Fierce Females No.32: Amber Bourke, Freediver
••• We’re so excited to introduce you to our next #FierceFemale. Australian freediver Amber Bourke has lived a life beneath the surface exploring it’s beauty for years… A multi-decorated champion with 10 Australian records under her belt, Amber is the current women’s Australian pool and depth freediving champion and an SSI freediving instructor trainer. Amber can swim 4 laps of an Olympic swimming pool underwater (200m), hold her breath for 5 minutes and 44 seconds, and dive to depths beyond 70m without the use of tanks or fins. She is currently ranked 4th in the world for diving without fins. A former synchronised swimmer who competed on the Australian team until she was 19, since discovering the sport of freediving she has set 10 new Australian freediving records and currently holds 4. As well as being a successful competitive freediver, Amber is also passionate about ocean conservation and freediving safety. We caught up with Amber deep in training for the World Championships in Roatan.
Hey Amber! How are you, where are you in the world?
Hi! I am currently in Kas, Turkey. It’s a lovely little seaside town on the Mediterranean. Great food, friendly people and perfect conditions for freediving.
How did your preparation for the World Championships go?
Training has been going really well. I had an extended break from deep diving over the last couple of years due to international travel being limited but fortunately I was able to do a lot of training in the pool and gym and that has helped me progress quickly now that I am able to compete internationally again.
Where are you from originally?
I am from Brisbane, Australia and am still based there. I train there most of the year and work as a coffee machine technician and freediving instructor.
Has the ocean always formed a big part of your life?
Very much so. I started snorkeling very young, around 4 years old and always loved it. Growing up I wanted to be a marine biologist. That didn’t happen but I still managed to find a way back to the ocean!
Tell me about your career in synchronized swimming…and have you always been drawn to life beneath the surface?
My parents originally got me into synchronized swimming because they couldn’t keep me out of the water. I spent a huge amount of my teenage years training on the national team. When I was 17 I represented Australia at the FINA World Championships. I decided to retire from the sport after injuring my hip and missing out on a spot on the 2008 Olympic team.
How did you get started in freediving?
I went on a solo backpacking trip to Egypt when I was 22 and came across a town called Dahab which is a very popular freediving location. I hadn’t heard of the sport before but decided to sign up for a beginner course as I thought it might help my snorkeling. I was hooked from Day 1.
Where are some of the most amazing places you’ve dove?
I absolutely love the Philippines. The reefs are beautiful, and the water is warm all year round. There are still a lot of dive sites there on my wish list.
Can you tell us about one of your most amazing experiences ever free diving?
A few years ago I got to dive with humpback whales in Tonga. I was surprised how much they wanted to interact with us and how loud their song is when they are right below you. The vibrations are so loud you can feel it in your chest.
You set 10 Australian free diving records; what drives you to keep pushing your limits?
Since I started freediving I have been continually amazed at what the human body is capable of. My progress over the years has been very gradual but every time I think I have reached the limit of my capabilities I prove myself wrong. I think the results are a combination of curiosity and simply enjoying the process of training.
So deep beneath the sea must be an incredible feeling…can you try to explain it to us?
It is certainly a unique feeling! At 70m underwater there is 8 times the amount of pressure on your body as there is at the surface. It can feel a bit like the ocean is giving you a very tight hug. Another effect of the increased pressure is the increase in density of Oxygen in your blood. So holding your breath deep underwater actually feels much more comfortable than it does on the surface! For this reason, it is very important to have strict safety measures in place as it can be easy to stay down too long.
You’re also passionate about ocean conservation, can you tell us more about your work here?
I think this is inevitable for a lot of freedivers. We spend so much time in the ocean that it becomes immediately apparent how dire the situation is and how important it is we look after it. I think it is a responsibility for anyone with a public platform no matter how small to use it for positive influence. If losing followers is a consequence of that then so be it.
I guess being so immersed in the water you are glaringly faced with the realities of marine pollution, the destruction of natural habitats, and more…
There are some days that are very difficult. I have seen beaches that are covered in more microplastic than sand and countless marine animals caught in fishing debris.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I hope to introduce as many people to freediving as possible. Not just the competitive side but also social/recreational freediving. It’s a great activity for all ages and I love seeing people getting out and into the ocean.