While oceans make up about 70% of the Earth's surface, more than 80% of it has never been explored by humans, according to the National Geographic Society.
Squamish freediver Luca Malaguti has likely seen more of what is under the water's surface than the majority of folks.
Freediving involves diving underwater — often in deep water— without using any breathing apparatus.
Malaguti is a Canadian freediving record holder in the Aida Freediving World Cup, diving to -84 metres (-275 feet).
The former geo-environmental engineer teaches freediving and spearfishing with Sea to Sky Freediving Co.
The Squamish Chief caught up with Malaguti at his home base in the Highlands in between underwater adventures for a chat about his sport, how being underwater can help overcome fears, sustainable fishing and much more.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Where are you originally from?
I was born in Italy and came to Canada when I was seven years old. I grew up in Montreal, and then I moved to Vancouver and found myself spending more and more time in Squamish.
I ended up having a strong connection with Squamish from the backcountry skiing, freediving, and just exploring nature. And then, when I started travelling a lot around the world and living in different places — the Philippines, Egypt and the Caribbean — I'd always be back in the summers, at least.
How did you get into freediving?
When I was seven or eight years old, we would go to Greece and to Croatia and the south of France — in Europe, it is very easy to travel from one country to the other. Then, when my sister was living in the Caribbean, I was about 17 or 18, and I would visit her, and I started spearfishing — I was doing it the wrong way, but I would try to catch lobsters for dinner, that kind of thing.
Then I had a very bad surfing accident about 12 years ago. I shouldn't have walked away from that one. And it was great, actually, because that one kind of got me into depression and survivor's guilt and all of that, but it was through freediving that I gradually made a connection with the ocean again.
Then you never looked back and have been doing it since?
I did look back for a long time, actually.
I was on just the regular path that everybody takes. I did a master's at UBC. I became a geotechnical engineer.
I worked for the government and privately. The work was interesting — I loved it — but the culture was toxic.
There was no regard for a connection with nature and spending time outdoors and just wanting some time off — no regard for mental health and all that.
And so I was just like, I want to pursue something that I really love right now, even if it means going against all social norms.
So, I followed my passion. I opened Sea to Sky Freediving and started teaching people here, and I opened up a freediving school in the Philippines. I travelled a lot. I became a professional freediver and started competing. And just last November, I set the Canadian record.
Since then, I've just been teaching and helping people connect with the water, overcoming their fears, and learning how to connect with their lungs since COVID That's been a big one, actually.
And just teaching people fun skills — how to better have a breath hold and stay underwater.
Also, teaching them about spearfishing and harvesting and where their food comes from; catching your own fish in the most ethical and sustainable way, which is actually shooting your fish. It's not catching it on a line.
Why is that way of fishing better?
To be absolutely clear, I have nothing against fishing. A lot of my buddies do it. I have been on a boat and done it. It is just understanding the reality of it.
A lot of people talk about catch and release, but I always say, unfortunately, it's catch and let's kill.
We know that the mortality of the fish from having a hook in its mouth is actually quite high.
When I'm down there, holding my breath, I'm levelling the playing field, so to speak, I'm essentially hunting like a seal. And I have a pole spear or a spear gun. I'm looking at the fish. There's guilt before shooting, pulling that trigger. I am looking at whether it's the right size, I'm looking if it is the right species, whether it's a female or male. And I'm doing all of this in a matter of seconds as I'm holding my breath. And so I think that's a much better connection to where your food comes from them than being on a boat and just hoping you catch the right fish, which is not always the case.
Going back to COVID, can you explain more what you meant about helping people with their lungs?
By putting your body underwater, your lungs become more flexible — the diaphragm increases its range of motion.
You become better at transferring oxygen from the alveoli in your lungs to the tissues and muscles. Your arteries become more elastic and become better at promoting blood flow. You increase literally the sites where oxygen is diffusing. We know this through tests done on freedivers.
When you use something more, it becomes stronger.
COVID is a virus that attacked the lungs. What we saw was a lot of people who hadn't taken care of their lungs for years or that maybe had emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the elderly, especially, the virus could really have a damaging effect.
So, a sport like free diving or just breathwork, breathing pranayama yoga — everything that's involved in freediving — strengthens your lungs and makes sure that as you age, that lung capacity is there to support you.
We're so concerned about going to the gym and getting big biceps and nice abs, but we are actually not training our diaphragm, our second heart, as it is called. It is kind of ironic.
What do you think people misunderstand about freediving?
I think they think it's a very dangerous and extreme sport. It really isn't. It's actually a very accessible, safe sport. In fact, if you have a young child, the best thing you could do is start getting them introduced to water for their safety, their confidence and their well-being.
But there is a wrong way to approach freediving that is dangerous. But it is the same thing as going into the backcountry.
When you don't have the right education, you don't have the lenses to understand the dangers.
If I have glacier crevasse training and avalanche training, my eyes see something different than someone that doesn't have that training.
With the right training and supervision, freediving can be the safest sport.
You have been to so many places in the world, can you compare freediving in Howe Sound to other spots you have been to?
I've been very fortunate to see a lot of beauty around the world. But there's such a misunderstanding of what we have here. It's incredible. What you see above and the beauty that we actually take advantage of and appreciate above the water is about 50% of it. There is a whole other world beneath. The problem with Howe Sound is it is murky for the first two meters. It is dark and cold. But it is teaming with life.
When you adapt your eyes, you will see stunning things. You will see cloud sponges, which are essentially corals that are thousands of years old. You will see soft corals. At Porteau Cove, there are shipwrecks covered in a forest of white with big ling cod being chased by seals, and rockfish everywhere. There are octopuses, crabs, sea cucumbers, and starfish.
The biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest is unique in the world. And when people don't know about something, or they can't connect with it, they won't love it. And if you don't love something, you won't protect it. It's just that simple, right?
That's a very important thing for people to understand. Like there's something below these waters, which is very unique, and it's worth protecting.
How does what you have learned about freediving impact your life on land?
When you hold your breath, and you're down there, there's not much else you can really think about. You have to be in the present moment. When we talk about relaxation and mindfulness, it's really about being in the present moment.
You can give me someone who's had the most difficult time in the world; when you hold your breath, a primal instinct kicks in. And it doesn't matter about your taxes, the money in the bank, your social status, or your traumas. When you're down there, holding your breath, the whole world, the whole universe, becomes quite simple. It's pure.
What else would you like folks to know about freediving?
They need to know that it is for everybody, regardless of age, gender, culture, sex — doesn't matter. That's very important to understand. We can all be weightless in the water. We can all learn to relax and meditate while being in the water and learn to be comfortable and let go.
Find out more about Malaguti at Sea to Sky Freediving Co.
About a local is a regular column about an interesting Squamish resident. If you have an idea for who we should cover, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
**Please note that this story was updated after it was first posted to specify Malaguti's -84 metre dive was in the Aida Freediving World Cup,