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Profile: Sara Campbell

Sara Campbell, Dahab-based, British freediver, is known as much for her rapid progression to world-class level when she appeared on the freediving scene in 2007, as for her meditative and spiritual approach to freediving through kundalini yoga, meditation and practice of deep relaxation.

While many top-level/world record breaking athletes will recognize that freediving can be a meditative or even spiritual practice and know the benefits of meditation, pranayama, and yoga for their performance, few, if any, will credit these mental aspects almost entirely. It is upon this that Sara bases her coaching, for freedivers of all levels.

In 2007, Sara set three depth world records, having just nine months of freediving experience – a trajectory never seen before, or (so far) since. Not only this, these records were all set in the space of three consecutive days, at the Triple Depth competition in Dahab, Egypt. She broke her fourth world record in 2009.

Sara is also credited with having dived (not officially ratified, but documented in a youtube video) to 104m in 2011, six years before that number was officially equaled by Alessia Zecchini, at the Vertical Blue competition in the Bahamas in 2017.

Prior to this, however, back in 2008, Sara suffered two black-outs (a loss of consciousness due to low oxygen levels) attempting to become the first woman to reach the 100m mark in Constant Weight (this was eventually reached by Natalia Molchanova in Sept 2009). This pushed Sara to reassess her approach, and return to a daily practice of kundalini yoga, and choosing to dive only for joy, rather than for numbers.

Today, Sara has no intention to return to competitive freediving. The four-times world record breaker is leading freediving and spiritual coach. A practitioner since 2002, and later a teacher of Kundalini yoga, Sara became an instructor trainer in 2014. Sara founded Discover Your Depths – a personal transformation program – to share her approach and philosophy to personal growth using freediving, yoga, and meditation, helping people to discover their own potential. Sara’s own story, of someone coming from the corporate world in PR In London, struggling with chronic illness, facing emotional challenges, and being the driving force behind her own transformation is inspiring to the many people who face similar challenges in their lives.

Based in Dahab, Egypt, Sara also teaches and presents internationally, runs retreats, and has an online training program: Yoga for Freediving. If you’re ever in Dahab, joining one of Sara’s kundalini classes is an experience not to be missed!

Discover more of Sara’s unique approach to freediving and life below, and read about her experience of diving to 104m on one breath, who she admires, and more. Thanks for sharing with us Sara!

Sara Campbell 96m World Record, Photo Credit Blue Eye FX
Sara Campbell 96m World Record, Photo Credit Blue Eye FX What continues to inspire your freediving?

Sara Campbell: Every time I get in the water, no matter what depth (probably around 30-40m these days) and I feel that moment of absolute bliss, outside of time, space and an urge to breathe. Everything is perfect at that moment, and I know that this is why I dive.

I also am extremely inspired by the work we do with our clients. We go way beyond the technical aspects of the sport and really help people to understand themselves through their relationship with the ocean. It is beautiful to see someone have a moment of deep realization about themselves, or finally let go of something that has been holding them back – not just intellectually, but on the physical, emotional and cellular level. This is when the true transformation occurs – and I feel so grateful to be able to do this work.

DB: Who do you most admire in the freediving world?

SC: I probably most admire the unknown heroes – those who achieve the immense breakthrough of confronting and facing their fears head-on and having the courage to be truly vulnerable and raw in the honesty that they bring to their experience in the water. I have known people dive with cancer, people dealing with grief and trauma, debilitating and sometimes terminal illness get in the water and feel free. Rather than stay stuck in feeling sorry for themselves, they get out and live every moment given to them in the bravest and vibrant ways.

Sara on the surface

DB: What are your favorite place/s to freedive?

SC: It always was and always will be Dahab.

DB: Can you tell us about any exciting locations that you would you love to freedive?

SC: Rather than specific locations, I would love to be anywhere where I get to interact in a natural and non-intrusive way, with any of the big mammals, our cousins and teachers – the gentle giants – the whales, and the eternal children – the dolphins.

DB: What would be your best piece of training advice for beginner/intermediate freedivers?

SC: Step away from the numbers, the race for the next certification, and focus on the feelings and being relaxed.

Sara Campbell world Champion freediver running freediving courses in Dahab. Egypt. Photo Credit Dan Burton
Sara Campbell world Champion freediver running freediving courses in
Dahab. Egypt. Photo Credit Dan Burton

DB: Top freediving athletes favor a variety of cross-training methods. What is your preferred form of dry training and why?

SC: I didn’t do any cross-training unless you consider meditation a form of cross-training. At the end of my deep training cycle (in the last month leading up to my 104m dive, for example), I did only 4 deep dives in more or less one month, with a 7-10 day break between each dive. No warm-ups, no technical training, no strength, stamina, breath-hold or other – just deep rest, relaxation and intense meditation to ensure I was fully ready for the dive by being integrated mind, body and spirit. Then the magic can happen.

DB: What is your pre-dive preference: breakfast or fasting?

SC: Breakfast – with an afternoon dive.

DB: What general nutritional principles do you follow?

SC: Healthy, whole foods and to listen to my body. When training hard I really needed extra protein so added some chicken to my diet. But I suffer from ulcerative colitis so my diet often is dictated as much by my condition as by my training.

Sara Campbell. Photo Credit Jacque de Vos
Sara Campbell. Photo Credit Jacque de Vos

DB: What important life-lessons has freediving given you?

SC: That I know almost nothing and am here to keep learning. Humility. Surrender. Trust in a higher power. Look to Nature for ultimate wisdom and truths, not our mind.

DB: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

SC: Hmm, I’m not sure. But I’m working on some new programmes. Until now my coaching has been entirely intuitive and it has been hard to find a way to teach other freediving instructors how to deliver that. I’m close to launching a few new programmes, which will make my methods accessible to more people, in more places. New to come soon….

DB: Can you describe your most memorable or significant dive?

SC: I tried the other night to explain the experience of my 104m dive, but it’s like asking someone to explain the state of deep meditation when we enter the realm of ‘otherness’ which, when we arrive there, know to be the absolute truth. But the fact is, this state is beyond language, and therefore beyond explanation. It’s impossible because we are forced to use the human mind which is so limited, to describe the state of infinity, God, however, you want to call it. So other than to say that it is some form of bliss, complete surrender, deep peace etc etc etc blah blah blah, it is just words, which are wasted because they can’t come close to describing what you would like to know. Sorry!

DB: Which of your achievements are you most proud of, and why?

SC: It is my personal life where I aim for the highest level of achievement, in my personal interactions, communication, relationships. I think this is far more important than anything that we can achieve in the realm of work or sport. I also don’t feel that my dives were really ‘achievements’ – for whatever reason, I came to Dahab for a week’s holiday to resolve some personal issues in December 2004, heard a voice in my heart on day three saying I was home, decided to trust it, and have been guided by this same intuition ever since – none of it was me. The only achievement I could say was mine in relation to my dives, has been to trust and keep on letting go.

Louisa Collyns
Louisa Collyns
After discovering a passion for freediving, Louisa joined the British team, and competed at the Depth World Championships in 2013, just a year after learning to freedive. An AIDA instructor since 2013, Louisa teaches freediving in Ibiza. She is a member of the AIDA Safety Committee and has been a safety freediver and platform coordinator in international competitions such as Vertical Blue, Carribean Cup, and Blue Element, and is Chief of Staff at Vertical Blue in 2018. She is based in Ibiza, Spain.