As you know, our most recent Ode to the Ocean collection saw us collaborating with the I AM WATER foundation, started by Hanli Prinsloo – a woman after our own hearts and a human we just couldn’t help falling in love with.
Hanli is an inspired, passionate freediver and ocean advocate. After breaking all of South Africa’s freediving records, she is now following her true passion of ocean conservation. With a background in journalism and documentary filmmaking, Hanli has travelled extensively – always telling stories of conflict, hope, injustice and change from some of the world’s most challenged communities.
We sat down with her and asked her to share with us her thoughts, her journey and her deep love for the ocean.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I grew up on a horse farm outside Pretoria. Surprisingly far from the ocean for sure, but we had several rivers and dams, and I dreamt of being a mermaid.
Your personal ode to the ocean is the I AM WATER foundation. What inspired you to embark on this wonderful adventure and what has been the most rewarding aspect of starting a project like this?
Through my competitive freediving I got to experience the ocean and our connection to her in ways I could never have fathomed. Our bodies know water, like whales and dolphins! Our oceans are crucial for human survival on earth – more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe is from the sea. And of course there’s the shocking facts, like over 90% of fish stocks being overexploited, the appalling amount of plastic in the ocean, and the list goes on. I was in love with something that was in danger. I believe that when what we love is threatened, we MUST act. Motivation for me has always come from love and connection, not fear and statistics. I didn’t see enough organisations with a focus on connection, and far too many statistics and fear mongering that quite simply doesn’t change behaviour. We need the ocean and the ocean needs us. The vast majority of youth in South Africa has little or no access to wilderness in general – and to the ocean in particular. This disconnect causes trans-generational fears of water to persist. With most of the youth in our targeted regions not being able to swim or believing they ever could, this lack of connection and subsequent behaviour has a direct impact on our oceans’ wellbeing and that of the individual. I AM WATER works to create ocean opportunities and knowledge for marginalised communities, and inspires people to protect what we help them to love.
The mission of I AM WATER is to teach people to fall in love with the ocean. When did you first realise your deep love for the big blue?
I think my love of being underwater has always been there. My mom tells stories of a small Hanli, face down in the pool or bath, holding my breath or swimming laps underwater by age three – apparently it gave her grey hair! My very first free diving experience was completely overwhelming and beautiful. There was no return. But I think it was post-competitive freediving when I started travelling purely to enjoy the ocean and her creatures, and that is where the love affair became all-encompassing. Dolphins, whales, sharks, mantas, turtles, small fish, big fish… whale sharks! How could I want to do anything else with my life than to share our magnificent oceans with others?
Being a freediver, breath is an imperative part of your practice. Besides the obvious, what do you think is the importance of breath in our everyday lives? And do you have any advice for our readers on how they can use their breath to their advantage?
Breath is everything! And sadly we are born with perfect form, doing deep slow belly breaths, fully relaxed. Then life happens and we begin to breathe with only a part of our lungs, our shoulders slump forward and we struggle through our oxygen deficiency.
You could begin by just becoming aware of your breath. Is it fast? Is it deep? Nose or mouth?
They slowly, slowly start taking control. Relax the abdominal muscles and let the breath come back into the belly – literally feeling your tummy rise and fall. This is easiest to do lying on your back or even sitting straight up, but comfortably. You could close your eyes, bring your hand to your belly and feel the tide, rising and falling. Slow down the breath, count 6 slow counts on the way in and 8 on the way out. Exhaling slower than your inhale slows down the heart rate. Do ten of these breaths, do them more often, and eventually you’ll find yourself returning to being a better breather. There are so many ways to access greater capacity through how we breathe. This is just a small start.
What does it feel like to be named one of 30 most influential women by Conde Nast, alongside legends like Jane Goodall and Angelina Jolie?
That was such a pleasant surprise! I’m thrilled to read about so many incredible women being brave and bold and humble. So many of these women are famous, older, legends and icons! I am happy to be listed as an inspiration for girls who think living big isn’t within reach. I believe in an equal dose of joy and grit in everything we dream to achieve.
Where do you want to travel next?
The Norwegian fjords to swim with Orcas. Or back to the mid-Atlantic ridge for sperm whales. Maybe even back to the Bahamas for the hammerhead sharks.
What is your favourite piece from our Ode to the Ocean collection?
I love my octopus ring the most!