Born in Angoulême, Philippe Saunier settles in Reunion in 2003. He creates in March 2008, at the port of Saint-Gilles Les Bains, son centre de plongée : The fifth Element.
Philippe obtains his national wine diploma (BOTTOM), then performs his military service in Africa, in Djibouti, for fifteen months. He settled for more than a year in Ethiopia before returning to France and embarking on viticulture. He occupies the positions of oenologist and manager, in Entre-deux-mers and works for Patrick Boudon, one of the precursors of organic viticulture in Aquitaine. Big fan of caving, it is out of love for this practice that Philippe, somewhat aquaphobic, takes the plunge, discovering a new network located in an underground river. At the time, holder of a level 1 Diving, but not knowing how to swim, he hastens to prepare for this exploration. He therefore starts swimming, while simultaneously passing its level 2 Diving. « Je me suis dit, the more I would be in the water, the more comfortable I would be, so i took baths every day, instead of taking showers and I was doing my first breaths. I was like the old man from the Big Blue movie, dans sa baignoire avec la radio à fond », says Philippe. Finally intoxicated by this universe, what he initially considered a challenge, turns into passion.
Philippe trained in the Arcachon basin, in Gironde and practice a lot of cave diving. Different from diving in the sea, this practice, very intensive, requires a lot of cold blood. « Lorsque l’on fait de la plongée en mer, In case of problem, we can come to the surface, while when we go cave diving, if you get angry or excited, you and subtract. I practiced a bit of both in parallel, which allowed me to manage my fears, car cela demandait beaucoup de concentration sur ce que je faisais », he explains. Bold, Philippe accumulates thrilling leisure activities. Always a sports enthusiast, especially hiking, he practices several during his life, the first of which was rugby and holds an A certificate in free fall as well as a paragliding pilot's license. Also having a training in volcanology and thus practicing all the elements, he is looking for an original name for his company, representing its many facets and opts for The Fifth Element. When he founded his business, Philippe is a mountain guide. He combined his two activities for four years before giving up his role of guide in favor of diving.. At its beginnings, not having much means, he buys places in diving clubs to take his clients and thus creates a regular clientele, allowing him to buy his equipment and a boat, which he names Leeloo, en référence au film « Le cinquième élément ». Very expensive to maintain, Philippe s’exprime avec humour au sujet de l’acquisition de son embarquement : « Concernant les bateaux, il y a un dicton dans notre milieu qui dit : il y a deux jours où tu es heureux ; le jour où tu l’achètes et le jour où tu le vends ! ».
Among his many passions, Philippe chooses diving, for its educational aspect and makes it his job. What he particularly likes, is understanding your divers, to feel their stress and their personality, in order to share with them his universe in the best conditions. The Fifth Element is, otherwise, one of the rare clubs to train people who cannot swim at the level 1 Diving. "I surely wouldn't have learned to swim if it hadn't been for diving. This is what made me love water. I know it's gonna be harder, but I understand their fears and this is how you get these people to enjoy themselves in an element, being very afraid on the surface, but not below. You have to be patient and be interested in people. I love baptisms, because you have to dig to know where to bring people and you end up like that to make a diver, sans lui faire peur », he declares. This profession, very involved, takes a lot of effort and time. « Je travaille tous les week-ends. It’s not easy to combine with my personal life, it requires a lot of investment. Il faut être très pointilleux. C’est un métier très fatiguant, mais c’est un très beau métier », says Philippe. It's now on Leeloo 2, a diver's speedboat, construction of the navy, orange in reference to the hair of the character of the homonymous film to his box, that he takes his clients to sea. « Placée juste à côté de moi, there is the company Le Grand Bleu. If one day Luc Besson comes to see us, il sera super content ! », he jokes.
« Plus je pratique mes passions et plus je suis zen »
His best experience is for the enthusiast, his first swim with a whale. During a boat trip in 2004, when leaving work, Philippe crosses paths with a whale, completely still with her baby. « Je me suis mis à l’eau. When I saw his eye, that I was sure she was looking at me, I felt like it was going through me. There was like a connection, communication with the animal. I've done a lot of crazy things in my life, but this, the look of this whale, ça m’a transpercé ». His favorite places to practice his vocation are, à la Réunion : the Grand Canyon, the Hermitage pass and the Tour de Boucan, as well as, for wreck diving, Antonio Lorenzo, near Saint-Leu and Haï Siang, located in front of Boucan. « C’est une Île magnifique, où je peux vivre mes passions plus de trois cents jours dans l’année », he declares. He dreams of diving one day in Polynesia, in Costa Rica and the Sardine Run, an event taking place off the coast of South Africa, where you can observe a gathering of sardines, attracting sea lions, sharks, dolphins and fools of the cape and wishes to continue this momentum as long as possible, to dive, fly and resume hiking in the mountains. It encourages the entire population to fight against pollution on the Island. « Avec mes clients, on hikes, I made the rule of plus one, which consists of collecting all our garbage, no more waste that is not ours. On peut le faire tous les jours et je l’applique moi-même depuis plusieurs années », indicates Philippe.
Texte Célia Mussard
Photos Pierre Marchal and Eric Lancelot (underwater)