Monday, October 27, 2008


It is that time of year again! Time to fill my Christmas list with dive destinations I can’t wait to visit and new gear sure to make a diving technophile excited! And most importantly, catch up with those folks that I rarely get to see – some only at Dema.

Dema is the industry’s largest diving trade-only exhibition. This year, I attended as a Shark Saver and for the Underwater Channel.

It was great to catch up with everyone – especially the Shark Angel Team… We were just short one Angel. Sadly Alison couldn’t make it – busy finishing her phD, making her wedding plans, kicking off two new research initiatives, and entertaining the plethora of media that flocks to her. Come on Alison, is that all????

It was so great to have the gang back together again, at least for a short while. Then everyone was off to their separate parts of the planet: Kim to launch Whale Wars and then hold down the fort while the Shepherds head to the Antarctic, Shawn to head Asia and film for Wild Aid, Eric to get ready to join the 2009 Sea Shepherd Whaling Campaign as the official photographer. What an incredible bunch of passionate people I am so fortunate to call my friends.

And a great way to spend time with fellow Shark Saver director, Jamie Pollack. Jamie and I spent hours planning our China campaign. And searching the floor for sponsors! (Well, mostly Jamie. She rocks at it.)

My must haves from the show? Oceanic’s new dive computer, the sexy, sleek silvery-blue material from Yamamoto for a new open-cell freediving suit (that would bring my total up to 9 new suits this year… 2 custom from Elios, 1 from Fourth Element, 1 from custom Free Divers,1 from Billabong, and 3 custom from Coral Wetsuits – yes, I do have a small shopping problem and my love for great shoes/handbags has now been replaced with a burning desire to purchase the perfect wetsuit), oh and a small ticket item… a Sony EX1 with a Gates Housing and Fathom lens. The perfect stocking stuffer.

As a presenter for the Underwater Channel, I had a chance to interview scads of folks – including the president of Padi, SSI, DAN, and Dema. But my personal favorite? That would have to be Neptunic SharkSuits. They are so tough and cool – I love their products and the company, which is equally edgy and hip. This year, I finally had an opportunity to meet Jeremiah Sullivan – the founder as well – which I must admit, I geeked out a bit on… You can see it all at:

Sadly, I had to settle with another Neptunic t-shirt purchase though to add to my growing collection. I am just not ready to take on the price tag for the suit (they used to be $14k custom built, but now they have a much more affordable model on the market) on a conservationists’ salary. I know I don’t NEED it, but since when is a purchase driven by need? Not for any gal who has lived in Manhattan! But I can still dream… The ultimate suit to add to my collection.

Maybe next year…

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Back in the US

After over four and a half months in Africa, it was finally time to go home for a quick visit to see loved ones, reconnect with the Shark Savers in NYC, go to Dema and film a few episodes for the Underwater Channel.

Funny, coming back to the US, I thought I was eager to get back but instead I instantly realized how out of place I feel. My life and work as a conservationist in South Africa has transformed me a bit, and for the first time, I think I realized how much my perceptions have shifted. I think I feel more at home in South Africa now – in a far less materialistic world that is so much closer to the realm within which I need to focus. What is important to me now is so different to what drove me in the past and being back I instantly felt awkward. The masses of people, the consumerism and the rat race (for what end goal?) alienated me completely. As soon as I arrived, I wanted to leave, get my hands dirty (or at least wet) and return back to being on the front lines of shark conservation…

But, what I thoroughly enjoyed (in addition to seeing my family and my puppy who I miss dearly) was bringing Paul to the US. Here is a kid who grew up in the bush – the tallest building he had ever seen was ten stories. America, to him, was the random television show or movie he had watched growing up. A-team, Nightrider and CSI cheesy violence combined with the best the eighties and Eddie Murphy had to offer: Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America.

And, bam, I drop him into the middle of New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas and Orlando. Complete culture shock. He steps off the plane and I throw him on a subway bound for the financial district in Manhattan. His eyes were saucers the entire trip – and I am not sure he relaxed until we got to the sanctity and slow place that is Florida.

The things that he was desperate to experience were amusingly endearing as well as obscure. Halloween, hot dogs, Mexican food, the subway, anyplace that was used as a location for a scene in a TV show or a movie for the past 20 years, taxis, wireless Internet, vintage cars, soft serve ice cream, political commercials/election drama, raccoons, Captain Crunch… the list goes on and on. Things I have taken for granted most of my life.

(Paul's first hot dog.)

(Paul's first authentic Mexican food.)

I left with an appreciation for all I had growing up, the formulative experiences that made me who I am, and most importantly a renewed enthusiasm for the decision I made to become, what I suppose some might call and environmental vigilante. Or at least a crazy shark nut.

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.