Durban - Durban's Beth Neale has broken her own free diving record, hitting the magical 50m mark and taking the South African Freediving Championship for the fourth time. And it's all in the name of ocean conservation.
On Sunday, the master instructor and African continental record holder, broke her 47-meter ‘no fins’ freediving record in Bermuda by a further three metres using nothing but a nose clip. She set the previous ‘no fins’ freediving record in Sodwana Bay last April.
Neale's latest daring attempt is raising funds for ocean education programmes which teach the next generation of ‘ocean guardians’ about the importance of conservation.
“Conditions couldn't have been much better," Neale said of her lastest dive. "I had a 20-person support team out on the water with me 12 miles offshore of Bermuda. This was the most relaxed performance of my career, despite having a wardrobe malfunction at 50 meters.”
She said that the velcro band on her leg, which holds the bottom tag she needs to present to judges on completion, slipped right off her leg because of the compression at depth. “I tucked the tag in my wetsuit - which fell out again at 40 meters,” she continued. “According to my dive computer, this added 15 seconds to the dive, which was 2 minutes 50 seconds.”
Her coach and partner Miles Cloutier said: “Beth has tremendous athletic talent and ability that she is only just beginning to explore. One of the things I most admire about her is the energy she puts into conservation, with athletics coming a distant second. The dive event was three months of preparation and we had more than 50 donors, supporters and friends out on the water with us.”
Neale said her freediving journey started a decade ago in London when, during a particularly low point in her life, she watched The Big Blue. "I immediately started searching for freediving courses. Two weeks later, I started my underwater journey.
“Freediving allows you to connect not only with the ocean, but the body on a deep level, without the encumbrance of gear and distraction of technology,” she said. “Building confidence as a freediver is about becoming aware of the innate abilities we have as humans. These physiological responses allow us to relax, lower the heart rate, conserve energy and move blood flow to the vital organs when holding the breath. It is truly magical.”
Neale follows the constant weight, no fins diving discipline and swims breaststroke for both descent and ascent, using no equipment. “I think it’s the purest form of diving and I absolutely love it,” she said.
Explaining the dive, she said: “There are thermoclines on the way down, which is a layer of water that has a significant change in temperature. I am swimming breaststroke for the first 25 meters and my hands are occupied, so I wear a nose clip that I blow against to equalize the pressure in my ears.”
At these depths, the pressure makes wearing a mask challenging, so Neale relies on a blur of lines and her dive watch to assist her in reaching her target depth. After 21 metres, her lungs are compressed and her body goes into freefall and, after the 60-second point, she begins her ascent.
Neale attempted the record to raise awareness of the work she’s doing: “Competitive freediving is far from my ‘mission’ in life, but it is a talent and discipline I have worked to develop. My focus is simply to use my athletic accomplishments to develop conservation initiatives in Africa and abroad.”
The owner of Aqua Souls, Neale has dedicated the last five years of her life to ocean conservation in South Africa, Mozambique and Bermuda. Through her work as a Master Instructor, she has taught more than 500 adults the art of freediving, as well as more than 3 000 children – all of whom are instructed in ocean conservation as well.
“I love changing the perceptions of children who are fearful of the water, as well as being able to identify children that are gifted or interested in a future of conservation and may develop themselves to become ocean guardians,” said Neale.