Monday, 7 June 2010


Dear friends and followers of hanlifreediver on blogspot. Time has come to leave this trusty spot, and move on to a new SITE. has been designed by Niel Joubert of 7Red, and created by Jens Herf of the Ice Cream Network. Thank you to both of them for making it possible!

PLEASE read and follow me here!
There will be stories, and photos and videos and all things adventurous and aquatic!
See you there!


Wednesday, 26 May 2010

It's not a Spectator Sport!

They watch me floating face down in the water of that far-away pool. So many moons and loves and dives ago. I'm completely relaxed. Not a single muscle is tensed.
I'm playing dead. My then quite new wetsuit looks shiny compared to it's present day state of patches and scratches.
Today the guys are huddled around my computer in the dim-lit wood cabin that serves as office and HQ for the Blue Wilderness dive operation on the KZN South Coast. We've done yoga, we've stretched our lungs, we've done deep breathing , they've experienced breathing contractions for the first time.
I've talked them through the theory of freediving, the history, the physiology, the philosophy. Now I am showing them this bad quality clip filmed on the judge's camera at a competition almost two years ago.'It's not a Spectator Sport!' I hear myself say, the guys laugh, as I knew they would. No, watching someone lie face down in a pool is not ice-skating. I laugh with them but the laughter gets stuck in my throat and I'm left with an uncomfortable jarring thought at the back of my head. But no time to ponder... getting changed into suits, grab masks and off to the pool.The guys float on their backs and when it's their turn I talk them through their three final breaths, the last deep deepest breath, and then he rolls over.

Face down. Playing dead.
'Relax your neck, relax your shoulders' I repeat, gentling squeezing his shoulders, encouraging him to relax. His head drops a little deeper, his body lets go. My voice echoes in my head... 'It's not a spectator sport...'

I am so wrong.

Freediving is the greatest spectator sport of all time. Greater than ice-skating, basketball, pole-vaulting (I love pole-vaulting!), gymnastics or even parkour.
The only difference is, there is only one spectator. You. The diver. And you are not only watching. You are seeing yourself from the inside. And you are not only seeing. You are feeling, experiencing, assimilating, learning, shifting, adjusting, growing. This is the ultimate experience. It just happens to happen within one person. For no-one else to see.
The breath-hold I had shown the guys as an example, I remember as if it was yesterday. My warm-up, my nerves, the song I had in my ipod just before. The first stage of holding my breath, the relaxation, I remember the thoughts, coming and going, memories, feelings, hopes, uncertainties... this quiet revolution going on inside.
Contractions starting, destroying the meditation, the focus, the die-hard kicking in. Sebastian's voice urging me on, supporting me, carrying me. My elation at feeling my body meet my mind in these perfect minutes of mind-body communication. Oxygen swirling through my blood, caressing my brain, deserting my toes. I know this. I know what my beautiful body is capable of. Beautiful for what she is capable of, for the dive response she harbours. Glorious, magnificent half-seal that I am. All this becoming as I lie there, face down. Dead to the world. Alive as never before. This is the greatest spectator sport of all time. And I am the only ticket-holder.

Rene, Rob, Anthony, David, Mike and Rowan, welcome to your stadium!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Good Morning

'It's so pink!' she exclaims, her European accent adding to the quiantness of the moment. She's wrapped in a bright Mexican blanket and standing on the pavement, staring up at the sky. The sun is about to rise on the other side of False Bay, as it does every morning, but the last few days there has been great celebration and a fanfare of colours announcing this rising. As if the Sun is saying, 'Yes well, I do this every day, but that doesn't mean you can take it for granted!' So I stand reminded. Staring up at the sky, peeling my naartjie. I hug my Mexican blanketed neighbour a good morning and start jogging off down the road. Pink turning to orange to red above me. Nothing granted, all appreciated.
I veer off the road onto the boardwalk, hop skip and jump over the rocky bits and come down onto Danger Beach. The colours of the sky are reflected in the wet sand. They fade, and the sea pushes up another wave to lick the beach, creating the perfect canvas for the sunrise painting. Again and again and again. Wave after wave, sunrise after
sunrise Nature offers us there gifts of colour and beauty. Mine are the only footprints on the beach. The sun peeks out from behind the mountains chasing away the subtler colours, leaving a bright glowing yellow across the sky.

I run on. I've never liked running. I can only run if I do so next to the sea or in the mountain. Because then I can pretend it's something else. Exploring. Or checking the waves. But I am learning to run. Adam sent me a book 'Born to Run', about how we are the Running People, about the amazing ultra-runners of the planet, and the mindset of running. It makes sense. I repeat to myself 'easy, easy, easy... light light light light...' the author says that first comes easy, then light, then smooth, then fast. I don't think I'll ever be fast. I am aiming for light.
I turn on Muizenberg beach and run back. I feel quite smooth... the sun is up now and warming my back. No more colours in the sky, now it's the sea's turn to go chameleon. The flat dark of early morning is replaced by shining ripples, bright flashes of light off small waves. She is so glorious, the ocean. Back at Dalebrook pool I pull my clothes off fast before the chilly air changes my mind and I dive in. Again, it's just me. Winter in Cape Town promises solitude in the most beautiful places. I swim a few laps, look at the rocks and urchins underneath me. Dry off quick and hurry under the railway, over the road, up Rosmead and get a big hug from Mickey. 'Same as always, love?' she asks. Fruit salad, yoghurt, honey, fresh orange juice and a whale latte. The best coffee in the south.

Where in the world can you live such a morning? I am grateful.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Lumpy left, cement swimmers and red leaves

'Can water really be wobbly?' the surfer asks me as I clamber onto my Stand-Up-Paddle board for the umpteenth time. His chest and head is all that's visible above the water, as he's sitting deep on his very short surfboard. I loom over him, paddle in hand; 'Yes', I answer, 'water can be wobbly and this water is'. Peter, Glen and I have made the trek to the other side of False Bay to surf a pretty left point that looked sweet from the car park, and yes, we did get some good waves, the guys more than me, but the water wobbled. There was a refraction, backwash, undertow, rocks and stuff. It was fun. I got some waves, I fell a lot. But I did get more waves than the guy on the surfboard.

But this was just the start of my saturday. The far side of False Bay is just a hop skip and a high jump over the Sir Lowry's Pass to Grabouw, apple country, where my beautiful sculptor sister lives. Still sandy and salty I drive over the pass, through the apple orchards to Marieke's house. Somehow this mountainous valley gets the seasons more than many places in SA, and I feast my eyes on the symphony of russet red and mustard yellow leaves.

Marieke lives in an old stone house. I park under the huge oak tree in front of the house and she opens the door. She is sick. And busy. Equally. She has very recently been given the go-ahead to put 18 sculptures up on the Sea Point promenade. Unveiling them the day before kick-off, and the public exhibition will go on for a whole year. She never expected City of Cape Town to say yes for them to go up before kick-off, but this being their request, she is very very busy. The sculptures tell the tale of a magical meeting between a swimmer-girl and a dragonfly, and is read as a story, one sculpture at a time, as you walk along the promenade.

I am so proud as I watch the clay take shape under her expert hands. She is an artist, wife, mother, daughter... and the best sister you could ever wish for.

I love you Marieke.

Friday, 14 May 2010

'My cake is weird'

'How was your day', Bridget asks? 'How was the workshop? 'Amazing!' I reply, 'I feel so much clearer, so much more at peace... you see', I beam at her, ... 'my cake is weird!' B looks up from the Origami paper crane she is folding (nr 145 of 1000 paper cranes for her wedding... and she thinks I am strange!?) and eloquently asks 'Huh?'

We are drinking tea in her lovely lounge in an already dark and very rainy Cape Town after a long day spent with Justin and Juliet of Greenhouse. (Greenhouse offers a safe environment for the cultivation of conscious ideas into reality.)And all of today I have had the privilege of being in that safe environment and cultivating my conscious ideas over super-smoothies, dates and brazil nuts. We started with values, what I believe, why I do what I do... then vision, then goals, then offering and all the way down to HOW.
So back to the cake. One of the most radical things was looking at my life as a cake, all I do being slices of this cake. Percentages of time I spend on the myriad of things that are my life. And man, my cake is weird. Spending too much time doing things I don't want to be doing, that also do not bring benefit on any level, spiritual, emotional, financial or physical. So out with the old cake, in with the new.
My new Cake is beautiful. She is a cake of beauty and truth. I feel peaceful when I think of her. The slices of my new cake make sense, financially and practically. And the most important slice, the slice called Adventure, has gro w n m u C H L A R G E R.

My new cake, isn't she grand?

This shift will soon manifest in the practical, but for now, it is a happiness I hold in my heart. A new perfect cake, with a large slice of Adventure. Flavoured with values... imagination, resilience, joy, passion, freedom, risk, courage, authenticity...

Welcome to the Party!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Actors and Oceans

Monday was Durban again, teaching the Cast from Blue Crush 2 the basics of Freediving so they feel happy in the water to start their super intense 3-week surfing lessons that will turn them into ripping surfers by Shoot Day 1. No tall order.

We started the day at the Protea Hotel in Umhlanga, where the cast met each other and the team of pro's who will teach them the ways of the waves. The task of choosing the surf-coaching team was placed in the capable hands of BOMBSurf John McCarthy. Sandy for Yoga, Clayton for Coaching, Allen for SurfBasics, Wilma for Fitness and Me, for Ocean Comfort/ Freediving.

Sasha and Elisabeth meeting their boards, love at first sight!

I'm the first port of call in their journey to becoming surfers, first feel good under the water, then learn to ride it, cause inevitably, you will fall off, and panicking is Not an Option. Especially not with A, B and C cams aimed at you!

Sasha is an LA based bubbly blond originally from Windsor, sweet-looking exterior housing a wicked sense of humour and a never-give-up spirit. Elisabeth is an intelligent and entertaining ebony skinned, willowy tall model/actress originally from Michigan, now also LA based. And Chris, Cape Town born funny and fun, good-looking and earnest.

Low glory- yet very important- pose, ankle circles! Happy ankles= good board-balance!

We started the day with yoga and breathhold on land, where they got to learn about contractions, their magical spleens and inner seals... then off to the blue blue sea. And maybe sensing the importance of the day, the ocean obliged and gave us flat and calm, warm and clean for their first submersion. Breathhold in the shallows, the girls both cracking 2 minutes easy and Chris doing a strong 3.20. Oh yes, they will be fine with whatever the sea throws at them.

Then we swim out a little deeper, practice some equalisation and then play around on the sand at the bottom. Swimming down together, passing a snorkel around before coming up, getting more and more comfortable under the water. Sasha laughingly remembering hours spent in the pool as a kid, playing mermaid, holding her breath lying at the bottom. Elisabeth dropping my 'lucky snorkel' and doing a quick and confident dash to the bottom playing retriever dolphin. The ocean loves us and we love her back.

Surrounded by the right people, with loads of good energy around and strong wills I think they have a good shot at looking like surfers once the shooting starts end of the month.
And I am certain, that for now and forevermore, 3 more surfers are born!
Happy Birthday guys!!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Sunday: Planes and Boats, here and there...

I wake up with a sore head and a still-snotty nose. The rain is crashing down outside, the gutters have fallen off my very old Kalk Bay house and the water, free of such restrictions, cause a joyful racket outside. It's very wet. But farm-girl that I am, I have been taught never, ever to curse the rain.
I pack wetsuit, fins, mask and flip-flops, it's hot in Durban so I won't need much, and I'm only going for 48 hrs anyway, simple... The best of plans made in the best of ways, always fail, I learn again and again and today again. See, for a change, I'm not running late, and with time left to spare I stop at the pharmacy to get nose-spray, on the doping list at freediving comps, but absolutely essential for my job tomorrow. Teaching the cast of Blue Crush 2 to be comfortable in the water. I won't be of much use if I can't dive with them, I reason, as I pay the exorbitant price for the unhealthy spray I plan to inflict on my nose.Please hurry, I tell the girl at the pharmacy counter, I'm on my way to the airport, making my problem her problem as she hurries to sort my change out. I dash out into the rain, into my beloved Toyota twin-cab bakkie, turn the key... and nothing. No no no no noooooo... most reliable of cars, this can't be happening!
She's dead. My light blue reliable steed sputters and gives up. Please Adam, help! Sure, he's around the corner and we dash to the airport. On time. Check in. Bag too big. Oversize drop-off. Do you have a computer in there? Safety check. Hurry to gate A7. Long cue. Wait wait wait, the flight is delayed from Joburg, so so is ours. Board. Cram into my seat. Middle seat, close my eyes, and breathe. What a rush! Take-off and my sinuses wail in pain. Flying with mucus, never a good thing.
And I realise. I don't really like this. This traveling, the rush, the deadline, the mad dash to the check-in counter.They say the world has gotten smaller, with flights being so accessible and the world just around the corner. All this efficiency, making the trip from A to B quick and possible. We complain of long trans-atlantic flights, a full 14 hrs plus!

And suddenly I remember.

The wind against my face, the lazy flapping of the sails. The days stretching into weeks. The quick-jump flight from the Azores home to Sweden we turned into a 17 day passage on a 38 foot ketch with a man we didn't know. No auto-pilot, no windvein, no real long distance sailing experience. The start of the end of a long relationship, time on board a yacht makes or breaks love.
And I miss it. I will swop this cramped seat for my 8-12 watch. 8 hrs a day each, keeping watch, steering north. Watching the sun set alone on deck, the moon rise, the stars come out and then the eerie 'pfooooohhh' in the distance as a whale breathes. Stop counting the days, Hanli, the way-points and the wind-speeds. You are here, only here, only now. You cannot control the wind and the storm that is bearing down on us.

Maybe I need to remind myself of that voice here in my cramped seat on this hated plane. Stop rushing. Stop being in the next moment, the arrival, the pick-up, the plans and tomorrow. Live the journey. Even if the journey has been reduced to a bumpy cramped two hour flight.