Sophia van Coller

Dive Industry Profile

Sophia van Coller

Growing up in Cape Town, I was always drawn to the ocean and got my boat skipper’s licence before I could even drive a car. After finishing my studies, I ventured overseas and soon found myself working on sailing yachts, diving and exploring places like Fiji, Tahiti, Galapagos Islands and all those exotic destinations I always dreamed of as a child. But I wanted to capture this on film, so I packed my bags and flew to Sodwana Bay to become a scuba instructor and ultimately, an underwater photography instructor. I was fortunate enough to work for six months as an apprentice for the living legend, Cathy Church, in the Cayman Islands at her underwater photography school, which was such an enriching experience and solidified my passion for all the amazing life forms underwater, especially through my macro lens. For the next few years I worked as a professional photographer in the Bahamas and the Maldives, where my diving took a new turn into the silent world of freediving. At first I used freediving merely as a tool for photography, but soon it became more of a personal challenge.

My diving took a new turn into the silent world of freediving.

When I returned to South Africa, while working as a press photographer for the Cape Times, I was lucky enough to be one of three female freedivers to represent South Africa at the 2006 Freediving World Championships in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. It really immersed me into the competitive side of freediving, and for the most part I dive without cylinders these days. In 2013, at the age of 39, I broke the SA record in Free Immersion, and dived to 53 m on one breath. Free immersion is one of the three depth disciplines in freediving. You pull yourself down and up a line with your arms, without wearing fins.

My favourite place to dive has to be the Bahamas, with its clear blue water and interesting walls and swim-throughs.The Blue Hole in Dahab, Egypt, is a close second. Nothing comes quite close to its magical and tranquil dive conditions.

Last year I spent two weeks training in CNF (constant weight no fins) depth diving in Tulamben, Bali, and could not believe the pristine and accessible conditions for freediving. With 30 m visibility and warm blue water, I could train for hours if we timed the tides correctly.

I have always been a DAN member during my scuba diving career and have continued my membership as a freediver now. It gives me an immense sense of security knowing that DAN is there to help or give advice when needed. When I lived and worked in the Maldives as a scuba instructor, I taught the DAN First Aid course to hundreds of local boat skippers and snorkel guides. I could see the impact it had on them and how it changed their lives for the better. It also gave them a better understanding for the ocean and what to be aware of on a daily basis when living on an island.

I became a Pure Apnea freediving judge two years ago and really enjoy being part of local competitions and watching this sport grow. I have just completed my Level 3 Master Freediver course with Pure Apnea in Cape Town. I hope to do my freediving instructor’s course next year, so that I can start training the next generation of freedivers.

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