People who make Monaco: Pierre Frolla

Pierre Frolla is no ordinary diver. He’s a world champion freediver, whose talent lies in being able to go to great depths without the need for oxygen tanks. It’s the sort of skill that has been practised since time immemorial by spear-fishers, and for Pierre, it’s become a way of life. For him, it’s all to do with freedom: ‘No tanks, no weights. Just you and your lungs. It’s the ultimate pleasure – a completely pure sensation, a bit like skydiving.’

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Photograph © Naneen Rossi 2011

It’s partly a family thing – his father also entered the record books as a champion spearfisher and diver. But Pierre would have taken up the sport anyway.  ‘Even as an adolescent I was always focused on the deep. For me, freediving was, and is, the only real way to get to know who you really are. You have to be able to accept pressure, to manage it with a mixture of humility and courage: those are the values of the best freedivers.’

He’s right about courage. Anyone who’s tried holding their breath for long underwater knows how hard it is, and at depth the technique – known as apnoea – can be potentially fatal. We ask him if he’s driven by risk. His answer is simple: ‘Yes, I am’. And so, it seems, are countless others.

‘Around the world freediving’s becoming more and more popular. There’s a lot of publicity about the sport now on TV, documentaries with sea mammals and big sharks. In France and Monaco, it’s particularly the case because many of the best freedivers in the world come from here: Loic Leferme and Guillaume Nerry from Nice, and Stephane Mifsud from Le Var.  Between us, since 1998, we’ve held all the world records in every discipline – that’s been a real help for the development of the sport in the south of France and Monaco.’

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And what about the fame that his success has brought? Has it affected his life in Monaco? ‘The fact is I was born here. A typical day would mean waking at 6am to go spearfishing, preparing a big urchin party with friends, and then eating together. Diving all day till sunset and then coming back to the harbour at twilight for some wake-boarding … sharing the water literally from dawn till dusk. If you live this way you can’t be affected by fast cars, night clubs and champagne. It’s a different kind of glamour, but it takes all kinds…’

His chosen sport brings him into intimate contact with the environment and sealife of the Mediterranean, both passions of Prince Albert II. ‘We share the same feelings about sealife,’ says Pierre. ‘Humans are on the top of the alimentary chain. They have the power to preserve, or to destroy. But they have to understand that they are part of nature and must live in harmony in the wild. After all if nature is destroyed, humans will disappear. I’m a big supporter of sustainable living –  everybody can change things, even in a small way, by conserving water, sorting rubbish, taking care of just small things every day. In Monaco the education system teaches people ways of civility and environmental awareness. That’s a good thing.’

And it’s a message Pierre Frolla is passing on. As well as 100m charity dives and documentaries about protecting sharks, he runs his own training school, teaching youngsters the art of freediving. What’s his advice for young people who want to start getting involved in the sport? ‘Be part of a team. Never try to be alone. Share your passion. Focus on your goals. Accept the risks. Humility will save you. If you don’t know what you want, try to know what you don’t want!’

It’s been fascinating to meet Pierre. He exudes a passion for his sport and for the place he lives – and they’re intimately connected. ‘Freediving is the mode of living throught the element; you have to be near nature, you have to become the water to succed in your goals. Freediving is a philosophy for me.  I share my passion with people who are near nature, with nature, with the fish.’

Interview by Alex Went; photographs Naneen Rossi