«Any eye contact with nature creates connection. When you connect, you feel fulfilled.» Waterman and photographer, Eric Duran, about freediving with bull sharks.
Eric has been obsessed with sharks ever since he was a kid. What started as a pure feeling of fascination and curiosity later turned into a powerful source of ambition and determination. Freedive by freedive he mentally and physically prepared himself to enter the world of these majestic creatures and interact with them. Combining his passion for the ocean with photography, he’s made it his mission to create connection and spread awareness about the beauty and fragility of our planet.
Eric, what is it like to freedive with sharks?
Seeing a 300-400 kilo shark swimming towards you is intense, very intense. They’re curious and they usually come quite close, look at you and make eye contact. It’s a thin line between fear and fascination, I’d say. Obviously, you get a bit of adrenaline when they get too close. But it’s fascinating at the same time. Looking at them, into their eyes and seeing that they are analyzing you… Any eye contact with nature creates connection. When you connect, you feel fulfilled. I think the interaction that takes place is the most addictive thing.
When was your first time?
It was with bull sharks in February last year. We went around 20m deep, but it wasn’t best time of the year. In February the water is cold here in Baja and the visibility was very bad, you couldn’t see anything from the surface. When went down we had about 5-7m visibility and all of a sudden, boom… the bull sharks appeared.
How do you behave around them?
It depends on the type of shark you are diving with. With bull sharks you are usually interacting on the bottom so you make sure that you do proper breathe up on the surface, relax, hold your breath and dive down to about 20m. With other sharks the interaction mostly takes place on the surface, where you go around 5m deep and breathe through a snorkel. Bull sharks are very territorial, so they stay in the same spot. They rarely come to the surface, but if they come, it’s a whole new game… If it’s just one shark, it’s ok, but if there’s one and another one, and 3, 4, 5 more sharks that start circling you… that’s when they are kind of telling you «that’s my spot, who are you?» So there’s been a few times where we had to cancel our dive.
How do you mentally prepare yourself? Aren’t you afraid?
That’s a funny question. Again, it depends on the type of shark. I’ve done it a few times on the surface, but I mostly dive with with bull sharks at the bottom. How do I prepare for that? To be honest, if I dive with big bull sharks, I’m definitely going to feel it the previous days. My mind is going to be busy all the time and I usually won’t sleep very well. Driving in the car, getting ready to jump on the boat, driving to the spots — I’m going to be kind of nervous to be honest. But it’s funny, the moment I jump into the water all anxiety immediately goes away.
How long do you stay under water for?
It depends, every dive is different. Most of the dives take about two minutes, but I wouldn’t take anyone down there who can’t hold their breath for at least three to four minutes.
How do you know when it’s time to get back up?
Once the sharks turn around and give you their back it’s time to go up. But if they come around and start circling you, because they are very curious, you don’t go up, you stay until they loose interest and then you take off.
What do you do when you run out of breath but can’t go up yet?
You’re not going to run out of breath in two minutes. It’s going to get more uncomfortable because you will have too much CO2 in your system and your body wants to release it, but you’re so focused on the moment, you’ll be fine. There’s been a few dives where I felt a bit uncomfortable, but mostly you’re just really present.
How do you get out if they’re still around?
If they are on the surface and you can see them clearly, you try to dive down with them and show your presence. Your mind is going to tell you to run away as soon as possible, but you have to do exactly the opposite: no splash, relax and hold your position. At the end of the day, they are predators, if you run, it means you are food.
What do you do if they try to come too close?
The worst thing you can do is try to run away, so you either want to hold your position or swim towards them. If I have my camera I will put it between me and them, or I will put my fins pointing up. I’ve never had to redirect any of them, but I assume that if I continue to dive with them, this situation is going to come at some point.
Being so close to sharks, has it changed the way you feel about them while doing other water activities?
I spend a lot of time teaching in the water. I love sharks, but I want to see them with my mask on, not without. They’re very opportunistic and you need to understand their behaviour.
How did you get into photography?
It started because of the necessity to share the beauty of this world with my friends and family. I think if you can spread awareness through photography to the world, I’m pretty sure that we will be able to make the change that we need right now, right?
What message are you hoping to transmit with your photos?
Turn fear into fascination. It’s all about connection. If people can connect with them, they will want to protect them. I’m hoping to create this connection.
The thing with sharks can be brought to daily life with many things: If we try to understand our fears and confront them, we will not just go through them, but we will overcome them.