‘Breath hold’ diving has been around for centuries, but in the last four years freediving has gained immense popularity and is currently one of the fastest growing watersports in the world. The KZN South Coast, with its warm waters and abundance of marine life is an in-demand dive site, locally and internationally. And, for the first time ever, a KZN South Coast dive operator – Freediving South Africa – is offering a completely eco-conscious diving experience that puts the natural environment first.
“From childhood, I went freediving with my dad when he went spearfishing,” recalled Kent Taylor, owner of Freediving South Africa. “I eventually started diving past my dad’s limits but then I knew I’d have to take a course to ensure I was reaching these depths safely, without assistance.”
Taylor initially considered a scuba diving course, but was deterred by the amount of equipment required to participate in the underwater sport. Having completed his freediving course, he went on to take his instructor’s course in Sodwana in 2018 and has been teaching freediving to visitors since then.
A passionate environmentalist, Taylor decided to establish a dive school that followed all eco-conscious practices. With the assistance of Michelle Carpenter, a locally-based marine biologist and qualified freediver, Taylor launched Freediving South Africa. The company offers freediving courses in KZN – all gear included – and takes visitors out for marine life watching and snorkelling adventures.
“The ethos of Freediving South Africa is ‘environment first’,” explained Taylor. “All decisions and practices prioritise ecological practices, and we work closely with researchers to share footage in support of local research projects, including UKZN research into turtles, and UCT research into manta rays.”
From eco-conscious sunscreen and fuel-efficient motors, through to zero plastic use, no corners are cut in green practices. Participants are also given unique insight into the local marine life and ecosystems they’ll be experiencing through talks, on land and boat, given by Carpenter. Those who complete the adventure-based Freediving South Africa course will leave with an internationally-recognised freediving certification.
Freediving, or skin diving, relies on breath-holding until resurfacing rather than the use of breathing apparatus such as scuba gear. The South African-based Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher, which is trending worldwide, sees Craig Foster choosing freediving as his preferred medium. Commenting on his choice, he said: “You feel alive, you feel awake, you feel stimulated. But because you can feel that water on your skin, you can feel the slight temperature differences, you feel much closer to nature. You feel more amphibious, in a way.”
Taylor, too, feels this is the best way to engage with the natural oceanic environment, and said it appeals to people of all ages and interest: “If you’re looking for a healthy, liberating activity post-lockdown, then freediving is ideal. The skills learnt on the course can also be transferred to other disciplines, as enhanced breathing is valuable for all sports. It also partners well with skills used in surfing and spearfishing.”
Freediving South Africa operates from Umkomaas but is also mobile, running courses around the country where needed. This includes inland venues as course training can be done in dams as well as the ocean.