KELP & KIDS / Justine shares her story

As Sir David Attenborough once said, “No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced”. I Am Water embodies this philosophy entirely as they aim to inspire ocean conservation through transformative experience. For me, the training weekend to become an I Am Water coach was all about connection - between the coaches, the young intrepid explorers and the ocean.  

It all started on a Friday night in charming Kalk Bay… well, truth be told, it started several months earlier when I first discovered I Am Water. I knew that somehow I had to be involved. And so, walking up the steep and narrow road to have our meet and greet felt like a pivotal moment. The evening was a short and sweet introduction to each other, the team, details of the programme and an outline of what our training weekend would entail. With a few snacks and more clarity we reemerged into the night, feeling a buzz for what was to come. 

Saturday was an early start at Millers Point, a marine protected area popular amongst freedivers, snorkelers, braai goers and ancient cow sharks. Hanli took us through some yoga poses and stretches that focused on the area around our lungs. Not only did she bring tranquility to our minds and stretch our morning languid bodies, she also shared some fascinating facts about our bodies. One such story of ability was how she expanded her lung capacity from three to six litres with yoga and stretches! 

After some breath hold exercises where our bodies exceeded our humble expectations, we got into the water. Paired with a buddy for safety, each plunge to the roots of the kelp brought an unfamiliar and very welcome silence. A silence that one realises can only be found beneath the surface of the sea. It is like entering another world. Time seems to slow with every golden sway of the kelp. Pulling ourselves to the bottom with the kelp stems, a colourful world emerged of anemones, urchins, starfish, and one quick pyjama shy shark. Behind steamed masks were smiles stretching from ear to ear. There is something about swimming in the ocean that strips us of that serious adult exterior and reminds us of our inner childhood wonder. 

Lauren, the in-house marine scientist and a bundle of knowledge, then took us on a rockpool exploration. She showed us what is commonly found and the fun facts we could share about the characters that live in the intertidal zone. The stories gave life to even the most unassuming creatures. We also found an octopus hiding between the rocks, which apparently have 9 brains and 3 hearts! The day ended cross-legged on the floor of Peter and Hanli’s heritage home. Peter, a world-class swimmer and the program propeller, and Lauren went through the course content that we needed to know in order to coach. They somehow managed to simplify a vast array of ocean knowledge into bite size chunks that we were able to digest as we then slowly made our sandy selves home in the afternoon. 

Sunday was time to put our learnings into practice! As I Am Water’s first pop-up snorkel workshop, we were all brimming with excitement as we chased calm seas all the way to St James beach. After we set up the tent and sign boards, we went scouting for young ocean explorers. We split ourselves into three groups and I gingerly volunteered to lead the yoga and breathing exercises. The cleverly designed 2-hour workshop started with group introductions, exercises and tales about our ocean and then split into rotating groups. My group started with the snorkel in the tidal pool and then we cleaned the beach of all the ugly bits of plastic masquerading as snacks for sea birds and fish. We then traversed the rocky areas to discover the life that handles the tricky change of environment from cold ocean to small pools penetrated by the sun.

The rewarding moments were plentiful and we shared these experiences as a group at the end. Most of the highlights were of the courage many of the children exhibited exploring the unknown. They willingly put their trust in us to see what was on the ocean floor for the first time. Best of all, was hearing the ringing questions of when the next workshop would be… which is exactly what I was wondering!

- Justine