The blue whale is the world’s largest mammal, but sightings of the elusive creature are rare. This makes Lim Anqi’s encounter in February 2019 all the more extraordinary. “I was freediving along Sri Lanka’s northeastern coast,” she shares. “It was so huge, it was like watching a train go by as it passed me!”
Enthralling underwater encounters are just one of many reasons why the 37-year-old Singaporean left her consumer banking role 10 years ago to be a scuba diving instructor. In 2014, she was teaching on the small island of Koh Lipe in Thailand when she learnt to freedive (breath-hold diving without scuba equipment), a sport she soon grew to love and excel at.
In 2015, Lim entered her first freediving competition and has since taken part in more than 10 other competitive events. In June 2018, she clinched the top prize for the overall woman’s category at the Asian Freediving Cup in Panglao in the Philippines, and in August 2019, she set four new national records at the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (CMAS) 2019 World Freediving Championships in Honduras.
While winning competitions are always a thrill, it’s the freedom and beauty of being underwater that has the strongest pull. “The silence and vastness of the ocean calm me,” she says. Indeed, many freedivers can attest to the meditative aspect of the sport. Relying on just a single breath, freedivers need to enter a peaceful, focused state of mind that enables them to stay underwater for longer.
Freediving has also taken Lim to many fascinating destinations, including the Unesco-listed Raja Ampat in Indonesia and the stunning Greek island of Amorgos (where Luc Besson’s iconic dive film The Big Blue was filmed). She says, “Freediving allows me to simply let go and play.”
Best Asian free-diving spots
Panglao, The Philippines
This island – two hours by ferry from Cebu – offers warm waters and easily accessible dive sites. There are also many dive schools here, making it suitable for all levels.
The highlight is the USAT Liberty shipwreck, easily accessible from the shore. Along with the nearby Amed Beach, this area is popular with beginner and advanced freedivers.