Strength in water

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.

Words & photograph by Hanli Prinsloo

Some days just start grey. In fact, some years do too…

I woke up one early 2020 morning tired from another night of monkey mind insomnia, a misty Cape sunrise matching my mood. It had been a tough few months. The loss of a much beloved dog, incredible fatigue as 2019 crashed to a close and the sobering realities of a world in the throes of conflict, disease and fire. Every day I found myself sitting behind my computer hoping for motivation and inspiration. This day would be no different.

“It’s dead calm!” Peter calls from our living room window, peering out through the mist at the glassy ocean down below. “No thanks, not today. I’ve got too much to do,” I mutter, making coffee.

Peter stubbornly hands me my wetsuit and starts dragging our stand up paddle boards out of the garage. Okay, sure, it won’t be more than an hour anyway then I can be back at emails and meetings and calls and all the important things. 

We launch our boards into the eerie quiet of a mist muffled ocean and move away from shore. The quiet splash and swish of our paddles the only sound. Beneath the slate grey of the surface I can see tall kelp fronds reaching for the sun and bright urchins and anemones blink up at me from the reef below. Our beautiful False Bay is a biodiversity hotspot with white sharks, whales, dolphins, seals, penguins and a myriad of smaller creatures calling this home. But the last years a conflict between the visiting orca and resident white shark population (among other factors) has led to a drastic decline in white shark sightings… so we paddle out even further. As the mist gets thicker my spirits start to lift. Blanketed in the calm of ocean below me my breathing deepens and I feel more me. 

A splashing just ten meters ahead startles me out of my thoughts back onto my board and I see silver flashes as a huge school of fish starts leaping out of the water. We drift closer to see more and a large yellowtail almost lands on my board in its desperate flight. Before we even get a chance to consider who is chasing who, a large fin pops out of the water in the middle of the boiling mass of fish and my thoughts go from ‘yikes definitely a white shark’ to ‘yay the white sharks are back’ to ‘don’t fall in now’ as the shark notices us and changes direction to come have a closer look. The fin breaks a clean line through the water and as she gets within a meter of us I see the beautiful burnished flank, elegant lines and confident movement of a bronze whaler. The biggest bronze whaler I have ever seen. Over two meters from head to tail fin she glides past us, circles round and ducks under Peter’s board and is gone, an elegant visitor, a much needed reminder. We paddle further into the bay finding playful seals, large flocks of low flying cormorants and more bait balls breaking the surface. Below the calm and muffled mist the ocean is crackling with life. 

By the time we get back to land the sun is slowly finding its way through the grey and I stumble onto the sand as my balance recalibrates for land not sea. I don’t want the same to happen to my mind. The recalibration these short couple of hours has done for my state of being could never have been achieved behind my computer. This renewed sense of purpose and inspiration is not found in wonderful TED talks, meetings with inspiring partners, emails of validation or even the ever rewarding work we do with youth every day. 

No, this deep personal sense of quiet strength and purpose comes from loosening the strangle-hold our clever minds have over us and connecting with a much deeper part of self that is more water than thought, is older and quieter. 

Issue Eleven
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This column appears in ISSUE 11: The hunt of Oceanographic Magazine

Issue Eleven
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_blancpain
Supported by WEBSITE_sponsorlogos_blancpain

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