As a freediving athlete, you have several ways of supporting yourself financially. You can invest your time into looking for sponsors and developing a “brand” around your name. It takes time to develop and you need to spend a lot of time on social media, sharing about your training, your competitions, and your personal life constantly. Then you can develop partnerships with places where to train, also propose some workshops and conferences. Once your name is known enough, it can actually be very lucrative.
In my case, it took a long time before I saw myself as an athlete. When I started freediving and for a long time after, I would never imagine I would become a top athlete at one point. So this first option of making my name a “brand” and looking for sponsors was definitely not in my mind. But I wanted to make a living out of freediving so I decided to open a freediving school. On the way, I got the opportunity to take over one in the Philippines, Freedive HQ. This was of course a lot of work, especially the first two years. To keep training while teaching and managing the freediving shop was for the least challenging. Still, after these tough couple of years, business was going very well, and I could afford to take a manager. I could train more and travel several months a year for competitions.
My freediving school was my own sponsor. This was also about the time I made it as a top athlete. That’s when I realize, this was a way as good as any sponsor to fund my career as an athlete. But also that it would last longer than something based on my name as an athlete. The shop would be probably running long after I stopped competing. That removed a lot of pressure from me and also gave me the luxury of not depending on any sponsor, not feeling any pressure of results when going to a competition. That does not mean that sponsors are not welcome, and I was lucky to have Alchemy supporting me even before I was a very deep diver. I could also choose my sponsors for good reasons. The quality of the equipment they give me, and not only the financial support that goes with sponsorship. I respect people that spend hours on social media to promote themselves, but it is just not my thing and I find it quite boring and tiring at the same time. I would rather teach a course or run a shop to make money than post pictures and stories of me all the time. So that’s why I chose this business model of having a freediving school while being an athlete.
I sold Freedive HQ just before the pandemic because I wanted to relocate to a more quiet and green place. I was also looking for a place in the Philippines where conditions would be so good that I would be able to put a freediving platform, for my own training first, but to potentially organize depth competitions as well. Furthermore, in Freedive HQ, I was renting the land and I wanted in my future project to be the owner of the land (yes it is possible in the Philippines , with a good lawyer and through a company). Let’s say I was really lucky on the timing as I sold in November 2019. I decided this time to go with a business partner and friend, Benjamin Bohme from Germany. I would recommend to any person who wants to open a freediving business (which might be true for other businesses too) to go with at least another business partner. You can share the stress and pressure and of course the work. It makes it much easier mentally than when I took over Freedive HQ by myself. Of course, you need to go with someone you trust, but being at least two is a huge plus.
After a lot of research on maps and then visiting quite a few Islands, we found the perfect spot for us: Camote Island, in the Visayas, in Philippines. Sea conditions are really beautiful but also the island is at the same time very accessible (2 hours ferry from Cebu International airport) but still very quiet, chilled and green, with no traffic at all and a lot of space. There is still a decent small hospital and the possibility to be in the Cebu hospital quickly (you have to consider this when running a business including outdoor activities and planning to organize competitions). We found a beautiful land and Camotes Freediving was born, at least in our heads, and then pandemic struck. It took us about 2 years of a pandemic to have the center built. We are now finally back in the Philippines and finalizing the last details. We are planning to open 1st of June 2022, exactly 2.5 years after finding the land.
The costs involved really depend on the price of the land, and the size of the shop you want to build so sharing this is not necessarily relevant. We wanted a 25m swimming pool with 2 lanes and we built a 110 sqm freediving shop coupled with living quarters for us above the shop of the same size and in a very modern and beautiful style. The investment then was quite substantial. But if you rent and don’t build such a big and fancy shop, you can have your own shop for much cheaper.
In terms of freediving equipment plus the boat, buoys, oxygen tanks (for decompression and for medical in the shop), training aids, whiteboard, TV, a nice website developed by professionals etc… everything you need for a high-end freediving shop in the Philippines, I would say that 20,000 $US can make you start your freediving business for 2-3 instructors (for reference, we bought 20 wetsuits, 20 pair of fins, 50 masks and snorkel, 20 weight belts, 6 buoys, 500m of rope, 100kg of weight, lot of fancy training aids such as professional spirometer, 3D models of the ear, lungs, skeleton, endoscope, and a 22x7 feet brand new wooden & fiberglass boat with 40 hp engine). As you see, this is not for a tiny shop with only one instructor.
Also, you need to consider the administrative costs: Working permits and Visa, Business permit for the shop, accounting company and lawyer. Don’t underestimate these costs and get the information in advance. My advice, for your first freediving shop, would be to start small, with minimal charges and then grow it little by little. From my first experience in Freedive HQ, in South East Asia, Freediving is absolutely booming. All schools are thriving, a lot of competitions and events are organized and they are full most of the time. Opening a freediving business is definitely a good idea and will work with a minimum of work and common sense. It can definitely allow you to live comfortably and in my case to fund my competitions and travels.
In Camotes Freediving, we will be proposing courses and training for all levels, from beginner to professional, and also a kid program. We are also planning to organize competitions both in the swimming pool and for depth. The idea is to go for quality and small number of students. We want to keep it human size and it will be only Ben and myself, two very experienced Instructor Trainers, that will be teaching and coaching everyone. We will probably have one or two instructors with us, but that’ 's it (as a reference, in Freedive HQ, I had 10 full-time instructors and some freelancers, plus a restaurant and 8 accommodations). We will also propose long-term training and training camps on a regular basis.
We are located on a big land full of fruit trees (banana, coconut, pomelos, ramboutan, guava, mango, avocado etc…) and with our own access to the sea. The sea is 40m from the shop and the swimming pool is directly on the land. Everything had been built and thought to make the life of the students and instructors as easy as possible, based on our previous experience (me with Freedive HQ, but Ben has also been managing some freediving schools in the past. I also visited a lot of them for my own training).
I would recommend, before launching your own freediving business, to work for a while in different freediving centers. I did not do it enough before taking over my first freediving centre, and I know now that all this experience would have made my life much easier. Still, a freediving school is in my opinion a great investment at the moment. The sport is really growing and will keep growing for a while. The investment is not so big and you can make a very decent living out of it.