Chapter 1 / Collective
Words by: Courtney Chew
Photos by: April Wong, Adam Skolnick, and Naomi Roche
April is a freelance photographer, environmentalist, and marketing creative who’s love for the earth and nature sparked her latest passion for freediving and capturing life underwater. To her, the challenge of trying to document marine life, all while remaining aware and connected to the ever-changing and dynamic environment of being underwater, is an experience unlike any other that is “even more rewarding when you achieve what you envision.” We got to chat with April after her most recent trip exploring the reefs and the waters of Fiji, Tonga, and Australia, and are sharing some of her magical moments with Mother Nature in our feature, below.
Courtney: Tell us a bit about your story; how did your connection with the water come to be and how did that influence your passion in underwater and ocean waterlife photography?
April Wong: Having been born and raised in Sydney, Australia, a city surrounded by beautiful bays, secret coves, and stunning beaches, it wasn’t unusual to spend any sort of free time in the water, however, it wasn’t until about five years ago when I developed a curiosity for diving and photography. I started snorkeling local spots in Sydney, and after meeting my now-husband, Adam (who wrote a book called One Breath, which profiles the sport and unfortunate death of the greatest American freediver), began to practice recreational freediving.
While I was shooting a lot terra firma, I hadn’t invested in an underwater kit until just a couple of years ago so it’s still a relatively new space for me where I’m constantly challenged and learning new things, which for me, is part of the draw. Not only are you immersed in an environment with so many other factors to consider (swell, visibility, physical fitness, etc.) but you’re also trying to capture that perfect shot… and when you do, it’s even more rewarding when you achieve what you envision. Plus, the feeling of being in the ocean and around marine life is like no other. It really soothes the soul.
CC: Can you share context of your recent trip with us where these photos were taken and give us insight into your process that goes behind preparing for a free diving shoot, before and during your time in the water.
AW: Adam and I recently went on a five and a half week trip to Tonga, Fiji and Australia. It was part belated honeymoon, part me visiting Sydney for the first time in a few years and mostly revolved around diving. We spent a week decompressing and scuba diving in Rainbow Reef, Fiji, then went swimming and freediving with humpback whales in Tonga before heading to Sydney and Ningaloo Reef in North-Western Australia.
The conditions in Tonga were pretty gnarly. We spent seven hours a day on a small boat that had no bathroom in very strong winds and three meter swells. There was even pouring rain on one of the days. We’d spend 2-3 hours at a time just sitting in those conditions waiting for the whales to show up, so you can imagine just how rocky it got in big swell. Usually, I’d run through some warm-up breathing exercises but during this time, all I was focused on was not feeling sick. Once we got in the water, we’d have to sprint-swim to a point where we’d meet the whales and hope they’d stick around to play. When they did and our whale guide felt that they were comfortable around us, we’d get the all-clear to dive down. In between swallowing water through my snorkel and dealing with lactic acid build up in my legs from finning so hard, I’d try to clear my mind and find some composure to inhale, dive down and take photos. There were also times when I didn’t shoot and just soaked in the moments with these incredible gentle giants.
CC: How did you get into free diving and what do you love about it? What do you think we can learn from life underwater?
AW: As freediving is a common hobby Adam and I have, we’ve continued doing it and getting more into it as time passes. Adam did a lot of research on freediving for One Breath, so initially, he was able to explain a lot of what he had learned to me, which helped a lot. My favorite things about freediving is that it’s like visiting another world within our own, and being around marine life. I love animals and I think it would be fair to say that I dive solely to seek them out in their natural habitat. When you look close and often enough, you realize that everything down there is dependant on something else. And when one part of the ecosystem suffers, so do a lot of others. It’s a reminder that we’re all in this together.
CC: Traveling is also a big part of your lifestyle and work, having collaborated on projects for a number of travel outlets. How does traveling to these amazing foreign countries and crossing boundaries inspire your perspective and approach to your day to day while you’re visiting somewhere new and also when you’re at home?
AW: My main takeaway from traveling is not taking your home for granted. It’s always a blessing to visit other countries and experience different cultures and I know I’m lucky to have been able to do all that, but there’s always something nice and comforting about coming home.
"Being empathetic requires you to really understand another, which I believe can raise our level of mindfulness, both within ourselves and with others."
CC: What are some things that you think we could all do to inspire more open, present, and conscious minds around the world?
I think we could all learn to be a bit more empathetic with one another. Each one of us goes through challenges in life, but it seems like we can easily forget that. We can get so caught up in our day-to-day grind, that we don’t stop to really listen to what someone else is going through because we’re too consumed with ourselves. Being empathetic requires you to really understand another, which I believe can raise our level of mindfulness, both within ourselves and with others.
CC: How does OCIN make you feel?
AW: Confident. It’s flattering, figure hugging in all the right places, but supportive at the same time.