The Big Blue


On the day that William Winram first tried freediving on a line, he descended to 47m below the ocean’s surface in Hawaii. He felt as if he was meant to be there – a natural affinity with the deep that has since earned this ocean explorer several freediving world records and the trust of our oceans' primary predators.

When William was 2 years old, he would swim the length of a pool entirely submerged underwater, holding onto his father’s neck; by 10, he was breath- hold diving to 15m. His father taught him to spearfish and scuba dive at home on Vancouver Island in Canada, and to respect the value of the oceans. At 20, he had an encounter with a 4m tiger shark that would pull his conservation ideals into sharper focus. “I was petrified, but after a time found the shark to be a shy, cautious and curious predator, not the villain that it’s often portrayed as,” he says, “I’ve now been diving with sharks for over 30 years and never had a scratch.”

William discovered freediving on a line during a chance meeting with a US freediving champion, and William quickly realized his own innate talent. He applied his knowledge of osteopathy, internal martial arts, mindfulness, and meditation to his practice of the sport, and in 2005 – after he admits being seduced by Luc Besson’s Le Grand Bleu – he started to compete. The following year he won three world cup events, was the top-ranked male at the world championships and set several Pan-American records. “I’d kind of arrived,” he quips.

In 2007, William became the first person in history to swim the Arch in the Blue Hole of Dahab, Egypt – a 30m long and 60m deep passageway that he swam without fins on a single breath of air. Then, in 2013, William challenged himself further than ever before: to reach a depth of 145m. Despite the pressure and nerves, as soon as he set his weighted sled in motion to the predetermined depth, he was in the zone: “I go into a meditative state and focus on my equalization. When I hit the bottom I’m off the sled in a second, finning hard initially and then slipping into a rhythm.”
When he emerged after an incredible 3 minutes and 8 seconds, he didn’t gasp for air: “I dive within my limits, not at the edge of my envelope. I dive with a margin to protect myself.” It was a new world record.

“We all have a mammalian diving reflex, like dolphins and whales,” explains William, “and there are physiological things that happen that allow us to go to these depths. Blood is shunted to your heart (to keep it beating) and your brain (to keep you conscious) and your lungs (to protect them from the crushing pressure). Like mountain climbing and altitude, it takes time for us to adapt to the depth.” It’s a physical sport that hinges on varied and vital disciplines of the mind, breath and body, and a skill that rewards first-class freedivers like William a unique perspective of our oceans: “I’ve never had with scuba the kinds of encounters with marine life I’ve had freediving,” he explains.
William’s success in the sport has given him a platform to raise awareness about the grave challenges our oceans face today. He’s witnessed first-hand how reefs that were once abundant with fish schools, sharks and marine mammals have decayed into underwater deserts. “There’s an evolution in my diving,” he says sadly, “BP and AP – before plastic and after plastic.” For the last three decades, William has used his freediving skills to study sharks at close range, including great whites. He’s tagged sharks for 11 years, advocating for their conservation, and he uses his own peaceful experiences with these large predators to dispel popular myths.

William is also working with private clients to give them a level of proficiency to freedive recreationally through a new elite sports club called Somerton. “I can join a family on their yacht and help them achieve specific objectives so that they’re comfortable freediving to between 30m – 40m,” says William, adding: “I was approached by Somerton to be one of their professional mentors because of both my experience and my incomparable risk management protocols.” William begins his instruction onboard, teaching clients to manage their breath and discover their limiting factors. Considering the average person breathes 15 times a minute, it’s daunting for any amateur, but William - who naturally breathes 3-4 times per minute - is calmly reassuring: “You can go without breathing for a number of minutes,” he says, “It’s something that is under our control.”

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