We are excited to welcome Rachel Novak to our team of PFI Brand Ambassadors for 2023! Rachel is a freediving instructor, mermaid instructor, mermaid performance artist, stunt performer, and the current Miss Mermaid Nevada. We took the time to ask her about her journey in the world of diving, her current projects, and her aspirations for the future.
How did you get into diving?
I got into scuba diving in the Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington after graduating college. The courses were more affordable in the winter due to the colder conditions, and I made it all the way through my rescue diver course before moving to Thailand to work as a divemaster on Koh Phi Phi. While there, I got involved in beach and dive site cleanups organized by the local shops and learned about coral reef restoration through the NGO, Ocean Quest Global. Diving gave me my first insights into the challenges that faced our oceans and I got excited about the possibility of using my diving skills to make a positive impact.
How did you discover freediving?
I first got into breath hold diving while living and sailing on a 32-foot Pearson sailboat. My partner at the time and I sailed from San Francisco to Costa Rica and into the Sea of Cortez over 8 months, and my first breath hold dives were pulling myself down the anchor chain to check anchor holding. It wasn’t until several years later that I found out that freediving was a sport, and I ended up moving to Panglao in the Philippines to pursue the goal of becoming a freediving instructor. The journey was definitely challenging as I felt like I had every equalization issue under the sun, but I was thankful for the mentors that helped me along the way. I highly recommend Panglao as a place for freedivers to train for its affordability, infrastructure, and the number of high-level athletes who train out there who are willing to share their knowledge.
How did you get into mermaiding?
I originally got into the performing arts through my work as a fire entertainer and circus performer. I saw mermaiding as an additional skill that I could add to my repertoire, and I now perform for film, private parties, corporate events, trade shows, and festivals. I see mermaid performances as a way to get people of all ages excited about ocean conservation, and as a mermaid instructor I see a need to make sure that those interested in learning how to become mermaids know how to do so safely.
Where are some of your favorite places to dive?
Oh my gosh, there are so many! I’d have to say that some of the highlights include Barracuda Lake in the Philippines, several of the cenotes in Mexico, an underwater dive park in Lake Tahoe, California, and a unique one – an underwater restaurant that investors once tried to turn into a strip club in Israel. You can still dive down, look through the windows, and see the poles mounted to the stages. Another fun adventure was trying to perform a duck dive in the Dead Sea. It was almost impossible, but it was quite an experience snorkeling over a sea of salt crystals shimmering in the sun. Over the last few years, I’ve kept my adventures more local, where my freediving buddies and I would backpack out to alpine lakes in Oregon and Washington and explore them on one breath.
What’s your take on freediving competitions?
I definitely like participating in them, be they as an athlete, volunteer, or a competition commentator. As an athlete, competitions are a fun way to connect with other freedivers in the community, no matter how experienced you are. In 2021 I was asked to be an official commentator for Vertical Blue in Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas. I definitely enjoy sharing the accomplishments of the athletes with viewers, talking about dive physiology and technique, and sharing a bit about different dive sites and communities that viewers might be interested in! The next competition I’ll be a commentator for is the UNU Tampa Bay Pool Competition on December 9-11, 2022. It’s an awesome atmosphere if you’re looking to compete for your first time, and I hope to see freedivers there in person or on the livestream!
What are some recent projects that you’ve been working on?
One of the most exciting projects I’ve been a part of was working as a stunt performer for Marvel’s Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever. So many talented people, from riggers, to performers, to costume designers, to PA’s and more, came together to create a touching tribute to Chadwick Boseman and celebrate diversity on the big screen. It was thrilling getting to use my diving and performance background in a new setting, and I’m thankful to Chris Denison, Alexis Lord, Alex Krim, Mike Avery, and Alex Llinas for serving as mentors throughout my involvement on the film.
Another recent project I got to participate in was the King and Queen of the Seas Competition, an international mermaid competition in partnership with Virgin Voyages. There were 20 mermaids and mermen from the US and abroad who performed for the cruise ship guests on Virgin’s “Mermaiden Voyage”. Richard Branson even made an appearance, and it was a fun way to connect with other mermaid instructors and performers. I competed as Sea Queen of Nevada, placed in the top 10 for the overall title, and won a superlative award for performances on the runway. I loved getting to connect with fellow competitors and business owners from across the US and abroad over a common interest, and the friendships formed though this experience will hopefully last for years to come.
What are your aspirations for the future?
In addition to performing and teaching freediving and mermaiding in Las Vegas, I’m hopeful that my experience working as a stunt performer in Wakanda Forever will lead to more projects in stunts and water safety. It was so inspiring working with people who are using diving knowledge to create art. On a personal level, I plan to continue scouting out novel places in the US to explore on one breath with friends. I’m an avid trail runner in my spare time, and it’s always fun going back to a place with freediving buddies to check out new places.
Thanks for chatting with us! Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me as well! If anyone is interested in taking a freediving or mermaiding course in Las Vegas, they can reach out to me at www.aquanautsfreediving.com. For freediving-related travel and tips, feel free to check out my YouTube channel, The Sailing Siren. Lastly, if anyone wants to connect on Instagram, they can find me at @thesailingsiren or @aquanautsfreediving. Hope to see you in the water!