African freedive Adventures of prime
by Hanli Prinsloo
Blue blue ridiculously blue water... but
"No, no way, freediving is dangerous, people die, we
never allow freediving off our boats!"
'Dolphins!' Jay shouts- a splash and I'm
in, swimming straight down, mono-kicking my bi-fins like
a maniac to not lose them, they're spinners, they're
fast, they're acrobatic and they're not that interested
in clumsy snorkelers at the surface. I bullet down, the
dolphins do a double take and come towards me, they
click click scan me up and down, 'who are you, why're
you so deep? wanna play?' and we tumble and sprint. Too
soon my contractions force me back up to the surface,
one two three deep purge breaths and I'm off again...
all alone with the little family pod, complete with baby
and unafraid mother.
My first visit to Tofo was a holiday
with a friend, as always I had my long fins with me,
but no real ambition to freedive. After
unsuccessfully approaching two of the three scuba
centers in Tofo, only to be told - 'no way, we do
not allow freediving off our boats...' I meet Paul
Acutt from Liquid Adventures. Paul, an avid
spear-fisherman from Cape Town listens to my
desperate ramblings about freediving, staying safe,
not diving deep, never ever alone etc etc and in
typical Paul fashion announces, 'Ja, sure, I can't
see why not...'
Coming back up I see Jay, who leads
Liquid Adventures' ocean safaris, watching me, his
eyes are shining. 'On all the dives I've done with
dolphins, I've never seen them react like that, can
you teach me to swim like you?' And I'm like,
yes, sure, there's nothing I'd rather do!
Two months later I'm back in Tofo with
six pairs of long Captain Nemo fins, ten low volume
masks, my own open ocean design buoy and a big blue sea
full of new friends.
"Last night in the bar we held our
breath, none of us could do over a minute!" This is
one of my favourite parts - to see faces light up and
confidence visibly grow before my eyes through the
courses I teach.
Word spreads fast in Tofo, being the size
of a one horse town from a spaghetti-western, and within
a couple of days my time is fully booked with one-day
courses specifically designed for Tofo diving, and
longer courses with an AIDA two star certification at
We have a fruit salad made of mangoes, passion fruit, papaya and bananas, while discussing the upcoming deep dive. Kit-up into suits and carry the kit down to the boat on the beach, uno, dos, tres... and we all push the boat out through the breakers, the skipper expertly navigating the crashing surf. We go out beyond the deepest reefs, this is not scuba diving, they laugh at me when I say 'Giants Castle is not deep enough!'
||We meet early in the morning at the
beautiful sea view deck of Liquid Adventures. From here
we go to the banana roof yoga circle under the coconut
palms, where I teach a freedive-adapted one hour yoga
session, waking up the body to what is coming. After the
yoga I lead a trance-like breathing session, teaching
your lungs to really work bigger, and your belly to
understand it's role in breathing. The theory of
breathing, the body's adaptations to breath-hold and the
world of modern freediving I teach in the classroom at
Liquid. The newbie freedivers' eyes grow big as they
hear the secrets of their mammalian dive response and
their similarities to their dolphin cousins they are
still to meet.
Inspired by their brilliant bodies we
enter the pool, coaching them through several
breath-holds minds are surprised by bodies that are
controlled by minds and the usual, 'I can't hold my
breath for more than a minute, I've tried' is replaced
by, 'Wow, that was amazing, did I seriously just do
Dropping the buoy in clear blue water we bob around in the great big Indian Ocean, the boat drifting away, then circling back, always close enough if we should need it.
Tofo is a small bay on the east coast of
Africa. You depart Maputo, the capital of Mozambique at
four in the morning, travelling north for many bumpy
hours, you arrive Tofo in the late afternoon. The Chappa
(local mini-buss taxi) you take, is packed with
chickens, rice, mangoes, brightly dressed locals and
goats strapped to the roof. Add some monofins to that
roof and you've got a full- on Southern-African
freediving adventure! The bay is world-famous for it's
year round, dense whale-shark population. Any given day
you can go out on an ocean safari and snorkel with whale
sharks the more elusive spinner dolphins, or a majestic
manta ray cruising along the surface, the wings wider
than the boat.
One breath, one pull, one equalisation at a time, the dives become longer, deeper. I dive down to check the weights, as a typical freediver, I'm hardly aware of anything but the line, but I look out at the usually empty blue water, to see three manta rays slowly, peacefully circling me. I stay, and stay and watch them move like dreams around me, until I have to pull myself fast fast fast up the rope.
Scuba is the reason the backpackers and
adventurers of the world pass through this tiny place.
There are about 5 scuba centers in and around Tofo,
selling magnificent dives to famous dive sites like
manta reef and giants castle. On manta reef you can
scuba with mantas flying around you for your entire
dive, three four five, seven at a time... I have been
told. Because I did not come to Tofo to scuba dive.
To freedive the deeper reefs in Tofo
is like nothing I've ever imagined, it adds sense to
hours of training up and down a marked line, as does the
dolphins you meet, the whale sharks you can follow on
their slow deep dives. This is why I freedive, this is
it. And to learn this beautiful sport in a place like
this is a privilege beyond words.
I go back a few weeks every couple of
months, to convert more people to the silence of
freediving, and see them use that new skill on the ocean
safari's, meeting some of our ocean's most majestic
inhabitants. If you are interested in learning to
freedive in Tofo, or need a buddy for the deeper reefs,