Hanli Prinsloo is a South African freediver and ocean advocate. She is the founder of I AM WATER, a Durban-based charity that seeks to reconnect South Africa's underserved urban youth with the ocean.
“It’s salty! Miss, it’s salty!”
I’m sitting here at the window, staring out at another beautiful and perfect ocean day. The sea is a sparkling array of blues, teal in the shallows where the kelp sways around sandy patches and dark navy from the deep to the horizon. A heaving flock of cormorants perform their synchronised flight a breath above the surface before splashing down again, only to repeat again and again, taunting me with their freedom. Small waves lap against the shore, sucking back to reveal limpet encrusted rocks and vibrant pools. I stare and stare. Imagining the kelp tickling my skin as I wade in, the push and pull of the gentle surge as I take a breath and swim down into the dappled world below. A flickering of fish streaming around me as I hang quietly, listening to the reef crackling. Starfish and urchins creating an explosion of colour along the seabed.
This is what I do now. I mind dive. Staring at the surface I visualise moments and actions and sensations that I have always taken for granted. Never before these lockdowns has anyone forbidden me from entering the ocean. Never before have I had to mind dive days on end to manage the utter loss of my first love. In my pre-Covid life, I was in the sea at least once a day.
Not long ago on one of our I AM WATER Ocean Guardians workshops I helped a young girl enter the ocean for the very first time. This is not uncommon with the demographic we target. But on this particular day this little girl reminded me so deeply of just how very ingrained my privilege is. Entering the water she jerked her head up and stared at me with wide eyes; ‘It’s salty!’ she exclaimed, cupping the water in her hand as she holds it out to me, ‘Miss, it’s salty!’ I cannot remember a time in my life that I did not know the sea is salty. For her, this was the first of a myriad of realisations during the two days she spent with us. Imagine, everything being new.
With our second lockdown in South Africa spanning over late December and into January, the beaches are closed for this very reason. For many people Boxing Day, New Years Day and the first days of January are the only days transport is organised to get to the beach. It’s tradition. It’s crowded. It’s a huge risk for the spread of a hyper virulent disease. For thousands the one guaranteed day of salty sea is gone. For me, my every day swims and dives will resume in just a few short weeks. The same goes for travel, or alcohol or other things we take for granted but are in fact a luxury and a privilege.
I will mind dive today and tomorrow and every day until I can taste the salt again, mindful of how very lucky we are and determined to see greater access for all those who only get one or two days a year at the beach, and lifetimes of not knowing what lies beneath the surface.
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