Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about you?
My name is Akim Ladhari, I am French and grew up in the south of Paris. However, I used to spend about three months each year visiting where my parents are from on the coast of Tunisia. I have spent most of my life around the sports industry.
At 6 years old, I started with traditional Japanese Martial arts such as jujitsu and judo. I actively competed from 12 to 18 years old and this passion led me to Asia where I started a career as a professional Thai boxer in Thailand.
After 4 years of training and competition, I decided to retire and I started my professional diving career in Koh Tao. This allowed me to found a freediving centre, which has since become one of the most successful in the world, massively influencing the freediving industry and education.
I also started a freediving sail live aboard in the Mediterranean, The Seaquest, and I am in the process of developing the PADI Freediver Instructor Development Center.
How did you discover freediving?
I first discovered freediving when I was I kid during the school holidays when we used to go to Tunisia. Many of my family over there live from diving as it is a traditional activity along with fishing. In the village where my parents are from, the sea provides the main source of income, and as such, many of the inhabitants know how to freedive.
I took a break from my sea activities when I was boxing in Thailand. But when I retired and went to Koh Tao for a holiday, I made new friends and all of them were scuba divers, so naturally this has led me to follow their path. It was a natural next step for me as I was already passionate about the ocean.
Scuba diving came really easy to me and I aimed straight away to be a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor. However, during my PADI Divemaster course I heard about freediving and a freediving school in Koh Tao, “Apnea Total”.
I was totally hooked with the freediving and from the very first moment I knew I had found the challenge that I was looking for. This is what had been missing in my everyday life after I stopped boxing competitively.
What is your most incredible freediving story?
Within my first year of freediver training I reached a depth of 103 meters! I am still very proud of this achievement.
When I started freediving I did not feel I had a particular talent for it, so the concept of going that deep seemed impossible. That’s when I decided I wanted to do my own type of training. To use my knowledge in sport and discipline and build from my previous experience, which I knew worked for me. So my approach was a bit different and I developed my own style of training.
I was quite young and new to the discipline, so to achieve that milestone made me feel great and gave me a lot of confidence. Back then only 6 or 7 freedivers went passed the 100 meter mark in constant weight apnea, so from that moment, I knew I would stick to this sport for a long time, if not forever and make a professional career out of it.
Do you feel it’s a real competition and work on yourself when you try to reach new personal limits?
Freediving is like no other sport. It opens endless opportunities: you can be a photographer, a competitor in pool or depth or just discover the ocean and be part of it with no heavy equipment.
Freediving is one of the rare sports or activities that allow a person to really see progress within themselves. That progress can be measured by feeling more comfortable holding one’s breath, more comfortable in the water, be a better swimmer or be a better diver but for most I believe it’s the challenge of depth.
On the flipside, depth can also induce fear, phobia even, or make you lose your confidence. But the idea of going deeper and deeper in the ocean has always awoken fantasies and sparked people’s imagination.
I can see my students, before they start a course, not believing that they will be able to go 15, 20 meters or more on one single breath. They have strong doubts about it or even about themselves.
However after just a 2 day course, they experience true happiness and they finally believe everything is possible and they gain strong confidence about themselves not just in freediving but really about them as an individual. It’s something quite rare for our generation and we need something like this I think.
It goes the same for me. Every meter I gain is the result of a lot of work and preparation to know myself better mentally and physically.
What would you advise to someone who is looking into starting freediving?
Keep it easy! Have fun! Choose your instructor carefully, dream as big as possible and don’t lose sight of it! If your dream is to become a PADI Freediving Instructor then you can! If it is to open a freediving center on a paradise island then you can! Or maybe you dream to become a champion? Then you can! I have seen it in people who started freediving with no sporting background and become world champion within a couple of years. I have built a freediving center from nothing and I have done my Freediving Instructor course with very poor English 8 years ago.
And this is what it can offer! It’s a sport with endless possibilities. It’s just a matter of will and confidence.
What makes the PADI Freediving course unique?
I am definitely the right person to answer this! I have worked with all the main agencies actively, and not small agencies either, but agencies certifying hundreds or thousands of freedivers.
All the agencies offer decent quality knowledge, but of course that is not enough when we talk about an agency. We can easily compare an agency to a school or to an institution.
No matter who the instructor is, or the materials you use, what separates a school from another is the quality of service that is provided to teachers or instructors to allow them to give a comfortable, enjoyable and safe course.
I have never met in the freediving industry anyone who comes close to the team at PADI. I have always got all the support I need quickly and I am always met with professionalism. It really makes a difference when the PADI staff themselves are so very passionate about the ocean, the diving and when it comes to educating my students.
What are you up to at the moment and what’s next for you?
I am now mainly focusing on helping to develop more PADI Freediver Centers and more PADI Freediver Instructors. I also do a lot of one on one coaching. Alongside this, I am of course continuing with my personal training.
Inspired by Akim? Learn more about the PADI Freediver course here.