Meet Zandile Ndhlovu, South Africa’s First-Ever Black Professional Freediver

by | Mar 14, 2023 | Profile

Zandile “Zandi” Ndhlovu is South Africa’s first Black African freediving instructor, TEDx speaker, filmmaker, explorer, and passionate storyteller.

Ndhlovu grew up in landlocked Soweto, a township in South Africa. However, she didn’t discover the joy of freediving until she travelled to Bali in 2016; upon her return home, she vowed to make the ocean more accessible to Black people in South Africa. Today, she is one of the country’s most impactful freedivers and is recognized among the Global Top 100 Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD) Under 40.

“I looked beneath the surface, and my mind was just blown. I held my breath, and I felt this feeling I’d never felt before, a sense of being home – I had finally arrived,” recalls Ndhlovu of her first time diving.

“It’s a world I never thought existed, and the deeper you go feels like flying in space… perhaps a mixture of how much the dive is always more internal than external – there is only you that is to be found, and in play, is the marine wildlife, witnessing sharks and dolphins never gets old… a winning world, I tell you!”

Zandile Ndhlovu freediving in Cape Town

Creating an inclusive freediving space

Ndhlovu aims to change Africa’s narrative about who belongs in the ocean and to diversify representation in ocean-facing careers, sports, and recreation. Her dream of eradicating the fear of deep waters by exposing kids to the ocean became a reality when she founded The Black Mermaid Foundation to create a space where fear expands into love. As an ocean conservationist, and diversity and inclusion specialist, Ndhlovu is helping Black people find comfort in the world beneath the water’s surface – to feel as at home as she did when she first experienced life underwater, where creatures coexist without borders, race, or gender.

Now, Zandile says the landscape around freediving is slowly becoming more inclusive. “I would definitely say I’ve seen an increase in representation and in ocean-related experiences,” she says. “It is slow but the change is definitely happening.”

freediver Zandile Ndhlovu

How Zandile Ndhlovu preps for dives

When it comes to fitness and preparation for dives, breathing is the key. When learning to dive, you’ll need to learn “the theory behind apnea, practically learning to hold your breath for longer, finning techniques, depth training (going deep), and dynamic training (covering the lateral distance in a confined area like a pool),” Zandile says. Added to that is the all-important mental fitness that you’ll need to stay comfortable while submerged in the water.

“Learning to be comfortable in discomfort is a challenge for most people, especially while holding your breath,” she says. To that end, training is essential. Zandile finds that yoga is especially helpful. “Pairing this with yoga is really powerful, to learn the mental flow state and meeting it with a body that can flow is powerful.”

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