African freedive Adventures of prime quality
by Hanli Prinsloo

Blue blue ridiculously blue water... but "No, no way, freediving is dangerous, people die, we never allow freediving off our boats!"

'Dolphins!'  Jay shouts- a splash and I'm in, swimming straight down, mono-kicking my bi-fins like a maniac to not lose them, they're spinners, they're fast, they're acrobatic and they're not that interested in clumsy snorkelers at the surface. I bullet down, the dolphins do a double take and come towards me, they click click scan me up and down, 'who are you, why're you so deep? wanna play?'  and we tumble and sprint. Too soon my contractions force me back up to the surface, one two three deep purge breaths and I'm off again... all alone with the little family pod, complete with baby and unafraid mother.

My first visit to Tofo was a holiday with a friend, as always I had my long fins with me, but no real ambition to freedive. After unsuccessfully approaching two of the three scuba centers in Tofo, only to be told - 'no way, we do not allow freediving off our boats...' I meet Paul Acutt from Liquid Adventures. Paul, an avid spear-fisherman from Cape Town listens to my desperate ramblings about freediving, staying safe, not diving deep, never ever alone etc etc and in typical Paul fashion announces, 'Ja, sure, I can't see why not...'

Coming back up I see Jay, who leads Liquid Adventures' ocean safaris, watching me, his eyes are shining. 'On all the dives I've done with dolphins, I've never seen them react like that, can you teach me to swim like you?'  And I'm like, yes, sure, there's nothing I'd rather do!

Two months later I'm back in Tofo with six pairs of long Captain Nemo fins, ten low volume masks, my own open ocean design buoy and a big blue sea full of new friends.

"Last night in the bar we held our breath, none of us could do over a  minute!"  This is one of my favourite parts - to see faces light up and confidence visibly grow before my eyes through the courses I teach.

Word spreads fast in Tofo, being the size of a one horse town from a spaghetti-western, and within a couple of days my time is fully booked with one-day courses specifically designed for Tofo diving, and longer courses with an AIDA two star certification at the end. 

We meet early in the morning at the beautiful sea view deck of Liquid Adventures. From here we go to the banana roof yoga circle under the coconut palms, where I teach a freedive-adapted one hour yoga session, waking up the body to what is coming. After the yoga I lead a trance-like breathing session, teaching your lungs to really work bigger, and your belly to understand it's role in breathing. The theory of breathing, the body's adaptations to breath-hold and the world of modern freediving I teach in the classroom at Liquid. The newbie freedivers' eyes grow big as they hear the secrets of their mammalian dive response and their similarities to their dolphin cousins they are still to meet.

Inspired by their brilliant bodies we enter the pool, coaching them through several breath-holds minds are surprised by bodies that are controlled by minds and the usual, 'I can't hold my breath for more than a minute, I've tried' is replaced by, 'Wow, that was amazing, did I seriously just do 3.45??'

We have a fruit salad made of mangoes, passion fruit, papaya and bananas, while discussing the upcoming deep dive. Kit-up into suits and carry the kit down to the boat on the beach, uno, dos, tres... and we all push the boat out through the breakers, the skipper expertly navigating the crashing surf. We go out beyond the deepest reefs, this is not scuba diving, they laugh at me when I say 'Giants Castle is not deep enough!'  

Dropping the buoy in clear blue water we bob around in the great big Indian Ocean, the boat drifting away, then circling back, always close enough if we should need it.

Tofo is a small bay on the east coast of Africa. You depart Maputo, the capital of Mozambique at four in the morning, travelling north for many bumpy hours, you arrive Tofo in the late afternoon. The Chappa (local mini-buss taxi) you take, is packed with chickens, rice, mangoes, brightly dressed locals and goats strapped to the roof. Add some monofins to that roof and you've got a full- on Southern-African freediving adventure! The bay is world-famous for it's year round, dense whale-shark population. Any given day you can go out on an ocean safari and snorkel with whale sharks the more elusive spinner dolphins, or a majestic manta ray cruising along the surface, the wings wider than the boat.

One breath, one pull, one equalisation at a time, the dives become longer, deeper. I dive down to check the weights, as a typical freediver, I'm hardly aware of anything but the line, but I look out at the usually empty blue water, to see three manta rays slowly, peacefully circling me. I stay, and stay and watch them move like dreams around me, until I have to pull myself fast fast fast up the rope.

Scuba is the reason the backpackers and adventurers of the world pass through this tiny place. There are about 5 scuba centers in and around Tofo, selling magnificent dives to famous dive sites like manta reef and giants castle. On manta reef you can scuba with mantas flying around you for your entire dive, three four five, seven at a time... I have been told. Because I did not come to Tofo to scuba dive.

To freedive the deeper reefs in Tofo is like nothing I've ever imagined, it adds sense to hours of training up and down a marked line, as does the dolphins you meet, the whale sharks you can follow on their slow deep dives. This is why I freedive, this is it. And to learn this beautiful sport in a place like this is a privilege beyond words.
I go back a few weeks every couple of months, to convert more people to the silence of freediving, and see them use that new skill on the ocean safari's, meeting some of our ocean's most majestic inhabitants. If you are interested in learning to freedive in Tofo, or need a buddy for the deeper reefs, contact me.