Hanli is an 11 times South African Freediving Record Holder who has taught freediving to over 500 students. She is the founder of the I AM WATER Foundation, which focuses on ocean conservation through human experience. Hanli is also a film-maker, avid ocean adventurer and certified yoga instructor. The freediving instructors she leads have taught freediving around the world, alongside working with top athletes, celebrities, and individuals with aquatic phobias.

What is freediving?

Freediving is an age-old practice of exploring the ocean on one breath. With its roots in subsistence living off the sea, freediving is today a competitive sport with disciplines, competitions and records. But in essence it is just the act of holding your breath underwater.

Why freediving and not scuba diving?

Freediving is the most natural way of being underwater. The last few years have seen freediving grow to one of the biggest expanding water sports in the world.

A few of the things I love: it’s more athletic than scuba, it allows you to get much closer to the animals and to move faster and more freely (in all directions), least ecosystem impact, less expensive as you don’t need much equipment or refills and it’s easy to learn.

Even though you might think freediving will limit your time below, the seconds or minutes you do spend there are beautifully silent. Learning freediving is a tool to explore your body’s aquatic ability as well as the marine environment, particularly the big animals.

My experience is that most of the large marine creatures much prefer the interaction of a freediver than that of a scuba diver – taking noisy breaths and blowing scary bubbles.

Is there an age limit on the trip?

Some trips are more suited to families than others, and in some instances we would recommend a bespoke experience to cater to specific age groups. But in short, no, freediving is for all ages and the team and I love working with children.

I am a total beginner can I still come?

Yes! Trips are structured in such a way that we can cater to both absolute beginners and more advanced freedivers. With multiple instructors on each trip, we are able to adjust accordingly.

I don’t think I can hold my breath for very long…

Most people don’t think they can hold their breath long enough! Part of your week with the I AM WATER team is learning how to breathe properly for freediving, lung stretching and yoga to increase lung volume as well as in-water and on-land breath-hold training.

But even if you don’t manage to hold your breath for very long or you discover that freediving is too challenging for you, you can always stick to snorkelling and still have great ocean encounters.

Do you have to be very fit for freediving?

Fitness and general health helps, but the team work with what you bring. Freediving in itself can be a strenuous activity, but we adjust to suit the needs of our guests.

Can I freedive with asthma?

My experience is that asthmatics in fact do very well freediving, as they are already aware of their breathing. As a freedive is much shorter than a scuba dive, you will always have immediate access to emergency equipment (e.g. an inhaler) on the boat if the need should arise.

I’ve had trouble equalising in the past; should I even bother coming?

I’m happy to share some tricks and tips with you before your departure on how to get rid of pesky equalisation issues that are often diet related. We also provide food specifically for freediving during your stay, and there are many techniques not common to scuba training that could work for you.

However if you believe you may have a physiological abnormality, a visit to your doctor or an ENT (ear, nose, throat specialist) might be worth it.

What is equalisation..?

Any gas submerged in water gets compressed. Our inner ear is a small pocket of air and when we go underwater, this pocket of air needs to be ‘equalised’ (if not you can burst your eardrum, which does heal but you will need to be dry for several weeks).

Anyone can be taught to equalise and there are in fact several techniques, but it is harder for some than for others. I have found that with the right preparation and training, guests learn to equalise comfortably.

How deep do we freedive?

This is completely individual and will depend on your ability to equalise and hold your breath. On average, I find that guests progress from surface snorkelers to freediving to anywhere between 8 and 20 meters during a week of practice.

Can I get a certification for the course?

Yes. All trips are run by certified freediving instructors and we incorporate all the theory and training needed to be certified for your Level 1 Freediving Certification. If all requirements are met during training, it concludes with an exam on the last night for those who want the certification.

Should I/can I practice before I come on the trip?

You do not need to do any training or preparation before the trip, but there are certain things you can do to prepare if you want to. Once you are booked on a trip, get in touch and I can share some training, dietary and stretching or yoga preparation with you.

Will I be completing a medical form to participate?

Yes. All participants will have to fill out a medical questionnaire. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions regarding health limitations, we would need a letter from your doctor that states you are fit to freedive.

If you are unsure whether you will answering ‘yes’ to a health limitation, get in touch and we can do the paperwork before your departure with ample time to get your doctor’s go-ahead.

I’d like to bring my own equipment; what do you recommend?

Basic snorkelling equipment is provided. But if you’re interested in purchasing freedive-specific equipment before the trip, get in touch and the team can advise you on the best equipment for freediving. Or we can order for you from our preferred suppliers and bring for you.

Is it a problem that I don’t know how to swim?

The team have a lot of experience working with people who don’t know how to swim, and even teach freediving to those who have very basic swimming skills. However, I recommend you know how to swim before coming on trips. And do let us know if you are in doubt of your swimming ability, so we can make the necessary safety preparations with regards to the number of instructors.

Is freediving dangerous?

Freediving is a potentially risky sport that when practised responsibly is not dangerous at all. I AM WATER teaches a conservative slow-progression approach to freediving, where you will explore your limitations and capabilities under the expert eye of top freediving instructors.

The biggest risk in freediving is practising alone – something we never do or allow. And part of your week-long course with us is safety, risk and rescue training.

Thanks for reading

Author: Hanli Prinsloo