Freediving: Singapore's Lim Anqi defies the odds to win a medal in a major freediving contest

Freediver Lim Anqi competing in the recent Caribbean Cup in Honduras (above). She came third in the constant weight no fins discipline, diving to a depth of 47m and breaking her previous 45m record.
Freediver Lim Anqi competing in the recent Caribbean Cup in Honduras (above). She came third in the constant weight no fins discipline, diving to a depth of 47m and breaking her previous 45m record. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LAURA BABAHEKIAN
Freediver Lim Anqi (above) competing in the recent Caribbean Cup in Honduras (right). She came third in the constant weight no fins discipline, diving to a depth of 47m and breaking her previous 45m record.
Freediver Lim Anqi (above) competing in the recent Caribbean Cup in Honduras. She came third in the constant weight no fins discipline, diving to a depth of 47m and breaking her previous 45m record.PHOTO: COURTESY OF LAURA BABAHEKIAN

As freediver Lim Anqi descends into the water, a sense of tranquillity sets in. She finds herself submerged in a completely different world, in vast waters that are teeming with marine life.

But for each dive, her admiration of all that surrounds her in the sea is limited to a few minutes - as long as a single breath can sustain her for.

It is a risky endeavour but it paid off when she became the first Singaporean to win a medal at a major freediving competition.

At the recent Caribbean Cup, which concluded on Monday, she earned a third-placed finish in the constant weight no fins discipline, diving to a depth of 47m - breaking her previous record of 45m.

She set another two personal bests in competition and national records at the competition in the constant weight bifins (60m) and free immersion (60m) events.

"To be able to accomplish that and get third place along with a world record holder is amazing," said Lim, noting that Italy's Alessia Zecchini (73m) was also in the field.

Lim's next big competition is the Confederation Mondiale des Activites Subaquatiques (CMAS) 2019 World Freediving Championships in Roatan, Honduras. It started yesterday and runs until Sunday.

  • What is freediving?

  • Freediving is a form of underwater diving in which divers do not rely on breathing apparatus. Instead, they see how deep they can go on a single breath.

    A weighted guide rope, which has a metal depth plate attached to the end, is used to measure the depth of the dive. Before starting their dives, divers have to indicate their targeted depth. This is controlled based on previous performances to ensure that divers do not overexert themselves.

    When they reach the plate, they have to take a tag, before swimming back up to the surface.

    Within 15 seconds of resurfacing, they are required to complete a surface protocol where they have to remove their face equipment like goggles, indicate with hand signals that they are okay and say "I am OK".

    DIFFERENT DISCIPLINES

    • Constant weight: With a small weight attached, divers in wetsuits descend with either monofins or bifins. Mono-fins are swimfins that hold the two legs together while bifins are worn on the feet separately. The use of the guide rope is usually not allowed.

    • Constant weight no fins: The difference between this and the constant weight discipline is that no fins are used. Divers have to rely on muscle strength to move.

    • Free immersion: Like the constant weight no fins discipline, free immersion does not use fins. However, divers are allowed to use the guiding rope.

On Sunday, she will attempt to go farther than she has ever been before, by setting a CMAS national record with a 54m dive in the free immersion discipline to commemorate Singapore's 54th birthday.

Holding one's breath for a prolonged period can sometimes pose a health hazard to divers.

Lim experienced her first blackout - a loss of consciousness due to a lack of oxygen from holding one's breath for a long time - recently during training.

To pursue freediving is a risky endeavour, she admitted. "These dives really push your body to the limit. Every time you do more, there's always some risk, there's always the possibility of a squeeze, barotrauma, and you could black out."

But she loves what she does, noting: "It's amazing to be in the water like that, swimming around without any tanks. I have a passion for the ocean, the underwater world. I get to spend one or two hours in the water, enjoy the marine life."

The 36-year-old took the plunge into freediving five years ago. She was a scuba-diving instructor in Thailand when she met a freediving instructor at the dive shop she was working at. In scuba diving, she would venture into deep waters with an oxygen tank, and she was intrigued by how freediving would require her to do so in a single breath.

On her first try, she managed to travel only 8m down, but she has since gone on to participate in competitions in the Philippines, Indonesia, Egypt and Greece, and even won the overall woman's category at the Asian Freediving Cup in Panglao, the Philippines, last year.

However, it has been far from easy. Apart from going for basic freediving courses to get the necessary certification, Lim has been her own coach, which is tough. She said: "I had to figure out by myself what was limiting my dives, what the issues were, what you need to work on."

PUSHED TO THE LIMIT

These dives really push your body to the limit. Every time you do more, there's always some risk, there's always the possibility of a squeeze, barotrauma, and you could black out.

LIM ANQI

To overcome this, she occasionally relied on camera recordings to observe and analyse her techniques.

From 2017 to early this year, she had a day job working at a polytechnic's career office here. She had to tweak her training regimen to the conditions here, focusing instead on running, increasing her breath-hold in a normal pool, and yoga.

Funding is almost non-existent and she sought help in raising the $6,500 needed for the trip to the World Freediving Championships.

She hopes that her participation at the World Championships together with compatriot Chua Shuyi will open more doors for freedivers in the country.

She said: "It is significant to represent Singapore, to have a first presence at the World Championships.

"I hope that this sets a precedent for the future, that we will have a team, supported by country and the federation, to be present at these competitions."



PHOTO: COURTESY OF ALEX ST-JEAN

Singaporean freediver wins medal

Freediver Lim Anqi became the first Singaporean to win a medal at a major freediving competition when she finished third in the constant weight no fins discipline at the Caribbean Cup, which ended on Monday. The 36-year-old set a personal record in competition with her 47m dive, and also set two national records in the constant weight bifins (60m) and free immersion (60m) events in Honduras. She will attempt a 54m dive in the free immersion discipline at the Confederation Mondiale des Activites Subaquatiques 2019 World Freediving Championships in Roatan, Honduras, on Sunday.


Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity and accuracy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2019, with the headline 'First Singaporean to win medal at major freediving contest'. Print Edition | Subscribe