All of us need water in order to survive. But for some people, water means more—it’s a purpose in life that inspires them to accomplish great things. These five outstanding individuals continue to remind us of the importance of water

“What draws me to the sea again and again is ultimately the magic of the depths”


All of us need water in order to survive. But for some people, water means more—it’s a purpose in life that inspires them to accomplish great things. These five outstanding individuals continue to remind us of the importance of water

The Diver

Normal diving is not enough for Anna von Boetticher, a freediver who explores the ocean depths.

How long can you hold your breath? Anna von Boetticher’s record is six minutes and 12 seconds—underwater. At the age of 47, she is one of the world’s best freedivers, or apnea divers. She holds 33 German records and one world championship. Apnea is defined as the temporary cessation of breathing. Before diving into the water, an apnea diver takes a deep breath that must be sufficient for the entire length of the dive. There’s no oxygen tank to rely on—and that poses extreme and life-threatening challenges for the human body. Ascending too rapidly to the surface can result in paralysis. Anna von Boetticher takes the risks in stride. She made her first dive at the age of 17, supported by scuba equipment. But she soon decided that she needed a bigger challenge. “I simply wanted to know how much air I’d still have if something went wrong underwater,” she said in an interview with the German newspaper taz in 2011. Freediving is her passion—but her profession is quite tame. She owns a bookstore in Berlin. As a sideline, she teaches young frogmen in the German navy how to keep their wits about them while underwater.

Photo: Wolf Heider-Sawall/laif

“The ocean has opened up huge opportunities for me. I’m very grateful for that”

The Billionaire

At the age of 18, Kjell Inge Røkke went off to sea in a fishing cutter. Today he’s one of the richest men in Norway, and his ambition is to free the ocean of plastic particles.

Toward freedom and adventure: Life on the high seas attracts people who want to be free of all constraints. One of these people was Kjell Inge Røkke, who left school in the early 1980s to cast fishing nets from a cutter off the coast of Alaska. In this environment, Røkke soon developed a talent for business. As soon as he had saved enough money, he bought his own fishing cutter. The risk paid off: He soon became the owner of an entire fishing fleet, and he followed this up by buying the shipyards where his fishing boats were built. In 1990 Røkke bought a controlling interest in Kværner, which was Norway’s biggest company at that time. The young school dropout who had become a fisherman was now one of Norway’s wealthiest men. Today he has still not forgotten that he owes his wealth mainly to the sea. That’s why he has commissioned the construction of a 181-meter-long ship that will be able to dive to a depth of 600 meters and remove plastic waste from the sea. In an interview in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, Røkke explained, “I want to give back to society the bulk of what I’ve earned.”

Photo: Karl Braanaas

“Don’t panic! Everything’s okay. You can hold on to me”

The Rescuer

Baywatch is only a movie, but the beach in Hörnum on the island of Sylt is real. This is where 30-year-old Philine Häbich saves lives.

The ocean is beautiful, but it can also be life-threatening. Philine Häbich knows that from her own experience. A few years ago, as she was swimming alone in the North Sea, a current pushed her against a cliff. She managed to save herself with the last ounce of her strength. Today Häbich is saving other people’s lives. Since 2013, she has been working as a lifeguard on the beach in Hörnum on the North Sea island of Sylt. While others swim for relaxation, she keeps a close watch. She often has to dive into the waves to save swimmers who have gone out too far and underestimated the strength of the current, or elderly vacationers who have a heart attack. In such cases, a lifeguard has to not only make a supreme physical effort but also calm down the swimmer who is in trouble. “Many swimmers become panicky. I call out to them even before I reach them that everything’s going to be okay and they can hold on to me,” she says. After the end of a two-year break to take care of her young son, she will return to her job next spring. In the winter she works in Berlin as a paramedic, and during the six months of spring and summer she lives in her camper van behind the dunes in Sylt. There the thunder of the waves wakes her every morning to a new day, new vacationers, and new emergencies.

Photo: Hardy Mueller H./laif

“I feel really at home in the water. That’s where I belong”

The Athlete

Swimming pools are Michael Phelps’ natural habitat: This is where he has won a whole series of gold medals.

Every sport has its undisputed champion: Pélé in soccer, Michael Schumacher in Formula 1 auto racing, Roger Federer in tennis—and Michael Phelps in swimming. This 32-year-old US swimmer has won 26 Olympic medals, including 22 in gold, thus setting a lasting record. Such an extraordinary career is possible only through rigorous training. “If I want something, I give it my very best effort, and then I achieve it,” said Phelps in an interview in the German newspaper Die Welt in 2013. At the peak of his career, Phelps spent six days a week swimming laps. That requires not only discipline and a will of iron but also a passionate love of swimming: plunging into the water and gliding through it, always chasing after the next record. Phelps concluded his career at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016 after standing on the winners’ rostrum one last time—with a gold medal around his neck, of course.

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

“To make good beer you need high-quality brewing water. The spring makes all the difference”

The Brewer

Beer brewing is an art. Susanne Horn uses only the best ingredients for her beer—and that also applies to the water.

The main ingredient of beer is neither hops or malt—it’s water, which makes up 80 percent of its volume. As a result, water quality plays a crucial role in brewing, especially if the label on the beer bottle has an organic seal of approval on it. Susanne Horn, the 43-year-old Managing Director of the Neumarkter Lammsbräu organic brewery, therefore pays close attention to the source of her brewing water. She uses only water from an organically certified spring that runs 76 meters under the earth. The origin of the brewing water influences the taste of the beer, she explains: “If we were to move our brewery to another region, our beer would have a different taste.” Her predecessor launched the first organic beer on the market back in the 1980s. Today her company is the most successful organic brewery in Germany.

Photo: Natalie Neomi Isser/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo

“Water should be a public good”

The Activist

To make a great idea a reality, you need passionate people—real fighters. People like Maude Barlow.

Clean water for all: On July 28, 2010, the UN declared that access to water is a human right. It was a historic moment—and a triumph for Maude Barlow, who has dedicated her life to this goal. Nonetheless, to date the human right to water has been merely an ambitious promise. Barlow, who is now 70, is tirelessly continuing her struggle to make it a reality. Her main battles are waged against the privatization of the water supply. “If water is privatized, there’s no motivation to provide clean and healthy water for everyone,” she said in an interview in the German newspaper Tagesspiegel in 2013. “I have no problem with the production of cars and running shoes being privatized,” she says. “But why should we put the access to something that all of us need in order to live in the hands of a few wealthy people?” To prevent that from happening, Barlow has written many books and chaired the Council of Canadians, which is Canada’s biggest citizen advocacy organization. She is also a co-founder of the Blue Planet Project environmental protection movement. She was honored with the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, in 2005. Her message is: People don’t consider it self-evident that every person must have enough water to live. We have to struggle to make people see that.

Photo: Ullsteinbild

“In the universe there are many bodies of water without life, but there’s no life without water”

The Researcher

“In the universe there are many bodies of water without life, but there’s no life without water”The ocean is her life: For decades, Sylvia Earle has been researching the world beneath the waves and fighting against its destruction.

The ocean depths are full of secrets. In the past 50 years, Sylvia Earle has revealed some of them—and in the process she has overcome barriers again and again. For example, during an ocean expedition in 1979 she dived to a depth of 381 meters, setting a world record that has earned her the title of “Her Deepness.” At that time Earle was already a renowned oceanographer. In the course of her countless expeditions all over the world’s oceans, she soon realized that pure research was not enough for her. The struggle to protect the oceans became her life’s mission. “The ocean is our survival system. Anyone who believes that the ocean is not all that important should simply imagine the world without its oceans,” she said in an interview in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel in 2016. Through her activism, Earle wants to shake people awake, inform them, and point out ways to emerge from the present crisis. To achieve her goal, she has written many books and more than 100 scientific articles about protection of the oceans. She has also made films, served as an advisor to two US governments, and found the time to build a submarine together with her husband. In 2009 she founded the Mission Blue organization, which is dedicated to protecting the oceans. Today “Her Deepness” is 82—but she wouldn’t dream of retiring. Her mission of saving the oceans is far from finished.

Photo: Todd Brown

“Nothing and nobody can tame or conquer the ocean”

The Seafarer

Christopher Rynd steers ships such as the Queen Mary 2 across the ocean with a steady hand. For him, fostering a sense of community on board is at least equally important.

Christopher Rynd first experienced the high seas in a small boat beside his father, who took him along on fishing expeditions in the South Pacific. “My father was a seafarer with his heart and soul. He loved the ocean,” says Rynd, who was born in New Zealand. His father’s passion for the ocean inspired him to put out to sea himself at an early age. He began his training as a naval cadet when he was 17 and received his master’s degree in London in 1979. Soon he was traveling around the world in ships that were quite a few sizes larger than the fishing boat of his childhood. The ships he commanded included the cruise ships Royal Princess and Pacific Sky. In 2005 Rynd took command of the Queen Elizabeth 2. In 2011 he became the Commodore of the entire Cunard fleet, which includes the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Victoria. This was the culmination of his career on the high seas. He feels that his guests and his crew are more than mere customers and employees. They are a community, and Rynd, who is now 63, guides it with a steady hand through seas that can sometimes be stormy. “The ocean is a primeval force that can sometimes grow wild.”

Photo: Getty Images