We pulled up a camp chair with Olly Gray, a self-confessed waterman, who shared how he’s directed the road trip of his life so that all paths lead to the ocean (much like the North Coast NSW road trip we found him on).


Olly Gray’s life has been guided by the ebb and flow of the ocean, from his early days of boogie boarding as a kid, to now, where he spends his days studying sharks off the coast of Yamba.

Olly’s a qualified freediving instructor, scuba diver, coxswain, and an experienced surfer, spearfisher, and a certified coastal road tripper. In short: the ocean is Olly’s home.


Check your local regulations before catching crayfish


That’s how we knew he was the perfect salt-crusted person to talk to about how to become an ocean lover. We tracked him down while he was on a road trip, and found him pulled up at Red Cliff Campground, around 40 minutes south of Yamba on the NSW North Coast.

With his Star RV campervan to help carry all his ocean gear goodies, it was clear Olly had spent his day in his favourite place, surfing, freediving, and even spearfishing (according to the crayfish he pulled out of the water for dinner). The setting was ripe for a yarn about the ocean.

‘The ocean is this bubble that can be whatever you want it to be,’ says Olly. ‘It can be a calming influence when you want it, or it can be a rugged, volatile experience on the days when physical stress is good stress. It’s about feeling the water on your skin. And it’s about that sense of community, awe, and inspiration found in the water.’

As we sat chatting, listening to the crash of the waves and enjoying the ocean breeze, I asked Olly to share five ways other people can get the benefits of the ocean in their lives.


1. Try a Little Bit of Everything

‘I have an activity for every condition,’ says Olly. ‘That’s the key to leading an adventurous life. If it’s the wrong conditions for freediving, maybe there are waves for a surf. Or there’s training in the pool, jogging or cricket on the beach, whatever. My favourite thing was always going camping (just like this!), taking all the gear, and getting amongst everything.’



To truly embrace the aquaphile spirit like Olly, you’ll need to be ready to take a deep breath and dive head-first into the water’s diverse experiences. Be it surfing, fishing, spearfishing, or even beach cricket; adaptability is key; let changing conditions guide your choice of adventure.

Creating a community of people is also important, especially with many water sports having a certain amount of danger and risk. The camaraderie of kindred spirits means you’ll always have each other’s back no matter what the activity or the conditions.

If you don’t happen to reside within frolicking-distance of the ocean, maybe it’s time to finally hire that Star RV campervan and make the most of a coastal road trip this summer, just like Olly.

‘I appreciate being able to slow down my mind on the road because it’s like meditation, like that underwater feeling. Everything is slowed down, you’re focusing on everything at once, but also nothing at the same time. You’re just really connected to yourself and your surroundings.’

2. Make the Most of Every Minute

‘I dare you to rise a bit earlier, go to bed a little sooner, take steps to improve your sleep, catch the sunrise from time to time, and yes, even on a rainy day, go to the beach and have a run in the rain,’ encourages Olly. ‘I challenge you to do something different, and you’ll come home and say, “Wow, I feel alive”.’



We should all get behind Olly’s challenge to seize the day, and there’s no easier time to embrace it than when you’re on the road, by the ocean, and totally in control of your own schedule. Consider gradually adjusting your daily routine. Begin by setting your alarm just a tad earlier, adopt some calming pre-sleep rituals, and make the time to infuse adventure into your every day. Above all, have fun along the way.

Taking these steps might seem small, but collectively, they’ll have a huge positive impact on your life and wellbeing.

3. Never Stop Learning

‘I spent two years really getting to know and understand freediving, coming and going from different jobs, teaching and learning,’ says Olly. ‘I’ve got thousands of hours on the boat, hours surfing, and multiple qualifications in freediving, scuba, and breathwork. I took time off work and cut unnecessary spending and social stuff to make it happen.’

Learning is a lifelong endeavour for Olly, and even reading his list of qualifications and training exhausts me. He’s pursued freediving and surf survival, scuba diving (including rescue qualifications), and is currently planning to pursue a dive master certification, recognising the symbiotic relationship between scuba and freediving.

If you’re interested in freediving specifically, Olly recommends Apnea Survival Australia. He’s a particular fan of the six-hour in-depth, simplified course, which gives you everything you need to start freediving and working on breath.


4. Breathwork Isn’t Just for the Ocean

‘They say that you never think about your breath until it’s the only thing you think about,’ smiles Olly. ‘Learning the power of breath is transformational and gives control in moments of stress. When you follow breathing techniques, you realise, “I’ve got control of this now; I feel my heart slowing down, I feel my brain starting to relax. There were ten things in my mind before, and now there’s only one thing or two things”.’



Originally embracing breathwork for freediving specifically, it didn’t take long for Olly to recognise that breathing is a magical tool in and out of the water, offering a path to inner calm even when things are hella-hectic.

He recommends starting simply with box breathing, which involves exhaling for a count of four, maintaining empty lungs for another four-count, inhaling at the same measured pace, and then holding the breath for a count of four before starting the cycle again.



In the ocean, even if you’re not a freediver, Olly encourages people to incorporate breathing, such as following the rhythm of the waves with your breath when you’re paddling on your surfboard or fishing. Float, feel, and get into the flow of the water — relaxation won’t be far behind.

5. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

‘You need to challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone,’ Olly explains. ‘Maybe you dream of being a big wave surfer? Start with going for a swim at the beach, then maybe next week, jump in an ice bath. You might go out on a surfboard a few weeks later and paddle around. Slowly, you get yourself out and about, getting out of your comfort zone in little steps.’

This is something Olly lives and breathes himself: constantly pushing, constantly challenging, and constantly learning. He encourages people to break up what they want to achieve into small steps, and slowly, you’ll get there. Just be prepared for some hard work along the way.

The Water is Waiting

Olly’s love of the ocean is palpable and it’s clear that every chance he gets to be near it, he takes. From sunrise surfs to cruisy campervan road trips to oceanside campgrounds, Olly’s living the life he’s put the effort into carving out for himself. So whether you’re a fledgling aquaphile or a seasoned water enthusiast, the call of the water is one we can all feel, and with a little bit of time, answer.



Photos by @ben.savage