Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast

Becoming Part of the Pod: Hanli Prinsloo and how freediving connects her with marine wildlife

November 19, 2019 Hosts Jason Elias and Paul Kelway Season 1 Episode 7
Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast
Becoming Part of the Pod: Hanli Prinsloo and how freediving connects her with marine wildlife
Chapters
Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast
Becoming Part of the Pod: Hanli Prinsloo and how freediving connects her with marine wildlife
Nov 19, 2019 Season 1 Episode 7
Hosts Jason Elias and Paul Kelway

Freediving record holder Hanli Prinsloo and how diving on one breath has allowed her to connect with marine wildlife and inspired her to dedicate her life to protecting what she loves through her I AM WATER Foundation.

Show Notes Transcript

Freediving record holder Hanli Prinsloo and how diving on one breath has allowed her to connect with marine wildlife and inspired her to dedicate her life to protecting what she loves through her I AM WATER Foundation.

Jason Elias:

Hi and welcome to our new podcast,Big Deep. My name is Jason Elias, and along with my good friend Paul Kelway, we've created and co-hosted this show about people who have a deep connection to the ocean. Just a quick note before we start, after you've listened, if you like what we're doing, please subscribe like comment and radar show in iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Those subscribes, likes and comments really make a difference for our show. Okay. Thanks for listening and I hope you enjoy what we've created. Welcome to Big Deep

Hosts:

Hi and welcome to the big deep podcast. Big Deep is a podcast about people who have a connection to the ocean, people for whom that connection is so strong it defines some aspect of their life. Over the course of the series, we'll talk to all sorts of people. Then each episode we'll explore the deeper meaning of that connection. In this episode we speak with a woman who had a transformational experience off the coast of Sri Lanka with a pod of sperm whales. Hello, this is Paul Kelway and I'm Jason Elias, welcome to the Big Deep podcast.

Jason Elias:

This episode's guest is Hanli Prinsloo , a former competitive free diver , turned environmentalist based out of Cape town. Hanli has dedicated her entire life to helping educate and motivate others to care about our world's oceans. When she sat down with Paul , she discussed the hidden connections to the oceans buried deep in our species history in which Marine mammals can sometimes recognize. But she also shared an experience with a pod of sperm whales off the coast of Sri Lanka that was profoundly moving to her.

Hanli Prinlsoo:

My name is Henley Prinsloo and I'm a Cape town based three diver .

Paul Kelway:

This is of course, the story about your relationship with the ocean. You didn't grow up by the sea, so I wonder if you could speak to where you did grow up and how you first connected to the oceans in your life.

Hanli Prinlsoo:

South Africa is a incredible country when it comes to nature. We have a lot of wild spaces and to oceans, but I grew up on a horse farm outside Johannesburg on the heartfelt as it's called. And ocean time was only holiday time on the farm. We had two dams and two rivers and one swimming pool, and my sister and I had these dreams of being mermaids. And we would spend hours and hours swimming underwater, trying to just see whether we could hold our breath for longer or whether we could communicate underwater. And it was a fascination of ours to see how much time we could spend underwater , which completely freaked my mother out because we would disappear under the surface of the water. So we were kind of, I guess , early mud mermaid. So I think the fascination with being underwater was definitely born already at a time when I wasn't actually living close to the sea.

Paul Kelway:

So when did that translate to actually being in the ocean? Do you remember a couple of stories where those connections were strongest?

Hanli Prinlsoo:

When I was in my final year of high school, my sister and I went to Southern Mozambique and did a scuba diving course. And I remember being just blown away by the colors underwater and what the bubbles looked like floating up to the surface and the amount of fish and vibrancy below the surface. But at the same time I was deeply disappointed in the experience because I felt so limited. I felt so constricted being down there was all this equipment and it felt so heavy and I couldn't swim up and down because you know you would get bubbles in your blood, which scared the living daylights out of me. So I mean it was just this fascination but tinge with a side of fear and constriction. And shortly after I finished high school, I moved to Sweden to pursue studies abroad and I met a Swedish filmmaker and he said to me, you heard about free diving? And I thought to myself, what does he mean? I said, so is that like scuba diving but, but for free? And he started laughing. He says , we know it's completely different to scuba diving. It's diving without equipment . It's holding your breath and going down. And it was as if something in me remembered those childhood games and dreams of being underwater on one breath and assets and I needed to try that. And the next weekend we went out into the fjords on the Swedish West coast. He took me out on a small rowing boat and I had a wetsuit that didn't fit me and terrible fins and ahood that was hot too big. And I got into the water and just slowly, slowly kicked down and found a ledge and sat there and this water was murky. You couldn't see your hand in front of your face. There was nothing to see down there on that day. But it was as if I found home. I found all those things, that early imagery, down in a deep dark Fjord in Sweden. Those first few experiences with freediving , I think the thing that struck me the most was just the quiet, the absolute stillness. There's no noise of breathing apparatus, there's no interference from equipment and clanking of tanks and things. It's just this absolute stillness. And then as I became better at it and as I learned more about my own body underwater and dove deeper and longer. That's really kept me coming back was what it taught me about myself, about the human body, about our adaptation towards water, about our connection to nature. It really was like a window into the world that I had always hoped existed but hadn't ever had access to.

Paul Kelway:

You talked about the experience triggering these memories from your childhood and almost being a free diver already and it's interesting thinking about that and thinking about even physiologically that this is also something that is inherent, that we as humans have essentially almost forgotten how to do

Hanli Prinlsoo:

That first experience of being below the surface on one breath reminds us of if it's not our early childhood, it's our early life. Our initial nine months are in a water filled world where everything is filtered through water and we are small water babies to begin with. And further back than that at some point in our development, the human body has spent time in water as we have these unbelievable adaptations for being underwater that make us more akin to dolphins and whales and seals than we would ever have imagined. When you hold your breath and go down, you are behaving in the same way that whales and dolphins and seals are, that these deep diving mammals have in them and that we have in us. And so having spent all those hours, days, months swimming up and down in a swimming pool, holding my breath underwater , swimming up and down a rope to get better at deep diving, when I started to get off the boat and I'm surrounded by a pod of playful dolphins, those skills just become so fantastically valuable to be used in taking one big breath and kicking away from the surface and kicking down and being surrounded by dolphins that look at you. They bend their head so that they can actually scan you up and down with their echolocation. You become part of the pod in a way t hat's without this crazy breath h old deep diving a quatic skill you wouldn't be able to become. It's an incredible experience and dolphins were some of the first animals I had the opportunity of really playing with and swimming with and in a way they were the ones that convinced me that this skill I'd been honing does not have to be expressed up and down a rope. So today when I say free diving and t hink free diving, I see myself in a swimsuit with my friends on and a m ask on floating w aif the sea in a huge blue expanse with one breath of air being enough. Then gravity being forgotten and stillness all around me and big animals that choose to play with me and just that that ultimate freedom.

Paul Kelway:

You had some experiences interacting with Marine wildlife and I'm just wondering how free diving has allowed you to interact or to understand more about certain species in the oceans?

Hanli Prinlsoo:

I think free diving is the ultimate tool for exploring the ocean. Bearing in mind that our beautiful planet is 70% ocean . That is a lot of exploration that can happen. For me being able to take one breath and the simplicity of one breath and going down and exploring is beautiful and I feel that when we are that stripped down, strip down of equipment, stripped off thoughts, we are much more open to connecting with nature in a way where we are just another animal. For me and free diving in the ocean, It reminds me of that and the big animals one gets to meet reminds you of that and I've definitely experienced that.

Paul Kelway:

Is there a moment that stands out as being particularly powerful or memorable for you in terms of relating with wildlife?

Hanli Prinlsoo:

Gosh, I really could and probably should write a book about the moments I've spent with sharks, manta rays, whales, dolphins, seals the greatest of the great great to very small, smart and playful octopus. But one thing that definitely stands out in my mind was one day out in the Indian ocean, off Sri Lanka with sperm whales where we were out far, far off shore, no side of land. When suddenly all around us there were these puffs of air. That's where the sideways dandelion style breath of a sperm whale, they were over 60 whales around our little boat and we slipped into the water. And my first experience of this from whales was two huge females turning their heads straight towards me and scanning with this incredibly powerful echolocation they have that's like CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, like it kind of kicking sound that vibrates it in my sternum. I really felt like these whales have seen into my physical body, beyond my physical body and I kept thinking, what are they finding? It's it's as if you've met a creature with the ability to see into your hearts and soul and you wonder, do they find me lacking? I just remember hanging there physically and emotionally just trying to open my heart and the only thing I was thinking was, you're so beautiful. Thank you for letting me be here. Just being surrounded by these huge, huge, huge animals often what happens, I've learned now when these big pods of sperm whales are hunting, they dive down to between one and three kilometers deep to hunt giant squid. When there are babies in the pod that are too small to join in the hunt, they get left at the surface often with kind of a babysitter, I guess, a young whale that would take care of the pups when the adults go down to hunt. And for whatever reason on this particular day, myself and my friend Jean Marie, the photographer I was there with, had a baby whale stay at the surface with us and this tiny, and by tiny I still mean three meters long, Baby whale played with me in a way that I can still dream of. I would take a breath , she would take a breath and they would dive down to about 10-20 meters and then we'd swim. He looked us around each other and then she would surface to breathe and then I would surface to breathe, and then we'd swim down again and I would chase her and then she would chase me and then we would play these games often with me having to go up to breathe before she did. Eventually about 45 minutes later, the adults surfaced and she went back to whatever she was made to be doing as a baby sperm whale. And this little meeting just stayed with me forever from meeting these giant adults to meeting this playful young whale and just realizing how remarkably intelligent and similar to us they are in so many ways. And to this day I still long for those kinds of interactions. And I've tried to speak to that smallness one feels when you're surrounded by such great features while still knowing how powerful we are as a species.

Paul Kelway:

Finally, we often end our interviews by asking our guests a single open ended question. What does the ocean mean to you?

Hanli Prinlsoo:

All the experiences I've had in the ocean have changed me in some way. For me, being in the ocean, I realized how much I love this world. I love the experience of being underwater , but also just I love the animals that live there. This vast blue wilderness. For me, the ocean is the only reason I want to get up in the morning and the only place that gives me both hope and enough despair to keep me focused and to keep me going. It really is my everything and for me the most important thing.

Hosts:

Thank you for listening to the Big Deep podcast. Next time on big deep. I'll be honest, if you put a whole bunch of people in the room, you could probably pick out of the crowds the typical average scuba diver from the typical average freediver because the scuba divers tend to be the middle aged, overweight guys. And I'm being slightly harsh here cause I'm definitely, I'm a middle aged, overweight guy. We really appreciate you being with us on this journey into the big deep as we explore an ocean of stories. If you like what we were doing, please make sure to subscribe, like and comment on our show in iTunes, overcast, SoundCloud or wherever you catch your podcasts. But those subscribes and links really make a difference. The more info on our guests, extra audio and photos as well as updates on anything you've heard. You can find a lot more content on our website, big, deep.com plus, if you know someone you think we should talk to, just let us know what the big deep website is. We are always looking to hear more stories interesting people who are deeply connected to our world's oceans. Thanks again for joining us.