Page 13 - Cemair SkyNews Jun 2018
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If, like me, you are not prone to the imaginative childhood   Yes, it sounds incredible. In all the diving tales I have heard
            wonders of Dr Dolittle, then perhaps you should read Beth   - even the longest twelve-tequila ones – none can compete
            Neale’s story.  She is a dolphin whisperer with a cause,   with a story of dolphins imparting seashell gifts on human
            and her tale is one that will inspire you to spend your life   visitors. Yet, that’s precisely what happened to Beth. As one
            doing what matters most to you.  Beth has just broken The   does in the freediving world, she found herself twisting and
            Constant Weight No Fins Freediving record in Sodwana Bay.   twirling amidst a pod of dolphins that seemed happy to hang
            She dived down - and back up, of course - a staggering 47   out with her.  What happened next is the scripting of Disney
            metres in 2 minutes 44 seconds.  That’s nearly 3 minutes   movies. As the dolphins started to swim off, she noticed that
            holding her breath swimming breaststroke down to a depth   one large male - later identified by his fin markings as Pluto -
            about 15 stories deep.  Not only is this a South African   broke away from the pod, dived down and put his nose in the
            free-diving and African continental record, but also, unlike   sand before gliding back up directly towards Beth. Balanced
            other record-holders, it was achieved in South African   on the tip of his nose was a Pansy shell, which he then
            waters renowned for their more challenging conditions. (The   flicked around playfully before nudging it towards her in what
            equivalent world record is held by Sayuri Kinoshita of Japan,   seemed like the dolphin equivalent of handing over a dozen
            who dived to a depth of 72 metres in the Bahamas in 2016.)  freshly picked red roses.
            Born and raised in Johannesburg, Beth’s only connection   Beth certainly could start her own underwater Disney chan-
            to the ocean growing up was on family holidays to Leisure   nel, but she takes her life-passion seriously.  “I am lucky that
            Bay on the South Coast of KwaZulu Natal.  This          I figured out what I love to do in life...and I get to do
            was where her love for the ocean began. “I feel             it!”  She exudes tranquil gratitude for living her
            completely calm under the water,” she says.                   joie de vivre. And like anyone who has found
            Beth completed her first scuba diving                           what they love, she wants to continue
            course in Mozambique at the age of 18                             getting better at it.  “I would love to go
            and then pursued a more traditional                                professional, attend international com-
            career. Having moved to London,                                     petitions and represent South Africa
            depressed and unemployed in the                                     at the Freediving World Champion-
            English grey skies, she watched the                                  ships,” she says “but sponsorship in
            Big Blue and completed her first                                     this sport is still challenging.”
            freediving course in a dark quarry in
            London. Sounds ghastly, I know!  I                                   Beth’s aspirations also extend
            guess that if you’re a dolphin-whis-                                 beyond her individual accomplish-
            perer at heart, then freezing in dark,                              ments. Her company, AquaSouls,
            charcoal waters is still more invigor-                              is dedicated to growing the sport of
            ating than watching the telly in your                              freediving by working with children
            little apartment. It’s the exhilaration of                        and adults. She loves mentoring young
            being free in the Big Blue that Beth revels                     people and teaching them about the
            in. And it’s no wonder because she has a                      ocean, sustainability and body image. She is
            story of brushing fins with a titanic Bull Shark,           currently in Bermuda for a few months working
            one of the ocean’s prodigious predators.  “I used to    in collaboration with the Aquarium to guide adoles-
            be terrified of sharks,” she remembers, “but my free-dives with   cents to connect with and care about the ocean. “Freediving
            the raggies in Aliwal Shoal and Rocktail Bay completely rid me   helps children to build confidence in their abilities in the water,
            of those fears.”                                  and they learn so quickly,” she notes. “I also see lots of body
                                                              image issues showing up,” Beth adds, “so I work with them
            Beth’s unflappable encounters with sharks are the least   on that too.”
            jaw-dropping of her water adventures. I stumbled across her
            almost surreal video of what could have turned her ocean-fa-  Freediving certainly does seem to be growing into a more
            bles into a Jonah-and-the-Whale type horror movie. During   accessible and popular sport.  South Africans have some of
            the Sardine Run of 2017, she was free-diving below a bait   the best freediving locations on our doorstep with more
            ball, which is a school of thousands of fish circling an open   operators, like Beth, offering courses. (She does recom-
            centre. From the deep blue, a bus of a Bryde whale swooped   mend a course for safety reasons.) It’s not just about diving
            a metre in front of her, jaws agape and suction in first gear   to greater depths though. Freediving is about learning to be
            for its 1000-sardine buffet lunch.   “I don’t think I was in any   confident in the water and building a profound appreciation
            danger,” Beth laughs nonchalantly. I’m not convinced having   for the ocean.
            inspected the tenth rerun of the video clip.  “Sharks and dol-
            phins have been found in the stomachs of Bryde whales,” she   I confess to being a wannabe dolphin myself, even though as
            concedes, “but I think I was fine.”               fate and pizza would have it, I’m more of the Bryde whale. I
                                                              love scuba-diving and never really contemplated the merits of
            Lucky...serendipitous...charmed….                 holding my breath underwater to experience the true freedom
                                                              of the Big Blue.   While I’m not likely to give up my passion
            These are all words that aptly describe Beth’s underwater   for long dives over shallow reefs at Aliwal Shoal and other
            adventures.  She seems to attract regular encounters with   glorious places in the world, Beth’s story has convinced me
            creatures that many would sell Granny’s bottom teeth for.   to dabble. So, yes, I think I too might give freediving a try...
            Beth attributes her close encounters to the freedom of not   until such time as I meet Bruce the Bull Shark, that is. I have
            having scuba equipment.  “You can get a lot closer to marine   no ambitions of on-the-job training as a shark whisperer.
            animals underwater,” she says. “Fish, turtles, dolphins [and
            apparently ravenous whales] are comfortable to come a lot
            closer when you are freediving. I love the small things you see
            when scuba diving, but my passion is the big things.”

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