My Legacy

Thank you for coming to the U.S. Freediving Federation (USFF) website and taking the time to explore. 

As you see, this is the first blog post written for the USFF and not the last. Since the USFF is my creation, I decided it would be important to communicate how I started in freediving and what led to establishing this organization. It’s been an interesting journey and one that I hope will inspire you in some way. My apologies in advance for the blog length.

As far back as I can remember, I have always loved being in and around the water. Somewhere between elementary and middle school, I remember my Mom teaching me how to swim at the local community pool.  From there, I joined the summer swim team, then the high school team, became a lifeguard and then took a shot at being a swim coach. Vacations were spent up and down the east coast beaches from Maine to Cape Cod and North Carolina. Fast forward through college and then ultimately landing in Newport Beach around the age of 27, I realized that I could not ever live away from the beach or the water. So now, I have found myself in Southern California for the last 20 years.

I found scuba diving through the encouragement of my friend Cindi, and to date, I have around 400 logged dives from CA to Mexico and Palau. A new world had opened that I could not ever have imagined possible. Peace, quiet, zen and alien-like. I was an observer in another world with all my dive equipment. And boy, did I lug this equipment around on nearly every vacation and trip that I took. It was a pain in the ass, but I was loving it.

For my 40th birthday, while living in San Francisco I decided that I wanted to add a new water experience to my life, and something that I could enjoy for the rest of it. I gazed out over the San Francisco bay while riding my bike through Sausalito and watched as the sail boats cruised by.  Bingo! I am going to learn how to sail!! Within the next few months, I learned to skipper a 40’ mono hull boat. Being able to set the sails and let the weather flow around you was just an awe-inspiring experience.

In June of 2016, after resigning from the company in which I worked, I decided that I wanted to go sail through the Greek islands. June 20th I land in Athens and meet up with a group of friends.  A few days later we are leaving out of the Kalamaki harbor with our Greek boat skipper named George. George took us into his world of island hopping through the Cyclades from Milos to Kimolos, Sifnos, Folegandros and more. If you have not ever been, don’t think about it. The Greek islands and the culture there is something that everyone should have the opportunity to experience at least once in their life.

Hanging out in the cockpit of our sailboat one afternoon, George mentioned that he was a freediver and that it is something he had done since childhood. I asked him which islands he dove, and one popped up as his favorite - Amorgos. Amorgos? There was something familiar about it but I could not place it. Well, in 1988 Luc Besson directed a film called Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue) and the first half of the film took place on Amorgos. Ahh!! That’s how I remembered the name Amorgos. The Big Blue is beautiful story of two childhood friends Jaques Mayol and Enzo Mallorca who competed against each other in freediving throughout their life. George said it was this movie that was his real inspiration to become a freediver. Well, it turns out that this film has its place in history. It has inspired a generation of freedivers, including George, me and just about every other freediver that I’ve met along the way.

Since I was in Greece, and the sailing trip was coming to an end, I called an audible.  I booked a flight to Mykonos and hopped a ferry to the island of Amorgos. Wow. The island is something special. Once you go, you will return. There is an energy that weaves itself in and around the island and under its water. Within the first couple of days I meet Sol Schmitz, the only certified freediving instructor located the island of Amorgos. With her softness and approach, she introduces me to a world like I have not ever experienced. My first real dive I recall coming from under the water and feeling like I was reborn. I was connected. I was one with water. I was feeling like I have not ever felt before.  It was amazing and addicting. Best of all, it was natural and all me. No diving apparatus strapped to me that kept me from being a part of the thing that connects us all - the water. Forever grateful I will be to Sol, to Luc Besson and the island of Amorgos. For it has me in its clutches.

 
  Sol and Jeremy, Amorgos Greece

Sol and Jeremy, Amorgos Greece

 

After a few weeks on Amorgos, I traveled around a bit more and then ended back in Los Angeles.  Two weeks later, I was on a plane back to Amorgos as I was not finished. I needed follow the flow and feeling.

Fast forward to the summer of 2017, it was all about freediving. I landed in Dahab, Egypt - the mecca of freediving with its blue hole. A lot of the world’s top freedivers either go there to train or live there for a portion of the year. It seemed like the entire Bedouin city existed to support this freediving community. Dahab freedivers, where it turned out that Sol Schmidt was instructing, took me in and I felt immediately at home. Thanks to all of the friends that I met there from Miquel Lozano, Pascal Berger, Sean, Pim, and more during our evening gathering. After a few weeks of training, it was time to leave and I headed back to Greece.  Yes, the island of Amorgos.

Met back up with Sol and trained deeper with her along with a number of other new freedivers. While there I found out that the first ever freediving competition was taking place on the island while I was there. It was called the “Authentic Big Blue” and created in honor of the movie. Well, I had not ever competed and nor did I ever think that I would, but I did. It was the Authentic Big Blue. How could I NOT compete and take part in history. I felt like I was in the movie, and I am pretty sure everyone felt this way. It was surreal and something that all of us keep talking about today. While in Amorgos, I become good friends with freedivers Nataliia Zharkova, Memo Arikok, Kerry Hollowell, The Monk, and many more. Most of them were using Amorgos as preparation for the CMAS European Championships which were taking place in Kas Turkey in a couple of weeks.  What the hell. I called another audible.

 
 Mermaids Alenka Artnik, Nataliia Zharkova, Alessia Zecchini and me at 2017 CMAS European Championships, Kas Turkey

Mermaids Alenka Artnik, Nataliia Zharkova, Alessia Zecchini and me at 2017 CMAS European Championships, Kas Turkey

 

I departed Amorgos and ferry hopped 5 islands to land in Kas Turkey. This time, I had plans to compete as I wanted to continue to build my depth and learn from some of the best divers in the world. And boy, did they show up. Alexey Molchanov, Goran Colak, Alenka Artnik, Remy Dubern, Homar Leuci, and more. I was honored to be included and part of their world.

 One afternoon I took off on my scooter up the coast to do some shore diving. After a couple of hours, I decided to leave but could not find the scooter key. Well, I am sure it was somewhere swimming with the fishes. Wondering what I was going to do, I look up the hill and see the CMAS logo on the side of the building. I walked up thinking they could help me resolve this problem. I ran into Levant Ucuzal, head of CMAS Freediving Committee and a few other people. Well, not only was I given a ride back to town, I was provided an open window into the world of CMAS.  CMAS, started in 1959 by Jacques Cousteau, was the organization that gave birth to competitive freediving. Next to me in the car, unknowingly, was the President of CMAS, Ms. Anna Arzhanova.  What I started to realize over the last weeks, and what I expressed to her, was that I had a burning desire to affect freediving on a global basis. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but the feel and flow that I experienced from my first freedive was getting stronger and more resolute as I dove deeper into this sub-culture.

 
  Homar Leuci and me at 2017 CMAS European Championships, Kas Turkey

Homar Leuci and me at 2017 CMAS European Championships, Kas Turkey

 

Over the next days, things really began to evolve when I was asked by Anna to be the commentator of the Diveye live broadcast for the competition. I sort of choked since I had only been diving for little more than a year and part of me felt like I was not qualified to do it. After thinking about it, being supported by Alexey and then joined by co-commentator Gun Arikok, I said what the hell and why not. There aren’t many challenges that I have backed down from in my life. If I can dive underwater on one breath, I can be a commentator. Gun and I hosted the Diveye broadcast as well as the Olympic Channel live broadcast. If you are still reading up to this point, yes, I was pinching myself on how everything was just opening up and evolving for me.

 
  Gold medal for Nataliia Zharkova

Gold medal for Nataliia Zharkova

 

This event was very cool, well produced and top notch from opening and closing ceremonies to the competition safety. There were over 100 competitors from all around the world, different stories and walks of life but with one thing in common - the water. We are all one with water and love it.

After the competition closed, I ended up back in Dahab Egypt for a few more weeks to train before heading back to Los Angeles. I started the summer diving at 25 meters in depth and ended up at 42 meters with a static breath hold time of 4 minutes 45 seconds. These last two years were heart opening and help me to discover a passion that I will follow for the remainder of my life.

Going through this journey is what helped me to arrive at starting the U.S. Freediving Federation in 2018. When I started, I couldn’t find much support in the U.S. Most people in the U.S. don’t know anything about freediving. There are no competitions here, and no programs or organizations that are helping to build awareness and community. This is what I want to affect and change. I want to inspire and help make this sport understood, attainable and approachable. I want everyone else after me in the U.S. to have a support system to learn, train, go on adventures and compete. While the experience will be different for everyone, the benefits that can be gained are many and life changing.

The U.S. Freediving Federation was born on the 29th of January 2018 and is officially sanctioned under the CMAS organization. We are one of over 130 federations within CMAS, so there is a worldwide network and movement to grow the sport of freediving. There are conversations and actions being taken between CMAS and the IOC to potentially get freediving into the Summer Olympics in either 2024 Paris or 2028 Los Angeles. To be a part of this community and process is beyond words.

This is my journey, and my legacy. Be inspired.
Jeremy Stephan

 

PS - Thank you to Anna Arzhanova, Kerry Hollowell, Ashleigh Baird, Renee Blundon, Sean Dunn, Rob Alley and Shannon Goodhile for the support to get this off the ground.