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Beth Neale, free-diver, conservationist and full time mermaid

Beth Neale, free-diver, conservationist and full time mermaid

Her dreams became a passion when, after finishing high school, she travelled with her family to Ponta do Ouro, in Mozambique where she was taught to scuba dive. It was during this trip that Beth truly fell in love with the underwater world and her experiences swimming with dolphins and whale sharks for the first time completely changed her life. “It was the first time that I felt completely and deeply connected to something, it was surreal,” she said.

The depths of the ocean has become a second home for Durban’s free-diver Beth Neale who recently broke the South African free diving record when dove to a depth of 47m in Sodwana Bay. More at home in the water than she is on land, Beth is sharing her passion for the ocean and its preservation with a whole new generation.

For as long as she can remember Beth believed she was a mermaid. “I would spend hours in the water dreaming and pretending to be a mermaid,” she says, her ocean blue eyes twinkling in merriment.

 

Her introduction to free diving happened shortly after she had finished her university studies. With an honours degree in Documentary Filmmaking under her belt, she travelled to the UK for a year. It was here that she did her first free-diving course. “Despite my first real free-dive experience being in a freezing quarry with zero visibility, I absolutely loved it,” she said, adding that she had again felt that deep connection to the underwater world that she had first felt scuba diving in Mozambique years earlier

Beth explains that free diving is holding your breath while diving vertically underwater. With her 47m dive in Sodwana she broke the South African and African Continent Constant Weight No Fins (CNF) free-diving record, earning her the title of the deepest free-diving woman in South African waters.  “I just seem to get in the zone and make sure that I enjoy every metre and stay present and calm.  I’ve been to 55m and feel that it’s just the beginning”.  To keep those lungs in tip top shape  Beth practices yoga and does specific stretches to help improve her breath hold and increase her lung capacity.

Back home in South Africa, Beth landed a wildlife film-making gig for Earth Touch  and ended up working as a Education and Outreach Manager for ‘I Am Water Ocean Conservation’ for 3 years.  It was here that she established programmes to inspire a future generation to connect with and care for the ocean. Her work lead to her founding her own company  called Aqua Souls.

Free-diving in South Africa however, did not come easy to Beth who had never attempted to free-dive in the ocean..  She nurtured a real fear of sharks, but says this was short-lived after she encountered her very first shark. “Instead of feeling fear, I was in complete awe of its beauty!”

She is quick to recount a list of other incredible moments and encounters she has enjoyed in the depths of the deep blue ocean.

“My most cherished experience was with one particular dolphin in Mozambique and involved a pansy shell – I love pansy shells!  I was joined by two of my closest friends, we were having incredible interactions with a pod of dolphins. After some time, the pod dove down when suddenly one of the dolphins separated from the pod and started to dig in the sand with his nose whilst looking up at me. He then came swimming towards me, squeaking and clicking, I noticed he had something small balanced on his nose. He swam above me, tilted his nose and dropped the object, which slowly drifted right into my hand.  My heart stopped. This beautiful, wild creature had just gifted me a pansy shell! This encounter was too special for words. There is simply no way to express the magnitude of emotions or the experience itself!  It is one of  the happiest and most significant moments of my life”

 

This special moment reaffirmed Beth’s life purpose to connect people with the ocean, spreading awareness, educating and changing their behaviour towards the ocean.

Through Aqua Souls she is able to share her greatest passion with others and help them experience, connect and transform in a similar way.  The main aim of  Aqua Souls is to empower children and adults by building water confidence and developing free-diving skills, which will inevitably lead to a deeper connection with the ocean and possibly a very personal journey of change. “Deep down, we all dream of being mermaids and by allowing children to experience this in a very playful way is so rewarding.  To see their underwater smiles reflecting the “falling in love” feeling I experienced so many years ago is deeply satisfying and creates a new generation of ocean guardians.”

Beth is living her dream, and describes herself as a free-diving instructor, full time mermaid and ocean conservationist and loves every moment of it! “I count myself lucky that my job is my passion”.  She is also dedicated to ensuring the development of underprivileged communities and children so that they can overcome their fear of being underwater, helping to instil a feeling of  safety and a connection to water and the ocean as opposed to fear.

For those interesting in free diving contact Beth Neale {Pure Apnea Master Freedive Instructor} Aqua Souls, 071 198 3353, beth@aquasouls.com, www.aquasouls.com

 

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