Local hero: Dada Li

Dada Li
Photo: Y.zin Kim

Dada Li

After a first taste of freediving with friends in 2012, Dada Li knew she wanted more. Failing to find a school in her native China, she enrolled on a freediving course in Phuket instead. Today she says it is one of the best things that ever happened to her and wants to share the sport with others.

“Freediving is like having a key to open the underwater world,” she says. “It brings me an extra-dimensional experience.”

Once she had qualified as an AIDA (the international body that governs freediving) and PADI Freediving Instructor, Li co-founded a freediving club in Shenzhen, in Guangdong Province. In 2015, with ‘mermaids’ much in demand for marketing and promotional activities, she started her own academy and now manages a team of mermaids who perform daily in the biggest indoor aquarium in China.

“The real gift of freediving is learning to relax,” she says. “Between breaths, you can control your body and mind, facing unthinkable challenges with calm and concentration. Freediving gave me courage, it allows me to understand my limits, so that I can face my own fears and respect them. Ultimately, it gives my life hope and wonder.”

Sharing that hope and wonder, Li’s new profession takes her all over the world, including a recent trip to the Mexican cenotes – sinkholes formed by the collapse of limestone strata that reveal the groundwater below – to develop an underwater fashion and freediving concept with Korean photographer, Y.zin Kim.