a bit nervous (according to my mom).
How many world records do you currently hold?
Twenty-seven and 16 gold [world championship] medals.
Are there any freediving disciplines that are more difficult for you personally?
Yes, of course. Diving without fins is really difficult as fins help you to reach the depth and to come back to the surface.
What are you working towards now?
Everything changed with the COVID-19 situation. I should be in the Bahamas right now competing, and I wanted to reach maybe 115 meters, but everything changed. The plan for this season could be to maybe compete in Croatia and Greece. They should organize some competitions there, and I can try to do a competition with no fins so it is just one discipline and one competition so I will try to do my best, so we will see.
How has COVID-19 affected your training?
I was lucky. The police allowed me to take the train with my bike, and I did a lot of workouts in my garden. I moved with my boyfriend next to the sea, and we had a garden, so it was much easier.
Are there many women who compete in freediving?
Yes, there are many, and the world records are getting more difficult to beat. There are more than 10 women now who have descended more than 100 meters. So it is cool, and they come from all around the world from Japan and all over Europe. It is popular all over the world.
Are you competitive between yourselves, or is it a nice group of athletes?
I am very competitive, but we are really good friends. When we are in the ocean, we do our best because we have to do our best for ourselves, not because we have to do more than the others. The most important thing is to do your best dive. It is hard, some divers can get into difficulties and get red cards and get injuries, so it is impossible to be like that.
Do you have any memorable dive stories you can share?
I have a lot of good memories, but the most memorable was with a blue whale in Sri Lanka. It was the first time I had seen them, and we jumped from our little boat, and it was like going from the air to the water with huge waves. It was wonderful. So amazing. I love sharks too. I love everything. Whales and sharks are the most beautiful animals you can see.
Aren’t you frightened to bump into sharks?
No, we always try and find them because they are shy, and they aren’t how you think they are. Of course, you shouldn’t feed them or change your behavior, but they are good with humans, and it is so beautiful to watch them, and they are much more afraid of us.
When you are in the water, are you conscious of the time passing?
I am absolutely merged with the water and its environment. When you are underwater, the passage of time feels completely different than on the surface. It brings me freedom, power, and a feeling that I can reach my wildest dreams and conquer any obstacle.
How did you meet Ulysse Nardin?
Ulysse Nardin and I share a love for the environment and a spirit of adventure and risk. Everything was so natural. We met for the first time in person in Sardinia making a video for the Lady Diver; it was amazing because we made this video in three days in wonderful places in Sardinia and Corsica, so it was really a beautiful experience, and it is really an honor for me to be the first female in the Ulysse family of adventurers.
Do you have a Lady Diver?
Yes, I have one, and I love wearing it. It really is so beautiful. The first time I wore it, I was just like, “Wow!”
It is a talisman for me. I love the design with the diamonds. It has a touch of femininity, but at the same time, it is for diving and can go down to 300 meters, so it is amazing.
(Photography by Pierre Vogel)