A Bit About Your Host Donny, #1
A very long story, very short…
I haven’t been diving very long, but in a sense I’ve been a passionate freediver all my life. You see, I was a ‘freediver in waiting’, for a very long time. The waiting began when I was twelve or thirteen years old. My father had a dusty old VHS tape stuffed into a cabinet. On the white tape along the edge of the ancient technology was written in biro…..The Big Blue. One night it was inserted into the player.
Now, it’s possibly the biggest of all freediving clichés, but I was fully transported into that impossibly romantic story and it resonated so strongly with me that the appeal never faded for these two decades since. I would sometimes put the VHS tape in the player when I was up late in the living room on my own. I remember often beginning the journey that is initiated with the beautiful Éric Serra soundtrack, but never recall seeing the film to the end….it never ended for me. It has always been my favourite film.
Where it began for many of us…Le Grand Bleu!
Ten Years of Tears
I’m from a small town on the South-west coast of Scotland. It’s very much a maritime town with a strong fishing background and previously a shipyard that built ships for the British navy. However, the waters in that part of the world are cold and grey at all times of the year and I never felt drawn to it.
I moved to the Dutch capital Amsterdam where I spent most of my twenties. I was determined to be an artist, but I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be a painter a musician or a writer, so I tried them all and never got good at any of them. I worked behind a bar and in time the only thing I got good at was drinking. By the time I was 28 the alcohol and the drugs that came with that territory had come to define me and I was left directionless, depressed and anxious.
In 2011 I suffered a massive nervous breakdown, convulsing on the floor of a bar, surrounded by ambulance crew. As horrible and debilitating as the whole experience was, as my nervous system slowly healed I came to realise I had been blessed with a wake up call. Things could never be the same again and if I was to rebuild my life I had to give up everything I was then and leave that city, too.
A typical summers day in Troon, Scotland.
A New Beginning
I bought a one way ticket to Australia, with no plan and very little money. But it didn’t matter, I had begun the journey of transformation and I trusted that the path ahead was brighter than the past behind. Before flying off to Australia I stopped off in the breathtakingly beautiful Greek island of Crete for 3 months. My friends have a yoga retreat there on the isolated southern coast where I went to help out and decompress from a decade of self-abuse.
It was there in the crystal clear waters a stones throw from the retreat that I discovered the beauty of the underwater world for the first time. There I discovered a wonderland of colour and living things, as quiet and weightless I drifted through the ocean for the first time.
Barely able to swim I often went out in the reef with a mask and snorkel, always making sure I was close to something to grab on to in case I freaked out. I was not a natural in the water. I had found the setting of The Big Blue fantasy and I found some peace there but I was handicapped by unfamiliarity with the water. I knew nothing about freediving, but I resolved to one day master that skill to really open the door to this new world. I knew I needed guidance and training, but it would be a few years yet before I would find it.
Triopetra, Crete. Still the most beautiful place I have ever laid eyes on.
About a year later I turned up in Thailand. I spent about six months there, four of which were spent teaching yoga on the beach on the wonderful island of Ko Lanta. Living on the beach I had decided I was going to teach myself freediving. I just knew my path was leading me there but didn’t have any tools yet. I had never met another freediver! Still essentially a useless and panicky swimmer I would lie in the shallow water off the beach holding my breath for about 40 seconds, enjoying the peacefulness and meditation before the first urge to breath arose and I bolted above the surface. I was no Will Trubridge, that’s for sure.
I toyed with the idea of signing up for a course at that time, but one major obstacle was holding me back. As a result of my breakdown back in Amsterdam a couple of years before, I had been battling with chronic debilitating anxiety attacks. At any moment, seemingly without a trigger, I could be on my back gasping for air, thrashing around and convinced I was going to die. I was convinced that if I did a freediving course this would happen to me underwater. That conviction alone was enough to put me back another couple of years.
Taiwan. East Asia’s unsung gem and my new home.
A New Island Home
Fast running out of money and still directionless, a twist of fate led me to visit an old friend in Taiwan. I quickly fell in love with the country and it’s southern city of Kaohsiung and decided to stay. A small island of huge jungle mountain ranges and sweltering agrarian plains with a cultural dynamic like no other, I had found a place to call home where I could craft a new identity and start the deeper, more serious processes of transformation I had imagined myself one day undertaking.
I had extracted myself from my troubled past, dodging several bullets on the way. There was still much inner work to be done, but an opportunity had been given to me not many will be fortunate enough to get, and I was determined to do it justice.