Beth Neale is 3x South African National Freediving Champion and African Continental Record Holder. She has dedicated the last 5 years to ocean conservation initiatives in South Africa, Mozambique and Bermuda. As a Master Instructor, she has taught over 500 adults freediving, and 3,000 children ocean conservation and freediving. She has a corporate background in wildlife film production, and is sharing the ocean through digital media. Through her company Aqua Souls, she is enticing people with the beauty of our underwater world, leading them to take the plunge for themselves! Follow the highlights of her journey on Instagram @Onebreathbeth and contact her through social media for freediving workshop opportunities worldwide!
How and when did you begin free diving?
10 years ago in the city of London. I was depressed, unemployed, sitting on the couch eating cheap chocolate and watching the movie The Big Blue! Immediately after, I searched ‘freedive london’ and booked a course for 2 weeks later. Ever since that day my life changed completely!
What does Constant Weight No Fins mean and why do you compete this way?
Constant weight no fins (CNF) is the diving discipline of breaststroke down and back up. No fins or equipment to help on the descent or ascent. CNF is the most pure form of diving in my opinion and I absolutely love it! Also, I have never had sponsorship for dedicated training, or a carbon fibre monofin (dolphin tail).
What is it like diving to 164ft?
There will be a couple of thermoclines on the way down, which is a layer of water that has a significant change in temperature – at least a few degrees. This can be quite a shock to the body, but I have learned to let it further relax me.
Because I am swimming down breaststroke for the first 25 meters my hands are occupied, so I will be wearing a nose clip that I blow against to equalize the pressure in my ears. And with the clip on my nose, I’m not able to wear a mask. The change in pressure would cause goggles to literally suck the eyeballs out of my skull! So on the way down I am seeing just a blur of the line in front of me, which serves as a guide to my target depth.
Past about 69ft, my lungs will have compressed to the point where I will be negatively buoyant and sink, this is known as freefall. I will adjust my body to stay in the most efficient, hydrodynamic position for this stage of the dive, while reminding myself to relax, and that even thinking uses energy! I will reach the turning point after about 60 seconds into the dive, which is where the work begins swimming back up. The dive should take me just over 2 minutes 30 seconds to complete.
Can you tell us about the Kids on the Reef programme and why you’re so passionate about it?
I have been involved in the KOTR program for 5 years now. It runs with school children (M1-M2’s) in the spring and the fall. It is a 2-day program in partnership with the Bermuda Zoological Society where children learn about our oceans, as well as one day snorkeling and another day freediving at an outer reef! 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.
In addition, for the second summer I have run kids freediving camps, which is a 5 day program with ages 8-14. We spend all week out on the boat visiting dive sites. Kids learn about our reefs, yoga, stretching, breath holding as well as freediving techniques and just have fun! So many of the students that joined last summer returned this year, so there are many familiar faces and it’s incredible to see their one breath progress!
What goes into preparing for a record breaking dive?
Well not as much training time as I had hoped! There is so much more that goes into organizing a fundraiser and dive event than just training, including certifying judges to ratify the record, tuning my kit, logistics for filming, promotion, safety divers and emergency contingency… And I make sure to drink coffee and eat good South African chocolate every day.
Why is now the right time to attempt another freediving record?
This year it has aligned to both improve myself as an athlete and raise awareness of my work in Bermuda. Competitive freediving is far from my ‘mission’ in life, but it is a talent and discipline I have worked to develop. I look forward to one day having the time and resources to dedicate some months to a training regime and really see what my body is capable of in competition!
How can people donate to your fundraising campaign?
I have a Gofundme page “Help Beth Break Freedive Record For Bermuda Kids!” The funds are to support ocean education programs I run in partnership with the Bermuda Zoological Society.
Do you think anyone can learn to freedive?
Absolutely! I have taught people in 1 day who were unable to swim in the pool, to get down to 30ft in the ocean! The ‘secret’ is in the mammalian dive reflex – human bodies have the same adaptations as dolphins, whales and seals. It is truly magical, and I teach how to become aware and engage these powerful physiological responses.
What’s the best part about freediving in Bermuda?
Accessibility. Everyone is in walking distance from a beach – you don’t even need a boat to get out diving! South shore is especially great because the breakers are only a few hundred meter swim, which is manageable for able-bodied beginners.
What are some of the best freediving spots in Bermuda?
South shore is fantastic, another favourite is Eastern Blue Cut – there is a modern shipwreck here in a sand hole about 50ft deep, and right next to that is a fantastic shallow reef. It is a marine protected area, and you will sometimes see a large grouper, as well as rays cruising through. There is also Northrock which has a spectacular reef and especially large, beautiful purple sea fans. This dive location often has some of the best visibility on the island.
What are you looking forward to in the future of your work?
Being able to share freediving and the beauty of our oceans through teaching and social media. We have such a unique opportunity to leverage technology and create real world change. The feedback I have received just this year from my Instagram @onebreathbeth has been truly phenomenal and caused me to rethink what I do. It is driving me to do more, share more and be more. I aim to entice others to explore the underwater world – if just at first through a screen – it will bring people closer to making the plunge for themselves!
What is your hope for the future of freediving in Bermuda?
Bermuda really is a phenomenal place to dive. My hope is that every resident and visitor has a chance to experience the beauty for themselves. The ocean has many challenges, but I think there is so much to be excited for and look forward to from a conservation standpoint. Having a freediving experience allows people to connect with their inner dolphin and develop an understanding and love of our big blue wilderness.
This September, Beth Neale will attempt to break her existing freediving record of 154ft right here in Bermuda by diving down to 164ft. In addition, Beth is raising funds for her ever-popular freediving course Kids on the Reef – Help Beth reach her $20,000 goal by donating any amount to her Go Fund Me Campaign.