Beth Neale, a South African freediver, is training to break the women’s Free Immersion (FIM) National Record for South Africa in early December 2016, all in the name of conservation education. She is the Education and Outreach Manager at I AM WATER, a Non-Profit Organisation founded by Hanli Prinsloo in 2010. I AM WATER aims to educate adults and children about the importance of the marine ecosystem and conservation. DeeperBlue.com chatted to Beth to find out more about the important work she does and her fundraising effort.
DeeperBlue.com: What is I AM WATER?
Beth Neale: I AM WATER is an Ocean Conservation Non-Profit Organisation and we believe in ocean conservation through human experience. You can only inspire somebody to want to protect the oceans if they have had the personal opportunity to experience why it is so worth protecting.
The main part of the work that we do is to take underprivileged children, living in coastal communities, on an ocean education and experience snorkel day. If we have the right location and enough time, then we also teach them freediving. We talk to them about the problems facing the ocean and what some of the solutions are, and how they can make a difference. We also guide them through stretches, breathing exercises and breath holds, which connects their bodies to their breath and helps them to be present and mindful. They discover how snorkelling and freediving are powerful ways to connect with the ocean, but also with themselves. We give them this opportunity so that they can experience firsthand how amazing the oceans are.
We also do Ocean Education presentations at schools, as well as stretching and breathing for breath hold, which in turn teaches the children how to relax, focus and stay mentally strong.
Our model of funding the Outreach and Conservation work that we do with the children is to run Freediving Courses where all of the profit goes back into the NPO. We also now have I AM WATER Ocean Travel, which runs global ocean adventure trips (freediving, yoga and intimate wildlife encounters) and the profit goes back into our Outreach projects. So basically, people can learn to freedive and have a life-changing ocean experiences while supporting a very worthy cause.
DB: Why did you join I AM WATER?
BN: From my first freediving course with Hanli Prinsloo, Founder and CEO of I AM WATER, we connected about our passion for the ocean, but also about our concerns regarding the many problems facing the ocean. My background is in filmmaking, so I would help Hanli out editing a few videos for I AM WATER. I always really believed in what she was trying to do with the organisation. When Hanli offered me the job, I was over the moon! My role at I AM WATER as the Education and Outreach Manager, Filmmaker and Freediving Instructor combines all of my greatest passions. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be making a positive difference for our oceans while inspiring others to do the same.
DB: You dive in South Africa. Tell us about the sea conditions and depth you can find there.
BN: I live in Durban, South Africa, which is the Indian Ocean side and there is great freediving here but the conditions aren’t consistently good and can be challenging! There is often big swell, bad visibility and strong currents. There is great depth if you can get out on a boat in the right conditions, but there aren’t many people training for depth to dive with!
DB: Where is your favourite place to freedive in South Africa?
BN: Rocktail Bay, which is 60kms South of the Mozambique border on the east coast of South Africa. I have freedived with humpback whales, dolphins, mantas, a leatherback turtle and so many incredible ocean animals at Rocktail. Also, because it is closer to Mozambique, the conditions are usually good.
DB: What’s the freediving scene like in South Africa?
BN: It’s growing. Yay! Most of the freedivers are spearfishermen, but I am finding more and more people wanting to freedive just to enjoy our beautiful coastline and just to experience having an adventure on one breath.
DB: You’ve launched a fundraising campaign to coincide with your record-breaking attempt. Tell us more: date, time, place, discipline.
BN: I AM WATER is an NPO, so we need to fundraise to be able to continue the outreach and education work that we do. When I did a 52m freedive last year December to qualify as a Pure Apnea Master Instructor, I loved every second of the dive and so I decided to turn a South African Record Attempt into a fundraiser so that I can do a deep dive with the right intentions and for a good cause.
The Record Attempt will be happening in the first week of December. The date will hopefully be on the 5th of December, but it might have to change. Unfortunately, there is a very real possibility of swell, strong currents and bad visibility, so I will have to confirm the date, depending on the weather, closer to the time. The place is also going to be weather dependent! For now, it will be on the East Coast of South Africa, as close to Mozambique as possible. If the conditions in South Africa are really bad, then I might even have to cross over to Mozambique to do the Record Attempt there. It certainly keeps things exciting.
I’m going to be attempting to break the Free Immersion (FIM) Female Record, which the inspiring Sophia Van Coller holds at 53m.
DB: Tell us an inspirational story about the difference I AM WATER has made to kids’ lives.
BN: It is difficult to encapsulate what a huge transformational experience the children have when they connect with the ocean. Of course, there is the educational side where they are learning about why our oceans are so incredibly important. But when they first look beneath the surface of the water, or see their first fish, or dive down for the first time, then you can truly see the profound joy, happiness and also stillness that they discover. The majority of children that we work with come from extremely poor backgrounds, where they are very fearful of the ocean and on top of that, they cannot swim. When they are then given the opportunity to safely explore and experience the wonder of the underwater world, then it becomes the greatest adventure and learning experience that they have ever had!
The ocean is extremely healing for all people, but for these children, it allows them to discover a whole new-world, while learning invaluable skills.
One experience that I think encapsulates the work that we are doing was when I was in Bermuda for our Kids on the Reef Programme. One little boy, Makai, was really panicking when he would put his face in the water with his mask and snorkel on. I spent some time with him, trying to work out what was going wrong. I soon realised that his challenge in learning to snorkel was that he was smiling such a big beautiful smile when he looked underwater, that is made his mask flood! I then taught him to relax his face, and smile on the inside so that he could happily snorkel. He told me afterwards that it was the best day of his life.
DB: How can people donate to your fundraising campaign and to I AM WATER?
BN: You can donate to my Record Attempt fundraiser by going to https://www.youcaring.com/freedive where the proceeds are going to fund outreach projects with underprivileged children. You can also watch my fundraising video, which might inspire you to take up Apnea Karaoke which is a lot harder than it looks!
Thanks Beth and the best of luck with your record attempt and fundraiser. Keep up the good work at I AM WATER.