Nicolas Nicolaou is a captain of the Cyprus spearfishing national team, athlete, champion and also freediving instructor with his school.
The interview by Valentina Prokic
How and when did you start with spearfishing? How did you begin your story with freediving?
Nicolas Nicolaou: I began spearfishing when I was 11 years old. My mentor was my older brother Chris, one of the most experienced and well-known spearos in the 80s. The sea was only 10 minutes away from my house by bicycle, so at every chance, I was diving with a small pneumatic gun hunting all types of fish. My career in freediving started in 2001 after the World Championship that took place in my town. This triggered the spark to hold my breath more or to dive deeper. In 2003, I graduated as CMAS * Instructor course in Athens. In 2008, me and two other Cypriot Freediving Instructors created the Cyprus Freediving Education System and introduce it to Cyprus Government. The System was approved by CMAS International and we were promoted to ** Instructors. In the same year, I did my first National record in freediving in the CNF discipline. My freediving career as an athlete continued with lots of participations in freediving competitions either in the pool or in open water. Later, I also graduated as AIDA and CMAS judge and I participated in freediving competitions as a judge too.
How and when did you start to compete in spearfishing?
NN: I started competing in spearfishing at the age of 21 in a local Club (O.F.E.K.) and later in island games between local Clubs (S.F.Y.K.K.). It took me 4 years to celebrate my first championship. From that time and after I won more than 10 national titles and also many Cup competitions that were placed in Cyprus. My partner „in crime“ was Elias Liasis, who is a member of the Cyprus National team as well. In 2007 we added George Vasiliou to our team.
What were your goals, and still are, in competing?
Now, at the age of 47, goals are still the same as the day I started competing, to win every spearfishing competition I participate in.
Your best results until now? Home and international?
NN: As I referred above, I won more than 20 local spearfishing competitions, championships and cups. Internationally, I achieved the 2nd place in the Spearfishing Champions league in Kastelorizo 2008, the 1st place in Spearfishing Champions league in Limnos 2014. Also, the 3rd place in CMAS Spearfishing World Championship in Syros 2016, as team member and Captain of the Cyprus National Team. Finally, i conquered the 2nd place in the first CMAS Spearfishing World Cup for Clubs in Tunisia in 2018.
When and why did you decide to open a school and start with your program of teaching? You are teaching both spearfishing and freediving?
NN: I was teaching CMAS freediving education since 2003 with a partner in a local freediving and spearfishing shop. After several years of freediving, I decided to create my freediving system. Nine months of studying and experimenting mostly in the physiology of freediving and new techniques launched my freediving philosophy in a modern system called Apnea Education System International.
How is your program different from other similar programs?
Nicolas Nicolaou: Apnea Education System International is a modern system for freedivers who want to improve or move fast and safely in the sport. It is based on the latest freediving methods and practices. This is a system that improves itself year after year following the revolution in freediving. There are only few instructors at the moment in Cyprus and Greece who teach my philosophy. AESI is not only the three levels in freediving and instructing, but also covers a huge range in breath holding activities. Little mermaid’s project is based on kids freediving from ages 6 to 11 years old, Surfers freediving workshop, and Spearfishing in competitive and non-competitive mode. All this is offered to candidates through theory in PowerPoint presentations, manuals, and pool / open water sessions.
You were captain in the last WC in Arbatax, but in the end your athletes did not compete, as they returned home because of problems that were out of their control. Apart from this, which is your experience with the organizations of WC?
NN: After participating in so many international competitions, I gained the experience to advise or to judge acts and behaviors that occur. I saw in front of my eyes unacceptable things and unprofessional acts either from organizations or judges. In my opinion, the whole system and the approach to the sport must change. Rules must be revised and synchronized with modern times. As a freediving instructor my concern is safety. Lots of friends and colleagues in this sport have the same worries about safety in WC. We were counting the days when an accident would occur in the sport. And this happened with the loss of a good friend and a strong athlete from Portugal, Matthias Sandeck, in Euroafrican in Denmark 2019. I don’t want to say more due to the memory of this amazing kid, but only one thing: safety rules in WC must be revised and the answers are in front of the committee. My suggestion is very simple. Every single athlete must bring with him a safety diver. All safety divers will go in a draw and be assigned to the athlete of another country. This will eliminate at least the minimum of the risk of somebody drowning due to hypoxia or any other danger. We all have a friend who wants to participate in a WC. This must be mandatory for all athletes.
What are your plans for competitions this year?
Nicolas Nicolaou: As you know, Cyprus National spearfishing team or local Club’s spearfishing athletes are in the first 5 positions in the international competitions since 2008. Plans are always the same, to attend as many competitions as we can, to help with the promotion of our beloved sport. The Euro-African 2022 in Tunisia is the next goal. We are waiting and looking forward to the recovery of George Vasiliou. The good news is that in local competitions new athletes appear, with remarkable performances.
Where do you live and what is your favorite way of spearfishing and which fish?
NN: I live in Cyprus, the eastern island of the Mediterranean. I may call myself a multi-tool in spearfishing. My ability to spearfish from 0 to 55 meters allows me to search for all kinds of preys. My favorite style is deep ambush and my favorite fish is the mottled grouper and the amberjack. I prefer to hunt these two species due to the taste and emotions you receive after their capture. The first species, for the long-time ambush you need to obtain, and the second for its amazing power after the shot. The approach of both is something that fulfills my inner self and satisfies my expectations as a spearo.
Do you have any special way/secret/something different from other spearos that you use to catch specific fish or find it?
Nicolas Nicolaou: Knowledge comes year after year and this becomes an experience. Living on an island with four seasons all species appear to have the same behavior as all in the Mediterranean. The only difference here is that almost every fish is deep. Of course, you may have surprises in shallow too, but to hunt serious fish you must have the ability to dive deep. I often am at sea and the chance to study the behavior of its inhabitants is my secret, I may say. This is what I advise new athletes. Techniques in articles and videos in social media may not help so much as the contact with the water and the fish.
Do you have any idea on how to change the rules or something else to help protect fish, but still continue with spearfishing and competitions? Are there enough rules to protect fish or it is too much? What rules exist in Cyprus?
NN: Of course, I am against over-fishing. Rules must be there so the sea will not become the victim in the end. A big fish and 5 kilos of white fish per person a day is something that avoids a bad impact on the sea. If we consider that amateurs are visiting the sea only on weekends and if the weather is good, such rule is a good solution. Nowadays in Cyprus new rules have been applied. One big fish and 5 kilos of white fish per boat. This cannot be achieved. Imagine four people in a boat going fishing. The first two go right and the other two go left from the boat. Both teams shoot a big grouper. When they will meet in the boat again they will have two big fish. This automatically makes them illegal. How would I know if one of the members of the excursion shot a big fish when I am 500 meters away? As I told before, people in the positions with the power to apply some laws must be people that know what fishing is and not people from Political parties without the appropriate knowledge. Another rule is an application the Cyprus Fishery Department made and demands from the fishermen to state the place and the time in and out they will go for fishing. Also, in the end they need to communicate all types of fish they capture by numbers and weight. Finally, the cut of half of the tail to prevent someone from selling it to restaurants. For the last two rules, I agree because it is a way to help the sea reproduce and new generations will have the opportunity to continue fishing. Of course, there are more rules but these are the main ones for me.
What do you prefer as spearfishing equipment?
Nicolas Nicolaou: I use the specialized gear of XT Diving Pro. I search and I demand perfection on my gear due to the depths I dive for spearfishing. Greek Freediving and spearfishing industries are my favorite choices. As a Freediving instructor, I come in touch with lots of brands and materials my students use and this gives me the opportunity to test and to change opinion about the gear. It is always a nice thing for me to observe different materials, test them and make my decisions. In the last years, I hunt with wooden handmade guns “Krouk” that satisfy my expectations to the maximum.
Fishing is not your job, so how much time do you manage to spend spearfishing or in the school?
NN: I work for a living as a firefighter. I have the opportunity to be in the water, if I want, 20 days per month. But this is not achievable due to family matters or weather conditions. So I make my program according to these two factors. When I run the freediving school I stay focused only on that. Last year I started spearfishing with my two daughters and my godson, and this is the thing that makes me the happiest man on the planet.
(Text by Valentina Prokic)
Freedive Art Freediving School
Apnea Education System International
Breathe hold workshop for surfers
Little mermaid’s project