Records in the Big Blue

by | Sep 8, 2008

Cape Town based Freediver Hanli Prinsloo has
been on the West Coast of Sweden competing in the Nordic Deep Freediving
Competition. Freediving is the sport of diving as deep, as long or as far as
possible on one single breath of air. She surprised herself and her competitors
by setting four new South African records and winning the competition.

Immersion is a depth discipline where the diver pulls herself down and back up
a rope. Hanli broke the previous record of 42meters by doing a 50meter dive into
the black cold waters of the Gullmarsfjord. The pool disciplines started with a
Dynamic No Fins record, where the diver swims breaststroke under water, here
Hanli broke the previous 78meter record by swimming 126meters underwater. This
dive ranks her among the top five women in the world.

The next day
Hanli broke her own Static Apnea record, floating face down holding her breath,
with a 5minute 39second breath-hold. And on the last day Dynamic With Fins, she
broke her own 129meter record by doing a successful 150meter dive, swimming
underwater with a monofin. Hanli now holds four of the six South African
Freediving records.

Hanli has
been freediving for 10 years and teaches freediving in Cape Town, Mozambique,
Egypt, Sweden and with Blue Wilderness in
Umkomaas. Her focus is on wildlife freediving, scouring the oceans for big fish
and mammals, freediving with whales, dolphins, sharks and any other fish.
Nordic Deep 2008 was her first big competition since the 2006 World

She works
very hard with mental strength, visualization and deep relaxation, and also
relies on her coach’s support. Her aim is train more this year and prepare for
the Individual World Championship next year.

Hanli, who
believes that freediving is about getting to know yourself, seeing into
yourself, and diving into that beauty, told gsport about her love for
freediving and the state of the sport in South Africa.

Hanli, tell us more about yourself.
I am 29 years old;
I was born in Johannesburg
but grew up on a farm outside Cullinan. Surprisingly far from the sea! I lived
in Sweden
from 1998 till 2004 but now I live in Muizenberg, and I’m grateful for every
day in that beautiful place. I am a documentary filmmaker and freediving

What is freediving?

Freediving is any kind of diving done on one single breath of air. Deep
snorkeling, spear fishing, UW hockey… all of these are freediving. But
freediving has also developed into a competitive sport where we compete in
depth, distance and time.

Is the ‘Big Blue’ movie an accurate
illustration of the sport?

Hmmm, we have to give the film the credit it deserves; it put freediving on
the map. But honestly, not really. It paints a very competitive picture with
brutal rivalry and near death experiences; I’d rather advocate freediving as a
silent sport full of introspection and much mindfulness. It’s about you and
your performance; your competitors are just an outside detail.

What is required to participate in freediving?

A pair of lungs, and a love of water!

How did you get into freediving?

My first year in Sweden,
1998, I met a crazy Swedish adventurer, Sebastian Näslund, who introduced me to
freediving. I swam competitively at school, so water has always been my
element, freediving really made sense!

 What types of categories are there in

We compete in depth, distance and time.

The three competitive depth categories are:

Constant Weight with Fins; a
diver swimming down and back up a rope, not pulling (except at the turn at the
bottom) and without weights to help you get down. With bi-fins, but more
popularly with a monofin.

Constant Weight No Fins; also called unassisted, this
discipline is very pure, the diver swims down and back up but without fins,
good old breaststroke.

Free Immersion; a very relaxing dive, where you pull yourself down
and back up a line, no fins, but using your arm-strength.

Distance is
measured in lengths underwater in a pool, called Dynamic:
Dynamic with Fins; the diver swims
along the bottom of the pool, as far as possible, time is irrelevant, with
bi-fins or a monofin.

Dynamic No Fins; breaststroke underwater, no fins, just swimming
along the bottom of the pool.
Static Apnea is the discipline
measuring breath-hold time. The diver lies face down in the pool, holding her
breath. This discipline is a purely mental challenge, controlling the mind.

Then there are two disciplines that are not competed in but get a lot of media
attention during record attempts. These are No Limits and Variable weight. No
Limits is the discipline portrayed in The Big Blue, and is the most extreme
depth discipline. Going down with a sled, and going back up with a balloon, a
diving suit or a vest with inflatable compartments, or whatever other means.
Depths beyond 250m have been reached. In Variable Weight, the freediver
descends with the help of a ballast weight and ascends using his own strength: swimming
or pulling up on the rope.

What are your favourite freediving

As an ex-breaststroke swimmer, I have always loved the No-Fins disciplines,
both in depth and in distance. But at the same time, when I put on my monofin I
become that mermaid every little girl dreams about and I swim my heart out…
hard to choose between chocolate and fudge!

But the one
discipline that challenges me the most Is Static breath-hold. I despise the
feelings evoked in my body as I lie dead-still, feeling the carbon dioxide
building up, fighting the urge to breathe, and being so close to the surface
it’s just so easy to give up!!

But, as we
know, it’s the things we fight for that offer the greatest reward, and
succeeding in Statics, gives me a sense of accomplishment that is hard to
explain. In this discipline I work very hard with mental strength,
visualization and deep relaxation, I also rely on my coach’s support.

What freediving records have you

I have set eight
SA freediving records, most recently I set four in Gulmmarsfjord on the West
Coast of Sweden.
Free Immersion to 50m.
Dynamic with Fins 150m
Dynamic No Fins 126m
Static Apnea 5.39

What did your preparation for these
records entail?

is very much a lifestyle sport, where nutrition, mental preparation and
physical training go hand in hand. I have spent a lot of time the last year
teaching freediving, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the water, but not enough
time on my own specified training. But the last two months in Sweden I have
trained yoga daily, and cut out sugar, wheat, alcohol and caffeine from my
daily diet.

I wish I had
more time to do what we call maximum dives, doing the very best you can, as one
does in competitions, doing this regularly in training gives much improved
results, but this is a higher gear I plan to engage this coming year.

 How do your records contrast with
international records?

There are a
handful of international divers who dive almost professionally and are a cut
above the rest, but I am very happy with my two Dymanic records, where I feel I
have a lot more to give.

The Dynamic
No Fins category I have not trained at all much and achieved a result that is
in the top five ever achieved in the world, and places me second in this year’s
ranking internationally. Very inspiring. My record was 126m and the WR is 151m.

How big is freediving in South Africa?

Freediving as the sport I describe is still quite small in SA, but in a
broader sense we are a big freediving nation. With spear fishermen, UW hockey
and rugby players we have lot of potential!

Can freediving be done in dams, or only
in oceans?

Freediving can be done in any body of water, as long as you have depth. It
is often very dark diving in dams, but this just makes the mental challenge
bigger, but you also have to be a bit more safety conscious, always dive with a
rope, with a life-line and an experienced buddy. Diving in the sea is always a
bit more inspiring.

Are there any free diving clubs in South Africa?

There have been active clubs, but at present there are more informal
freediving clubs- but this is definitely the way forward I think, where we can
dive together, safely exchanging experience, ideas and equipment.

Is there a free diving national
association (governing body for the sport) in SA?

Yes, there
is, within AIDA International (AIDA- The International Association for the
Development of Freediving), which is like the FIFA of freediving, we have AIDA
South-Africa. Freediving is however not owned by AIDA, and there are other
federations, however AIDA SA selects the National Team for AIDA competitions,
ie World Championships etc.

Who are your sponsors?

At present I
don’t have any sponsors. Equipment wise several companies have assisted me, but
not fully sponsored. I am hoping that with my present results I would be able
to find some interested sponsors, my greatest challenge is getting more
opportunities to compete. As we have no comps in SA I need to travel to Egypt or Europe
to compete, this is financially very taxing.

What are your next challenges? What are
your ultimate free diving goals?

My aims with my freediving are two-fold. My inspiration for my diving comes
from diving with marine mammals and big fish. Dolphins, whales, sharks, seals…
these friends challenge me to train to dive deeper, longer, further- so I can
play better! This clearly has translated directly into competition results.

So my aim
this coming year is to train much more and meet more wildlife, because I know
from past experience if I allow competitive thinking to become too important I
lose myself. But I believe that I have the ability to increase my results a lot
more… and I hope to be in very good apneic form for the Individual World
Championships next year. 

How would you encourage South African
women to participate in freediving?

start! We need more girls in the water, and to be honest girls have more
natural talent than guys do! I would advise interested persons to start with a
thorough course with a trained instructor. We are about three dedicated
instructors in the country, so this is possible.

A course is
important to learn the basics about safety, your potential and your limits,
before advancing your training. I teach courses in Cape
Town as well as with Blue Wilderness in Umkomaas, where you will even have the
opportunity to dive with tiger sharks!

Anybody can
become a good freediver, or at the very least better than you ever expected you
could be. Freediving is about getting to know yourself, seeing into yourself,
and diving into that beauty.

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About the Author:

<a href="" target="_self">Kass Naidoo</a>

Kass Naidoo

Passionate sports broadcaster and founder of gsport4girls


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