……BY BILLY SUTER……
A NEW 10-part South African TV series headed for DStv in May will focus on a couple’s experiences freediving with just one breath from the surface, off the coasts of Mozambique and the Maldives. Promoted as the first freediving reality series, Freediving Diaries will feature South African-based freediving couple, Beth ‘The Mermaid’ Neale and Miles ‘Aquaman’ Cloutier, on an underwater journey highlighting marine life that needs to be protected.
It will be shown over two weeks on DStv’s People’s Weather (channel 180) and on Openview (channel 115) from May 3. The series will have new episodes daily from Mondays to Fridays at 6pm, with a repeat at 10.30am and 2pm the following day. An omnibus will be shown at the weekend.
Neale, a four-time South African freediving champion from the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, said one of the series’ goals is to promote the many dedicated people and organisations at the forefront of ocean conservation and eco-tourism.
“We also want to show that freediving isn’t just an extreme sport for elite athletes. It’s the fastest-growing water sport and simply requires you to hold your breath underwater. You don’t have to go deep or hold your breath for a long time. We want to inspire people to safely explore the underwater world and understand the incredible need to protect our oceans and the life they hold.”
Cloutier, who is Canadian-born,describes freediving as “your passport to a whole new world”.
He said: “In the early days of lockdown, we planned an amazing freediving expedition to the unexplored coasts of Mozambique. Some months later, it became a reality, and we have had the opportunity to share this dream with others in the hope that they will be inspired to get out and connect with nature. The impact of lockdown on these local communities has been devastating, and we know this will encourage more eco-tourism.”
Neale and Cloutier also introduced many people to freediving while on their trip.
The series was filmed between late November last year and mid-February. Neale and Cloutier were among some of the first to cross the border into Mozambique to begin filming the series when lockdown restrictions eased.
“Just before Christmas, we flew out of South Africa to the Maldives a day or two before travel restrictions were imposed on South Africans,” recalled Neale. “At the end of our trip we were ‘stranded’ in the Maldives for two weeks, but I think in terms of places to get stuck, we could have done a lot worse!”
All of the filming was done by the couple, with freedives up to 20m, using regular action cameras. “While there is plenty visible light below that level, the colour doesn’t show how alive everything is on camera, so we prefer to capture in shallower waters,” explained Cloutier.
Neale considers this “recreational freediving” since she holds the South African and African Continental Record for freediving in the “no-fins” discipline, which is breaststroke down and back up, to a depth of 50m.
“From the playful and inquisitive wild dolphins of Ponta do Ouro in Mozambique, to the tiger sharks of Fuvahmulah island in the Maldives, we checked a few bucket-list species,” said Cloutier.
“Fuvahmulah is a world-class dive location and a tiger shark hotspot, and we were some of the first freedivers in the world to visit this site. It is extremely accessible and perfect for freediving..”
Season one of Freediving Diaries focuses on the couple’s exploration of the Mozambique coastline from Ponto to Ouro to Vilankulous and Bazaruto, and the pristine atolls of the Maldives. And the couple made an exciting discovery – it wasn’t just going to be the two of them on this journey!
“We never expected to be sharing the most special experience that we have had together as a couple in the first episode,” said Neale.. “Just before crossing the border into Mozambique, we found out we are having a baby! It was an incredible surprise, but also a shock as we had planned this expedition into some very underdeveloped areas.
“But it turned out to be the best timing because my ‘little mermaid’ has already dived with whales, dolphins, turtles, manta rays, whale sharks, tiger sharks and nurse sharks all from the comfort of my belly!”
On discovering the new addition, Beth and Miles spent time researching, connecting with professionals who have had experience with freediving and pregnancy: “I was never a freediver who pushed my limits anyway, but now that I am having a baby, I do shallow, short and easy dives. I am very fit, strong and healthy… and so is my baby!”
Stephan Le Roux, CEO of People’sWeather, commented on the extraordinary first series, saying: “From the moment I met Beth and Miles and heard about what they do I thought it was completely crazy! Beth has had some unbelievable sports’ accomplishments in freediving, and it’s so amazing the three of them are now sharing these adventures.
“This series epitomises the role weather plays in adding drama and unpredictability to great adventures. The coast is especially susceptible to rapid changes in weather conditions, and the pair embarking on this extraordinary adventure while navigating uncontrollable conditions creates a great viewing experience.”
In addition to all the marine-based action, the series will feature the couple’s interactions with the many inspiring conservationists and guides they meet along the way. Viewers will get to experience the highs and lows of such exotic travel, with Beth and Miles overcoming many challenges, and even discovering their life changing piece of news on the journey!