Free dive champ Beth Neale a real mermaid
“She looks the part, she is the part. She spends most of her time in the water and she is by far the most talented free diver the country has seen: the closest thing to a real mermaid,” said Olivia Symcox, head of Shark Angels SA - a global network of shark conservationists.
Children who have taken her ocean awareness and free diving classes, including those at her current summer camps, call her Mermaid Beth.
Although she has swum in Bermuda with a state-of-the-art silicone mermaid tail, she uses mermaid leggings and a monotail back home, when teaching children to dive.
“I’m a modern mermaid,” said Neale, whose pupils also don monotails as they gain confidence in the water, while having fun, and also become transformed into mermaids or dolphins.
Free diving is done without any apparatus, using a single breath, and Neale, 35, is able to hold her breath while diving for five-and-a-half minutes.
A wildlife film-maker, she set a South African record for the deepest female free dive at Sodwana Bay last December.
Her “free immersion” record was for 55 metres, which she did in two-and-a-half minutes. Five minutes later, she broke the record.
“At 55 metres, you still can’t see the bottom of the water,” she recalled.
There was no one with her on the deep dive either, she said.
“The only safety net I had was at 35m, on the way up, when two divers met me and swam back up with me.”
Although another diver took the record from her by another five metres in July, Neale is determined to reclaim the title.
She said she has had some amazing experiences under water and told of one “incredible” encounter with a dolphin, while diving in Mozambican waters.
“He broke away from the pod he was in, dug in the sand and came above me with something balanced on his nose.
“Then he dropped his nose and the pansy shell that he was carrying fell into my hand,” Neale said.
She used to teach underprivileged children about ocean conservation and how to snorkel, and has just set up her own Aqua Souls organisation to pass on water awareness and free diving skills and techniques to children and adults.
She has already held a course for children at the Sutton Park Pool in Morningside, where one 8-year-old schoolgirl was able to walk across the 25-metre pool, holding a 10kg weight.
Her next water confidence holiday camp is on January 10 and 11 in Durban.