In a fitting commemoration of Valentine’s Day, Beth Neale and partner, Miles Cloutier, both renowned freedivers and underwater filmmakers, broke the Guinness World Record for Longest Underwater Kiss at LUX* South Ari Atoll, Maldives on 4 February.
Breaking this record has been on the couple’s bucket list for three years but their attempts were initially thwarted when, while filming the TV series Freediving Diaries, Beth discovered she was pregnant with their (now) 18-month-old baby girl, Neve.
“We felt that Valentine’s was the perfect day to share the new record with the world as it’s such a beautiful reflection of our love for the underwater world, and our love for each other in a place where we discovered I was going to be having a baby girl!” commented Beth. “And what better way to make a moment last than a 4-minute 6-second kiss?!”
Their love story started almost five years back in Bermuda where Beth, a South African, was teaching ocean conservation and freediving to local children. Miles, of Canadian heritage with a background in finance, volunteered for the programme she was running, with the pair hitting it off immediately.
Their shared passion for the ocean, and love for underwater filmmaking, have seen them exploring and filming extensively – only coming up for air when necessary!
In preparation for beating the 13-year record of 3 minutes 24 seconds, set by Italian couple, Michele Fucarino and Elisa Lazzarini, Miles and Beth spent the two weeks training in their pool at home. As Beth explained, while holding your breath in the comfort of your home is one thing, officially attempting a Guinness World Record in front of a crowd with an adjudicator is another – especially when emotions are greatly amplified.
“Being so closely connected, feeling each other’s heart rate in tandem – as Miles describes as electronic music at 180 beats per minute – we would have preferred under 60 BPM but it was challenging getting in a relaxed position while staying together for the kiss and staying upright. You can feel each other’s diaphragmatic contractions, which is the body’s response to rising C02 levels in the blood. At the 3-minute mark, I also pressed play on my underwater audio to listen to Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ to keep my mind distracted. I know all the lyrics because I did a lip sync to the track on my Instagram, which has gone viral,” said Beth.
While a certain amount of oxygen is required to keep consciousness, the effects of rising C02 kick in as the breath-hold ticks on, resulting in a ‘flight-or-fight’ response.
“We had to be completely relaxed and confident, even when our bodies were experiencing something else,” said Miles. “Beth has never focused on time, and completed all of her freediving records solo so it was an extra challenge for her to relax as a couple, while being ultimately responsible for the preparations of the entire event. At freediving competitions, athletes can simply arrive and don’t have to concern themselves with event preparation or safety. There was a lot to consider for the event, but the LUX* team was incredibly supportive!”
The two are very different when it comes to breath-holding techniques. Beth ‘goes with the flow’ and keeps her mind distracted from any measurement of time while she performs her deep dives and long breath holds, while Miles is analytical and focused on training. However, the couple agrees that the practice is at least 90% mind-over-matter, now more than ever since their challenging performance on record day.
“Everything went smoothly until the pressure built up a few days before our attempt,” explained Miles. “We suffered three consecutive days of failing to break the existing record. Fortunately, the day of the attempt felt nothing like it did in training.”
The record-breaking kiss was not without a wardrobe malfunction, with Miles’ goggles snapping off his head right before they got in the water. Their camera, which is so often recording, captured the moment the critical plastic piece popped off, bounced twice off the ground and fell between the grates of the infinity edge pool drain. They tried to recover the piece, but laughed it off, tied a knot in the goggle strap and thanked the unlucky accident for a brief distraction from their nerves.
The aquatic duo then followed through with their warm-up procedure – despite high heart rates – and smashed the record in front of a small crowd at the Maldives resort. Having scouted many locations across the globe, the pair felt LUX* South Ari in the Maldives provided the most romantic backdrop, with the resort incredibly supportive of the entire record-breaking attempt.
In line with procedure, a top Guinness World Records adjudicator, Swapnil Dangarikar flew in from India to officiate the record on the spot, with two official witnesses and timekeepers present. A crowd of resort guests and staff looked on, with multiple camera angles established and Maldivian underwater cameraman, Mohamed Sir Ahmed, also known as Sidey the Shark, behind the camera.
“Of course, our toddler Neve was there with her nanny, but not at the event itself because she would be too upset if her parents were underwater and she wouldn’t be able to jump in and join us!” laughed Beth.
The couple is working to expand their reach on broadcast TV and streaming globally to entice more people to experience the underwater world for themselves. Beth and Miles also have plans to film extensively along the coast of Africa this year, including South Africa and Mozambique, as well as a few other exotic Indian Ocean destinations in mind as well.
“Through sharing our underwater love story, we hope to inspire others to fall in love with the magic and wonder of the underwater world,” explained Beth. “You protect what you love and the oceans need all the love we can give to safeguard them for future generations to come.”