Wild synchronised swimming

Margaux Caillier caught our attention this summer when she took synchronised swimming outdoors - here she shares extraordinary photography by Alex Voyer

Alex Voyer @alexvoyer_fisheye

Margaux Caillier has always practised synchronised swimming in the sea, lakes and rivers, but this summer saw her team join photographer Alex Voyer to create a spellbinding set of photographs of movement in open water. Here, she talks to Beth Pearson about the particular challenges of doing synchro in the waves.

Photo: Alex Voyer
Photo: Alex Voyer
Photo Alex Voyer
Photo: Alex Voyer
Photo: Alex Voyer
Photo: Alex Voyer
Photo: Alex Voyer
Photo: Alex Voyer

First, could you tell us about yourself?

I am 36 and mother of two sons (aged seven and five). I live on the coast in the Basque Country, in the South of France, where my street is 150m straight to the ocean! I started to swim synchro from seven years old and I now practice with a club for two hours a week. I also surf, go outdoor swimming, and stand-up paddle boarding. The other part of my synchro life is my job – I am brand manager of Natation Artistique, the artistic swimming range of products sold by Decathlon. I am in charge of developing products that help swimmers to practice, as well as being in charge of photoshoots because it is one of my other passions. I also spend a lot of time in water to practice mermaiding. I give mermaid lessons in the sea for kids or adults, for birthdays or just for fun!

Would you normally swim in the sea as much?

I swim in summer in the sea, lakes and rivers, every day. I swim in the sea a little bit in May and October. I swim in a pool from November to April, and I’ve tried some ice swimming experiences in winter. I’ve always done synchro in open water. I try to do it as much as I can. It’s not a new idea; it’s inked in me.

 To your knowledge, has open water synchro like this been done before?

Not officially because it is difficult to find stability and body perception when there are waves. It is also difficult to see your mates underwater. So it is not the perfect place for a perfect choreography. But… for me it is a good opportunity to work on these skills (stability, alignments in formations, sheathing) and also to show the artistic side of the sport. Less rigid and strict.

 What are the main differences between open water and pool synchro?

It is really different because in a swimming pool there are markers: the walls, the floor but also the steps and the ceiling. In outdoor, you only have your body and maybe the shore. You have to feel your body and its movements even more strongly than in a pool. The water is not always clear. Sometimes there is some wind. If the water is salty, your waterline is different and your centre of gravity is shifted. If there are waves, you must not fight against them but dance with them. You have to play with the environment. This is what is so exciting!

Alex Voyer

When did Alex Voyer get involved? 

I met Alex in 2015 during the Morocco Swimtrek in Dahla. I knew straight away that this person was special and that we shared very strong values and affinities with the aquatic world. Me: mermaid and passionate about photography. Him: photographer and passionate about marine animals and mermaids! Now he is a really good friend and we always have lots of ideas. We started to think about this project one year ago. I had a lot of fun in the water making these images, but honestly I was far from imagining the success and the enthusiasm with which they have been received! I am very proud, and very grateful.

Has spending more time in a marine environment affected you in ways you perhaps didn’t expect? Such as thinking about conservation, or wildlife?

Yes, when I travel with my van, I always find a place to swim. But sometimes it is impossible because of dirty water or pollution. It really makes me angry. Every day I see the tractors cleaning the beach at my house – and every day so much more garbage ends up on the beach again. This summer the beach has been closed very often due to pollution. I don’t understand why and how it can happen, does nobody have a conscience? When I travel with my van, every time we stop, we pick up the waste that we find around us. I know this is a very small gesture and that it will not save the planet but it is just obvious to me that we have to do it. 

More recently, I also realised the difference in my body. The chlorine dries out my skin and my hair and makes my eyes teary, not to mention the smell … While in the natural environment, the skin is full of minerals and comes out healthier.