La libre plongeuse Hanli PrinslooNella profondità dell'oceano, l'apneista sudafricana Hanli Prinsloo (37) trova pace, bellezza e alcuni dei suoi migliori compagni: squali e tartarughe. Racconta le sue avventure nel grande blu.

Quando sei stato un ragazzino, ti sei preso un respiro davvero grande nel bagno, hai pizzicato il naso, chiusi gli occhi e ti sei fatto scivolare sotto l'acqua?

Do you remember the quiet as sounds became muffled, the shifting colours and shapes inside your eyelids, that feeling of being quite contained? You were freediving!

When I was 19, I decided to become a kid again and never grow up, to step back into the water and live for that silence. Freediving as a competitive sport is about diving as deep, as far or as long as possible on one single breath of air. Pushing their bodies far beyond what researchers thought was possible, freedivers can hold their breath for 11 minutes and dive to 200m. For me, freediving is the perfect expression of my love affair with the ocean

Just like a whale or a dolphin or a seal, I take one breath, kick down and explore the magical fairyland that lies beneath the waves. I'm an 11 time South African Freediving Record Holder. But I left the competitive sports of freediving to focus on my foundation I Am Water. In my home town of Cape Town and other parts of the world, I teach freediving to students from all walks of life. Children, adults, people who are fascinated by the ocean or scared of it and want to overcome their fear. I want to connect people to oceans and to make them aware of the importance of their conservation.

Freediving in the kelp forestOur slogan is "Saving oceans, uplifting people". Becasue there really cannot be well-protected nature without happy people.

Welcome to Baby Bay

One of my favourite spots is outside Hout Bay in Cape Town. There I can swim with the seals and April is a good month to see cute seal pups.

Human newborns can hold their breath for up to 40 seconds, seals over an hour.

Water world

When freediving in False Bay near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, I explore the dense kelp forests, where sevengill sharks roam. As a freediver, it's easy to move in the environment because I don't have much equipment apart from fins and a mask.

These ecosystems are the equivalent of tropical forests on land. In these dense underwater forests you can encounter lots of animals: sharks, bony fishes and curious seals. To dive in the kelp forest feels like diving in fairy land.

Sharky waters

This picture was taken during a trip to Mexico where I met this whale shark, the largest of the cartilaginous fish species. What diving with whales, I try to be incredibly calm. I feel that these animals can pick up on our emotions. Swimming with these creatures makes you feel small - in a great way. With sharks it's different.

I sharted diving with them in 2008 in South Africa. To me sharks are like friends, and it is amazing to see how different the species are. You can compare their nature and behaviour to dogs. A whale share like this would be a Saint Bernard, calm, huge and slow. The black tip sharks are like a pack of terriers: fast, nippy and ore interested in food than interacting. Blue sharks aare like cocker spaniels: They want to get really close and like to snuffle. And the great white sharks? They're not like a Rottweiler - no dog matches the presence of this creature. They remind me of a solitary grizzly bear.

Underwater beauty

Diving with a manta ray is amazingDiving with a manta ray is an amazing experience. This image was taken off the coast of Ecuador. After a long dive, just as my lungs started to beg for air, I saw her: a white shape moving slowly through the water. I relaxed a little more to stretch my oxygen, I wanted to stay underwater to see more. The white shape entered y space and the wide open gullet becaime clear, then the gently undulating wings, the lobes around the mouth. I was mesmerised. The manta didn't seem to notice me, she stayed her course, heading straight at me. I floated a little higher and she passed below me. I watched her disappear and kicked up to the surface, gasping and laughing, overwhelmed by her beauty.

Time to play

With dolphins, you want to be in your happiest, most joyful mood ever. They alwyas want to play with you and they are communicating all the time, making clicking sounds and whistling. You find many of them in the waters around South Africa. Dolphins are one of the smartest animal species on Earth and when diving with them you can feel that. When I look into their eyes, I can see a personality and intelligence.

A new mission

It was at the freediving world championship in 2011. I'd trained so kard. At the event in Greece, I suddenly felt I was in the wrong lace. I said to myself:Why did I need to try to be better than all these other divers? I was hanging on teh rope, getting ready for my dive, looking down thinking: I don't need to do this any more.

Today I am diving with beautiful animals and my mission tis to protect them. The silence you find in the ocean - that's exactly where I want to be.

With kind permission of the Eurowings Magazine, Photos by Peter Marshall with permission of Hanli Prinsloo.