It’s difficult to know where to start – with someone the calibre of Umberto Pelizzari there’s almost too much to choose from. We could, for example, begin with his records – sixteen altogether, including the one that saw him break through the barrier of 150 metres in depth.
No human being before him had ever succeeded in holding their breath and descending to this depth. When he retired from competition Pelizzari kept his passion for the underwater world alive with a series of activities that in a short time led him to take on the role of lecturer in underwater and hyperbaric medicine, presenter of popular science programmes on TV and writer of countless articles, books and manuals on the marine environment and freediving.
Pelizzari also set up a freediving school, the Apnea Academy, with the aim of supporting research and teaching in the field. Oris has also played an important role in Pelizzari’s life – not only is the sea an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the brand, Oris also regards it as a natural heritage to protect. Here is what Pelizzari told us in an interview with Sea Time. (Here all our posts about Oris).
How did you discover freediving?
It was almost by chance. In fact I was afraid of water – even the shower scared me. Then my mother sent me to the swimming pool, and that’s where it all started. It was a revelation, and my fear turned into passion. Swimming helped me develop a strong attaction to water. A few months later I joined the racing team. I was four or five years old and I began to go to the swimming pool every day. Rather than swim, I’d amuse myself by holding my breath and hiding beneath the ladder to avoid doing the training laps. I kept on trying to hold my breath under water as long as possible, always aiming to surpass my limits. That’s how I discovered freediving. I gave up swimming and started to train in a more specific way. I contacted several experts in breathing and relaxation techniques.
Do you remember the feeling you experienced the first time you practised this discipline?
Yes, I remember it very well. I was nine or ten years old and I was with my friends when I put a mask on for the first time. I looked down into the depths and I remember the feeling of vertigo it gave me. But that soon passed. The water was very clear and its appeal was irresistible. I still get that feeling!
Would you describe freediving as a discipline rather than a sport? What’s the difference?
Unlike in a sporting activity, in freediving the mental element is crucial. The mind is an instrument that allows you to feel every part of your body. The word “discipline” also refers to a lifestyle that must be adopted, one that precludes drugs. For example, you mustn’t smoke or drink, otherwise you won’t be able to enjoy the experiences that only freediving can provide.
You’ve also said that a scuba diver dives to look around while a freediver looks within. What does that mean?
Freediving is said to be a form of introspection, at least beyond a certain level. When you dive with air tanks you can carry a camera, take photos to show your friends. Freediving, on the other hand, makes you focus solely on yourself. The body experiences feelings and emotions that are hard to express on paper or on a digital medium. It’s a much more intimate, personal experience.
Which of your many records means the most to you?
No one record is better than the others. Every one of them is built on sacrifices, months of training and incredible teamwork. I think they’re all unique in some way. Like the first, which I won because nobody expected anything of me, or when I reached a depth of 150 metres, an important achievement in human terms and a valuable source of knowledge. When I set it I had a ruptured eardrum, and on paper it should have been impossible.
How did you get together with Oris?
It was during the final years of competition. I remember that Carlos Coste was around at the time, a rival under the water but a great friend out of it. Coste was sponsored by Oris. I was impressed because he always wore fantastic watches with large cases. That’s when I started to become aware of the brand. Later I was contacted by the CEO of Interwatch (official distributor for Oris in Italy – ed) to discuss the possibility of establishing a collaboration. I surprised him by starting to list the models and talk about the brand’s history. It all happened quite spontaneously. We still share lots of ideas and projects we try to put into practice. We’ve developed the Aquis Oceano Pulito con Umberto Pelizzari, a limited edition for Italy of 250 examples.
What values do you share with Oris?
Oris began to focus on environmental protection many years ago, back when it wasn’t a high-profile issue. This type of approach has become a benchmark for industry as it shows you can do business sustainably, with safeguarding the environment as your central concern. It’s another reason to feel proud to be part of this team.