Morgan Bourc’his traded free diving for a few months of swimming with whales to shoot a new documentary, The Quest for Nature, which highlights the precarious relationship between man and marine life. The Tudor ambassador reflects on this once-in-a-lifetime experience with Prestige.
The world champion first worked with Tudor in 2014 to film a promotional feature film for the Pelagos watch. Released in 2012, the Pelagos derived its name from the Ancient Greek word for “open sea” and is the more contemporary and advanced of the brand’s two dive collections. Whereas the Black Bay leans towards a more vintage aesthetic, the Pelagos is robust and functional – at the time of its launch it was the only timepiece from either Tudor or Rolex to be encased in titanium; it also features a helium escape valve that enables it to attain a 500-metre depth rating. It was also one of two Tudor watches (the other being the North Flag) to debut Tudor’s first in-house calibre, the MT5612, signifying the importance of this collection to the brand.
Soon after the launch of the Pelagos, Bourc’his was appointed a Tudor ambassador. His values are clearly so closely aligned with the brand’s that he unfailingly wears his blue Pelagos to this day, taking it with him on many of his record-setting dives in some of the most beautiful and untouched locations around the world. But Bourc’his also had a dream – one that had little to do with freediving: he dreamt about swimming with orcas and whales, in frigid waters off the coast of northern Norway, far from the balmy Mediterranean.
Tudor, like its big brother Rolex, has historically supported adventurers who dare to go beyond their own limitations to explore Earth’s uncharted territories, a tradition that’s been passed down from its founder Hans Wilsdorf. Bourc’his’ dream to swim with whales and produce a documentary film called The Quest of Nature, which would chronicle his adventure and draw awareness to the negative impact humanity has had on, is exactly in that pioneering spirit.
Here Bourc’his talks about his ambitions, and how he shot the documentary with friend and director Jean-Charles Granjon, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, as well as the thrill of diving with the giants of the sea.
You were a swimmer first before you discovered freediving. What attracted you to freediving?
I was a swimmer between the ages of 6 and 12. At that time, I used to practice apnea during my holidays by the sea with my parents. A way to explore the seabed and discover this new universe. I was introduced to sport apnea as I practice it today when I was a 21-year-old student in the faculty of sports science. I then discovered a discipline based on gliding, permanent self-control, and at the same time a total letting go, and the possibility of going even further and deeper in the discovery of the marine environment. Of course, the performance also interested me otherwise I would not have participated in all these competitions. But it is really the sensations lived under the water that attracted me. Abandoning the surface, letting yourself be caught in a three-dimensional universe. And it is within everyone’s reach to experience these unique sensations, no need to be a champion!
You first worked with Tudor in 2014 to film a promotional feature film for the Pelagos line. Did you know much about the brand and watchmaking before that?
Before our collaboration for this promotional feature film in 2014, I was completely foreign to the watchmaking world. Of course, I knew the name of certain brands and a few historical facts, especially with the other company from the same group, Rolex: its participation in an expedition on the Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary and in the deep dive at the Mariana Trench for Jacques Picard and Don Walsh aboard the Trieste. But I didn’t imagine such an exciting world and the pioneering role of Tudor. When we started working together, TUDOR opened its doors to me to discover a world of history and prestigious traditions. I learned about the brand’s highlights, technological innovations, historic partnerships. I am very honoured to play a role in this prestigious house.
How was your meeting with David Beckham, and how do you think he did in the freediving challenge?
It was an incredible meeting. Everything was very well thought out, and I was able to have simple and courteous exchanges with one of the biggest icons of the sport. I still can’t believe it and I thank TUDOR again for making it happen. David enjoys the ocean but had no diving experience. After an excellent session of static apnea in the pool, we went to the sea. There were many waves, we navigated long to reach our dive spot. It wasn’t easy, the boat pitched a lot during the crossing. David really took it upon himself to do the session at sea. I really congratulated him because the conditions were really complicated. It was not easy to do our exercises, and he worked on them with courage. I would have liked to have more calm conditions to initiate him, but who knows, we might have another opportunity in the future!
Your documentary The Quest for Nature shows a different kind of diving. What drew you to work on The Quest for Nature?
Jean-Charles made his first trip to Norway in 2016, where he encountered cetaceans for the first time. After that trip we had several discussions about diving and meeting cetaceans in the cold sea. The idea of a documentary came gradually. He’s always kept me on track about his projects, his narratives, his various missions around the world.
Norway is probably the only place in Europe where humans and cetaceans share so clearly their environment. Fishing activities are an economic mainstay, but whale-watching activities are also another one. It’s resulted in a coexistence and a sharing of fishing resources between fisherfolk and cetaceans. We wanted to explore how it works, and we wanted to dive with the giants of the sea.
Which part of the filming was your most memorable one?
The underwater scene with the two humpback whales ascending from the bottom, with gaping jaws, is going to live a long time in my mind. We were above a herring school, which should be avoided as far as possible. I had many thoughts during our session, whether humpback whales could unexpectedly appear. If so, we shouldn’t be in their path!
I felt that something was happening. The fish was quite turbulent, but it must be noted that they thought they were being hunted by killer whales! And then the two humpback whales appeared just below us, with their huge mouths open. We were in their path, and there was nothing we could do. They gently changed direction to avoid us, but they were so close! We just waited, wide-eyed and breathless for 15 amazing seconds.
What does Tudor’s support mean to you on this journey?
The support of my partner was essential. It’s very simple: without Tudor, the film couldn’t have been made. But beyond that, it’s above all a sign of the trust and recognition that the brand has shown me. Since 2014 we’ve been working together on the creation of various projects, activities, and events. I’m a friend of the brand and the Pelagos watch is the greatest companion in my professional life, but also in my daily private life. When I spoke about the film that Jean-Charles wanted to make, the management team was immediately seduced and agreed to be part of this adventure. For me, it means a lot and this perfectly represents the relationship of trust that we’ve had all these years.
How does the brand’s motto, Born to Dare, resonate with you?
To me, it means that people should try to be as creative as possible. In 2019, when I became world champion for the third time, I really applied that slogan, deciding to train exactly as I wanted, innovating and daring things that I didn’t have a clue about. I completed my final preparation for the last two months by dry training and simulating high altitudes with a machine. There are protocols for endurance training for ultra-trail, for example, but no one knows if these are relevant for deep apnea, or how to do it. I tried the experiment, so is that why I became world champion? There are other factors, of course, but I believed in what I was doing.
In the last scene of the movie The Quest for Nature, we went into the water at night among killer whales and beside a fishing boat in action. No one told us how to do it, but we went anyway, believing in our action plan. And it worked! So Tudor’s Born to Dare spirit accompanies me in all my projects.
Could you tell us a bit about the watch that you wear on the adventure?
I was wearing my Tudor Pelagos in blue, the one I received as a present from the brand’s management team in 2014 for the filming of the advertising. It never faltered of course! It was my first real mechanical watch and I felt so proud! Today, even if I own different Tudor models, I have a personal relationship with my Blue Pelagos due to this special gift and moment. I am personally connected with this watch. I wore it every day above and underwater with its rubber strap and extra extension when needed. I am very proud to have been part of that tradition of divers using a Tudor watch to assist them in their adventures on unbeaten tracks. The brand has always been connected with the underwater world. So I feel I am part of a long tradition, that of Tudor diving watch and their fabulous underwater history.
Tudor has traditionally equipped professionals and major navies with watches, and have traditionally taken into account their feedback and comments to develop their watches. Do you share your thoughts with Tudor as well in this regard? What are the things you find the most important in a good diving watch?
The Pelagos is a successful model, it is the fruit of several decades of innovation through the various underwater models of the brand, the famous submariners dating back to the 1950s. This model is 100 percent reliable, I couldn’t have hoped for a better companion. My role is to share feedback on my uses. But I was able to do shock tests at my level like wearing it in apnea at -100m, or using it in water at 1°C, which is not very common!
I think that a good diving watch should be easy to use and especially very reliable. It also has to be robust, because we used heavy equipment sometimes, we are on a boat, it can fall during handling or undergo a shock with the different equipment. And in the case of the Pelagos, you don’t have to ask yourself any questions when you dive with it in the water.
(Header image: Tudor ambassador Morgan Bourc’his (Image: Franck Seguin))
This story first appeared in the July issue of Prestige Hong Kong.