Friday, October 3, 2008

Look Ma, No Tanks!

And… I am loving it!

Last year, I had the opportunity to meet Hanli Prinsloo – world class and champion freediver when I was diving with the white sharks. Watching her in the water made me realize she is true to her word. She really IS water. So graceful and free underwater on a single breath of air.

A few days later I did a photo shoot with Roger Horrocks freediving with tiger sharks. And while I managed, I certainly didn’t meet my own high expectations of my first freediving experience: to glide elegantly deep under the surface as seconds melt away into minutes. I found myself wishing I could dive deeper, stay down longer and improve my confidence without a nearby air source. But, I loved the freedom that not having a tank on my back allowed me to have.

And, I was even more enthralled to be able to experience the animals in a way I had never experienced before. It was like for the first time, I had truly entered their world. The sharks and I were interacting as if we were equals. Instead of swimming nervously away from me, or keeping their leery distance, they came right up to me immediately – even the tigers – to greet me. Without noisy tanks between us, I felt like I was accepted as one of them, and we were able to swim next to one another free of the barrier of fear that has kept us from truly connecting in the past (theirs of course.)

I became quickly addicted to the benefits of freediving and spent the next several days free of the confines dive gear imposes – one with the tigers. And, with the encouragement of my freediving buddy, the infamous Wolfgang Leander, a man who loves sharks almost as much as he loves freediving, I was hooked.

It was then I decided to become a shark. The first step? Ensuring I could enter their world on their terms. So, it was then I vowed to become a freediver.

I returned to the states and immediately ordered my gear and signed up for Hanli’s next class, in September in Aliwal run by my friends at Blue Wilderness, and their program "I am shark."

Finally the time had come. In two days, Hanli taught me more than I could have ever imagined about the sport of freediving, gave me the confidence and tools I needed to “live” underwater, and most importantly, reminded me of the strength we all have within to achieve everything we put our mind to – as long as we can harness it.

I learned breathholding techniques, proper eating pre and post diving, pre-diving yoga, how to breathe up, “stuffing” air into all my cavities, relaxation, the power of the mind, working through physical limitations and urges, and perserverence. I shocked myself to find that I can hold my breath for almost three minutes and on my first day of diving in the oceans, I dove to almost 60 feet with ease to pause at the bottom and listen to the whales sing. Not bad for a tank guzzler, huh Wolfie?

Hanli was an incredible teacher and I was totally hooked on freediving. It gives me confidence, freedom and an even, cenetered deameanor but more importantly, it gives me a window into the shark’s world.

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