Esteban Darhanpé: The Man Who Brought Freediving to Roatan
Eyes are very telling. When someone speaks about their passions, often their eyes grow in size and fill with energy. This is how you know a person’s love. This is Esteban Darhanpé when he speaks of freediving. Esteban, through his passion for the ocean and marine life, is the main reason that freediving exists in Roatan, Honduras. He is also the man that breathed life into the Caribbean Cup, a major international freediving competition. I had the pleasure of chatting with him about what led him to Roatan and how his passion for the sport prompted the creation of such an internationally recognized event.
Esteban, now 47, grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There he lived a somewhat normal life, doing very normal things like attending university and occasionally traveling to a neighboring country for short vacations. In 1998, with only a year left to finish his degree in economics, he decided to take his savings and begin traveling Latin America. Like so many travelers before him, Esteban never quite made it back to normalcy.
His Passion for the Ocean and Discovering Freediving
While he was always passionate about the ocean and its diverse life forms, this became a way of life for him as he traveled and scuba dived across Central America. When he returned to Argentina, rather than finishing his final year of university, he spent the last of his money becoming a scuba instructor. From there, he was off to Roatan, a place that is still his home base.
During his free time as a scuba instructor, he swam. In fact, he’d swim an average of three kilometers per day. His swimming wasn’t limited to the surface. Though he knew nothing of freediving as a sport at the time, nor did he have any type of training, he worked out his own technique to dive to depths as deep as 22 meters (slightly over 70 feet). It was on one of these excursions that he bumped into a group of scuba divers.
Later that day, one of the divers recognized Esteban on the streets. Keep in mind that Roatan was much less developed in these days so it was also significantly less crowded. They started chatting about freediving, a term that was quite new to Esteban, and the conversation quickly turned to watching videos on the internet. After this encounter he became even more enthralled in the sport. Like any fan, he started learning the notable players and watching videos of competitions.
After a few years, he decided he wanted to host a competition in Roatan as a means of promoting the sport. He believed the conditions to be perfect for freediving as the calm, warm water is accompanied by amazing visibility. The deep walls of Roatan would also allow for competitors to achieve record breaking goals. What’s not to love? He couldn’t believe no one had thought of this before. So, he began reaching out.
The Birth of Competition on Roatan
He contacted AIDA International, a freedive training agency, and was also able to connect with William Trubridge, one of the most notable freedivers. He explained that the conditions were perfect for freediving but no one practiced it on the island. William agreed to come to Roatan in 2012 to put on the first Roatan freediving event called Roatan Freediving Performance.
Although this was not the competition that Esteban had dreamed of all these years, it served not only as a platform to garner interest on the island in freediving, but also to harvest interest in Roatan internationally as a freediving destination.
He showed William many of the sites Roatan has to offer the freediving realm. This included the much protected and pristine Cordelia Banks, home to some of the last remaining staghorn corals that were unaffected by the mass-bleaching of the species in the 1980s. The event even made it to television via Fox Sports. Because of the exhibition’s initial success, the two collaborated to create the first Caribbean Cup freediving competition in 2013. This year’s Caribbean Cup will be the sixth annual competition held on Roatan and it kicks off on May 17th.
The Transition From Scuba to Freediving
Everyone dives for different reasons. This is true in both scuba diving and freediving. For Esteban, it’s very much about the marine life and the unique experience that is possible without a scuba tank.
“I love scuba diving. I’ve taught it for many years but I have the feeling when you do scuba diving you are like an explorer. When you do freediving, it’s like you become a marine creature yourself.”
Some freedive because they are competitive. Others, because they enjoy the meditative side. He found that his interaction with marine life was different. “The feeling is different.” He found that the way he would take part in the environment was different without a tank strapped to his back and loud bubbles making their way to the surface. “It’s kind of a meditation. When you go scuba diving you explore the reef. When you go freediving, you also explore yourself.”
Unfortunately, scuba diving and freediving aren’t very compatible. Because of the excess nitrogen absorbed into a diver’s tissues while scuba diving, one must wait a minimum of 24 hours before freediving. As his passion for freediving increased, so did the interest in proper education for the sport on the island. More and more people were asking to learn.
Subsequently, in 2014, after the first Caribbean Cup, he decided to quit being a full time scuba instructor and focus on becoming a freediving instructor. Though he had practiced techniques with many freedivers at this point, he did not have a formal education on the subject. This lead him to the neighboring island of Utila where he completed is instructor course with Freedive Utila. Coincidentally enough, I happened to be taking my introductory course at the same school while Esteban was completing his instructor training.
Back to Roatan
Upon Esteban’s return to Roatan after finishing his instructor course in Utila, he fulfilled his goal of opening his own school called Roatan Freediving School and Training Center in 2016. Not only has he successfully hosted the annual Caribbean Cup, but in 2017 the school had the honor to bring the AIDA World Championships to Roatan. He hopes to repeat the venue in 2019 along with adding the CMAS Panamerican Championship to the list of successful freediving competitions held on the island.
Last year Roatan was also home to the first annual Caribbean Cup Junior freediving competition for the local youths. Together with the Roatan Marine Park and Sol Foundation, a local charity, Esteban’s school created this event to help the local children discover the sport and possibly even “create a future activity that they can do for work.” 25 children participated, diving to a maximum depth of 20 meters. According to him, “it’s nice for the kids to have a chance to see the world champions and they are also able to do that if they have the aim and they train.” The second Junior Cup will be held on May 26th and 27th, just two days after the Caribbean Cup ends.
Through his love for the sport, he has helped popularize freediving on Roatan and also internationally by creating the Caribbean Cup. Not only has he spread his passion with the current generation of freedivers, but he is inspiring the next generation of freedivers as well.While he always fantasized about living somewhere close to the ocean, it was never in his mind to leave Argentina and stay so long from his family. Roatan and freediving has benefited much from his decision to do so.
If you happen to be on the island, stop by his school. They offer courses from beginner to master levels. If you already are a freediver, they also offer daily training with optional coaching.