Saturday, January 19, 2008

Meet Wolfgang Leander: 50-Year Shark Diver

From This Is London:

The shadowy flippered figure gliding through the water with more than 30 tiger sharks off the coast of South Africa is 67-year-old Wolfgang Leander.

Swimming with sharks is his hobby.

It has led to surprisingly few mishaps, though nonetheless there's something unnerving about the way this steely-eyed pensioner describes a potentially fatal encounter he had with a hungry Caribbean Reef Shark that was drawn to him by the scent of the fish he had just speared.

But mentally? Nothing has changed.

"Wisdom doesn't come automatically with age," he says.

Leander - son of a German-Jewish airman who fled Berlin in 1936 to escape the Nazis and ended up in South America - has been pursuing his perilous hobby since he was 14.

His fascination with the creatures - "Nothing is more aesthetic than their hydro-dynamic shape and grace.

"They remind me of the architecture of the most advanced aeroplanes," he says - began when he was six and read a book about diving and underwater monsters. And that fascination has never abated.

To get as close to sharks as possible, the former banker free-dives, relying on lung-power rather than oxygen tanks to breathe.

"It makes you feel you're not an intruder. And it's more sporting," he says.

To protect him, he has nothing more than a wetsuit, a pair of flippers, a camera and a pole spear that he uses to fend off those that get a little too close.

"I churn the water to get the sharks a little excited," he says,

"enough to make them approach me curiously or even boldly. It's like being on the edge. Some people think I am crazy and they are probably right."

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