It was another perfect February morning on the coral atoll of Tikehau, French Polynesia, while Denis Grosmaire, 44, anched around 8 in the morning. Grosmaire, French Polynesia deepest white diver, peered across the shore into the crystal clear South Pacific Ocean. At one side of his speedboat was a beautiful coral reef that plunged to a shadowy depth. On the other hand is the last blue water. It falls on two fins, falls into one another and waits for the company.
Two old friends – or as he calls them, “his lovers” – recently appeared in the blue and swam to it with ease. Chuppa and Victoria had long and muscular, their eyes inscrutable drops of black ink, their skin usually light gray with stripes. Their strong tails swished elegantly behind them. They are tiger sharks, each over 14 feet long.
He stood in the water and met them, he raised his hand. The sharks banked right, one after the other, close enough to the Grosmaire beast between their gills and their strong jaws, which are rimmed with 48 serrated teeth, ideal for slashing through meat and meatballs bone. The pair swam out, no pain, just going back and forth. This time they came close enough to Grosmaire lean and hug Chuppa.
Professional free divers is a daring lot. The best of them can hold their breath for more than 10 minutes at a time, and fall to a depth of more than 300 feet per breath. When they are not competing, they dive for fun, sometimes in the highlands or with cute wildlife. Instagram is speckled with photos of divers bathing with humpback and sperm whales, crocodiles and even fine white sharks.
More often than not, these are just meetings or excursions. But when Grosmaire lived in Tikehau, where he lived for five years, he swam with tiger sharks at least once a week.
He knows them very well, he is able to identify them from the point of view of their stripes, movements or small imperfections, such as the frayed edges of the dorsal fin.
He learns about their character quirks. He gave them names. While there are scuba shops and dive shows around the world that promise no more encounters with tiger sharks, Grosmaire does not bring tourists to its dive site. It’s not commercial, but it’s more rewarding than a hobby. It’s a call.
“It would be crazy if you did not know how to get comfortable in open water with big animals around,” said Alexey Molchanov, the deepest diver, who enjoys diving with humpbacks , bull sharks and walruses. “But the comfort comes from relying on one’s own abilities and trusting the environment, and that takes time.”
Grosmaire has grown up in French Polynesia and is growing surfing and spearfishing, although it does not venture below 66 feet, the student depth is meant to be up to elementary-level diving, about when he was in his late 30s. He had heard stories of spearfishermen who lived too long while diving alone and black, which could be fatal. One of the early lessons he learned when he took his first free diving class in 2016 was that he should never dive without friends.
The best underwater hunters are the free ones, because in many worlds spearfishing with scuba gear is illegal or out of fashion and considered environmentally unsafe. work. But he is a rare spearfisherman who has become very popular by knowing the deep dive in the line he wants to compete.
At the end of his first season, Grosmaire reached 100 feet with easy relatives. Later that year, he entered his first race, and reached 170 feet. Shortly afterwards, he traveled to Moscow for training with Molchanov.
“Really good fishermen have a great start,” Molchanov said. good white diving. “
In 2018, when competing at the sporting premier event, Vertical Blue, Grosmaire reaches 305 feet in the free immersion discipline, in which athletes pull themselves along a rope to the depth and back without wearing fins. Recently, he reached 345 feet in training. That depth makes his men really important, and if he achieves his goal of hitting 361 feet by the end of the year, he will get a 10-point ranking.
But his passion for sharks predates and exceeds his love of free jumping racing. He has been involved and photographed lions living in the waters around Tikehau, the more rustic atoll of Apataki, and the island of Moorea since 2004, back when he worked at the desk in in human resources for the Moorea Island Administration.
In 2005, it was part of a successful competition that established a national shark fishing restriction. Within two years, it had wrecked any vessel carrying dead fish in a warehouse in French Polynesia.
Grosmaire also sees himself as a commentator shark. That is why he shared his pictures online. “The idea is to let people know that we can build relationships,” he said. “That’s why I gave them their name.”
Grosmaire can hold his breath for more than seven minutes, but his shark diving is short and shallow. It should not be deeper than 50 feet and stay low for 60 to 90 seconds at a time. He almost always swims with sharks alone with his camera as his only shield. He rarely wore wet clothes and did not use his spear. Usually he would put his camera back on his boat and lose himself now. “When I had the cameras, I could not hold them,” he explained.
He was often warned by locals in Tikehau and others in French Polynesia that what he was doing was dangerous. Although there has been no shark killing in French Polynesia for more than 50 years, he had a close memory last year, when he tried to kiss Chuppa on the head. He closed his eyes and puckered, but instead of sharkskin on his lips, he felt his head suck back, as if caught in a vacuum. It is not a vacuum cleaner.
Tiger sharks ate by absorbing a lot of water, and for a moment, Grosmaire’s head was in Chuppa’s open mouth. She pulled her white head and pushed it off before her snapped jaw closed. He was not sure what happened until a diving friend showed him with pictures.
“I did not care about the trail of the shark. I feel very comfortable, ”he said. “I did not sleep for two nights.”
According to the International Shark Attack File, which has been tracking shark attacks for nearly 70 years, tiger sharks have been responsible for 138 “unprovoked” attacks on humans and 36 deaths. which makes them the second most common dead shark species (when it comes to humans).
“Of course, there are risks. When you put your face in the water and hold your hand, there is a risk, “said Anna von Boetticer, a German who has made a name for herself in scuba diving in Greenland and elsewhere. things like acting. ”We are all at risk, and we all break the rules, so I understand the feeling of being alone, to have this experience for yourself. I thought it was beautiful. “
But, he added, “What drives me crazy is when people go diving alone, and they make sure nothing happens and they stay well.”
Is it his comfort with the risk or belief of the situation and his self that makes heavy and adventurous athletes like Grosmaire so dangerous? Is it naïveté, arrogant or love? Maybe it was all of the above.
“To be honest, if one day the worst happens,” Grosmaire said, “I will accept it forever. I will not blame the shark.”