With nothing between them and 15-tonne whale sharks but the blue ocean, South African-based freediving couple, Beth ‘The Mermaid’ Neale and Miles ‘Aquaman’ Cloutier go on an unimaginable underwater journey that lets viewers experience marine life that needs to be protected. Featuring on PPL°WX – People’sWeather (DStv – CH180 and Openview – CH115), from 3 May 2021, the 10-episode Freediving Diaries is the first-ever freediving reality TV series, which follows Beth and Miles’ experiences of freediving with just one breath from the surface, off the coasts of Mozambique and the Maldives.
Beth, a four-time South African freediving champion from the KZN South Coast, explained that 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.”
Miles, who is Canadian-born, describes freediving as ‘your passport to a whole new world’, said: “We enjoy capturing the magic of the underwater world, and our incredible experiences. 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.”
Beth and Miles also introduced many people to freediving while on their trip: “Anyone can learn to freedive. We teach beginners and first-timers how to hold their breath for two minutes in a short session. It’s great that anyone can have these experiences.”
Filming of Free Diving Diaries
In partnership with PPL°WX – People’sWeather – Africa’s first and only 24/7 weather, environmental news and lifestyle channel – the series was filmed between late November 2020 and mid-February 2021. Beth and Miles were 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 Beth and Miles with freedives up to 20 metres 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 Miles.
Beth considers this ‘recreational freediving’ since she holds the South African and African Continental Record for freediving in the ‘no-fins’ discipline, which is breast stroke down and back up, to a depth of 50 metres.
“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 bucketlist species,” continued Miles. “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. Most importantly, the tiger sharks are protected since it is now a UNESCO world heritage site.”
An action-packed first season
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,” admitted Beth. “Just before crossing the border into Mozambique, we found out that 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 ever 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!”
Miles wasn’t concerned at all: “It was pretty much the best timing ever. I couldn’t have imagined it any better. It was also a huge relief, because we had thought Beth was sick from eating at my favourite sharwama restaurant – so we can keep going back there!”
Despite the motion and morning sickness, Beth was able to enjoy the marine adventures: “From tiny sea horses to the biggest fish in the sea. My life’s dream came true when I had a brief swim with the highly-endangered and elusive dugong in Bazaruto Archipelago in Mozambique, which brought me to tears. The Dugong is the original mermaid, with its iconic tail.
“We had another unexpected experience during a night dive off of the yacht in Maldives with whale sharks and manta rays. They placed lights off the back of the boat which attract plankton. It’s so surreal to see mantas emerging from the darkness and swooping through the light! The whale shark also stayed, feasting off the back of the boat within a metre of us for hours. It was an out-of-this-world experience.”
Stephan Le Roux, CEO of PPL°WX – 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!
Catch Freediving Diaries which premieres on PPL°WX – People’sWeather (DStv CH-180 and Openview CH-115) from Monday, 3 May at 18:00. The series will be shown over two weeks with new episodes daily from Mondays to Fridays at 18:00, with a repeat at 10:30 and 14:00 the following day. There will also be an omnibus shown on the weekend.