Hannah Barnard

5 minutes with…Freediving Champion Beth Neale

By Hannah Barnard on 6th January, 2020

We met freediving record holder Beth Neale to chat about her latest challenge, charity initiatives, and diving in Bermuda.

Freedive Champion Beth Neale | Destination Magazines
Photo by Chris Burville. Beth Neale no fins dive record in Bermuda.

Congratulations on your 4th South African National Record! What kind of dive was it and what was your motivation for breaking the record in Bermuda?

My record was set in the Constant Weight No Fins (CNF) discipline – which means I dive with no equipment except for a nose clip, and use breast-stroke down and back up. This is also the deepest female CNF dive in the continent of Africa, as well as the deepest official freedive in Bermuda. My primary motivation for the dive was to raise funds and awareness for my conservation work in Bermuda for the last 5 years.

How did you prepare for the challenge and how was your record dive?

I went out into the ocean by boat for depth training and progressively increased my dives to a depth of 164ft on one breath. I also trained in the pool by swimming 2x50meter lengths while holding my breath, using breaststroke. Lifeguards are not a big fan of freedive training – even when you have a buddy! 

The record dive was the best dive of my life! I was completely in the zone and connected to my purpose. I had a support team of 20 people at the dive site. The technical scuba divers filming down at 160ft could see me clearly from the surface – that’s how amazing the water was! I loved every second and I surfaced after 2 minutes 52 seconds with a smile on my face and a huge rainbow in the background!

Interview with Freedive Champion Beth Neale | Destination Magazines
Photo by Chris Burville. Beth Neale no fins dive record in Bermuda.

You have taught over 1,500 teaching children freediving. Could you tell us about your current work with children?

For the last 5 years, I have been teaching children freediving and ocean conservation in South Africa, Mozambique and Bermuda. The record dive was for the incredible program, Kids on the Reef. It is a 2-day program run in partnership with the Bermuda Zoological Society and my colleague Dr Alex Amat, for children aged 11-12. We take them out snorkeling (often for their first time) and freediving at an outer reef. They get down as deep as 30 feet! We teach about fish, corals, challenges facing the ocean, and the theory of freediving. Connecting the classroom lessons with a physical experience opens up a new world of possibility at a young age. 

I have also taught a 5-day program with ages 8-15 in Bermuda with freediving every day! It is amazing to have such young students diving down to 65feet on one breath at the end of a week!

On top of this, I had a chance to teach my youngest freediver this summer in Bermuda, Dorothy Gee of @thebucketlistfamily! She is only 6 years old and I taught her how to equalize her ears and dive down the line to nearly 20 feet! See the Bucket List Family Bermuda video below 😉

How did your love of freediving begin?

I’ve always loved being in the water. But it was until 10 years ago that I took my first freediving course at a gym in London and it changed my life completely. My first dive was in a quarry in England, with cold, murky water and nothing to see, but I still loved it! Shortly after I moved back home to South Africa and have been diving in the ocean ever since.

What are your favourite dive sites around Bermuda?

My favourite this year has been Northrock. It is a marine protected area 8 miles offshore. You can hardly see a sliver of the island on the horizon. The water is a shallow 25 feet. There are extraordinary huge purple sea fans, barracuda, parrot fish, and I have made a new friend this year which is the most friendly fish called a Pudding Wife known as Smudge, named from the mark on her eye.

Interview with Freedive Champion Beth Neale | Destination Magazines
Photo by Stuart Philpott.

What makes Bermuda so amazing for freediving?

Bermuda is surrounded by reef that protects the shores from ocean swell and creates a large area around the island with calm, shallow waters perfect for diving. The pristine reefs grow beautiful corals and are home to colourful fish. The island is also the shipwreck capital of the world! There is much to explore and the conditions are ideal, especially in the summer months.

What are your top tips for photographing or filming underwater content?

Find your very own Aquaman who is a talented freediver and cameraman to capture your underwater moments!

Interview with Freedive Champion Beth Neale | Destination Magazines
Photo by Chris Burville. Beth Neale no fins dive record in Bermuda.

What advice would you give someone who was keen to try freediving?

Take a course with a certified and experienced instructor! It’s great to support accomplished freediving athletes who are offering courses. Don’t be put off by an instructors ‘extreme’ athletic achievements if you are a beginner – everyone can advance at their own pace in a course. 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced when freediving?

Freediving is usually my solace from any challenges on land, so I find that I can solve my problems by going for a dive. I’ve only had two freediving sessions where my dives felt challenging, and that was because of equipment problems and cold water. I also had a bull shark visit me at 80 feet, so I cut that dive short!

Interview with Freedive Champion Beth Neale | Destination Magazines
Photo by Chris Burville. Beth Neale no fins dive record in Bermuda.

What are your plans for the year ahead?

Creating opportunities for more people to learn freediving and explore the ocean! I am so passionate about sharing something that has changed my life so much over the years and I am planning workshops and creating digital media.

To follow Beth Neale’s freediving journey and find out about upcoming workshops, follow her on Instagram.


Read more: Diving in the Cayman Islands