Zandile “Zandi” Ndhlovu is South Africa’s first Black African freediving instructor, TEDx speaker, filmmaker, explorer, and passionate storyteller. She joins the 12-strong cohort of 11th Hour Racing’s ambassadors – a community of athletes and creators who act as changemakers and use their influence to rally fans and peers to act for the ocean. Each ambassador has the opportunity to work on an ocean restoration project with an organization of their choice, supported by 11th Hour Racing.
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. “I believe in the collective’s ability to bring change, I believe in partnership. We’re all working to protect our oceans, and so, what a time to be alive as we witness the power and impact of the collective dream. 11th Hour Racing does incredible work to protect our oceans; to join this fold is to be seen and to be partnered in all the ways that matter.”
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.
“11th Hour Racing’s ambassadors embody the organization’s mission and are in a unique position to influence their communities to become more curious about the ocean and to explore their own connection with nature,” said Alessandra Ghezzi, communications director at 11th Hour Racing. “We are incredibly grateful for Zandi’s work, which has the potential to reverse years of fear and stereotypes around access to water. Working with Zandi is a real honour.”
This connection to water, coupled with a shared vision of a healthy ocean, is what led 11th Hour Racing to South Africa in 2022 to collaborate with Ndhlovu for the production of Ocean Hour Film – an artistic film that explores the relationship athletes have with the environment they are immersed in through a seamlessly interconnected dance represented through sailing, freediving, and skiing.
Ocean Hour Film will premiere in May 2023 in Newport, Rhode Island, in conjunction with The Ocean Race’s only U.S. stopover – more information will be available soon on the film’s digital hub, where you can sign up to receive updates.
Meet 11th Hour Racing’s ambassadors who are creating change for the ocean.
11th Hour Racing is part of the family of philanthropic organizations and initiatives started by Eric and Wendy Schmidt to make the world a better place for everyone. The Schmidt Family Foundation supports a number of organizations in Cape Town and Johannesburg that work on issues ranging from sustainable fisheries and agroecology to community organizing for clean energy access and human rights.