To award-winning free diver Lim Anqi, one of the best places in the world is between 25 and 30 metres below the ocean’s surface. This is where she begins the free fall, a surreal phase in the free dive where her mind empties itself of its thoughts and woes.
“The free fall is beautiful. I’m completely relaxed. I simply surrender to the ocean and just sink into it,” says Lim. “Freediving is akin to meditation. It forces you to clear all the chatter in the mind and focus on being present.”
Some of her friends and family members might argue that the 40-year-old has indeed been free falling through life. After graduating from Nanyang Technological University with a first-class honours in accountancy, Lim landed herself a job at Citibank. For many, this would have seemed like the perfect start to achieving the Singapore Dream.
But Lim never enjoyed crunching numbers. She also cared little for the societal narrative of success. This path in life, she explains, was simply her being a product of her milieu.
Five years into the job, she threw caution to the wind and took the plunge, pivoting to becoming a scuba diving instructor while exploring the world. Her initial intention was to take a year-long sabbatical, then return to the rat race — but her heart had other plans.
This adventure of a lifetime has since spanned more than a decade and taken her to countries including the Philippines, Maldives, Greece, Indonesia, Thailand, Egypt, Honduras and Mexico.
Her fascination with the ocean also gave birth to another business idea, the Sea Glass Project, a store on e-commerce site Etsy that sells jewellery made from glass that’s washed up on beaches. Lim also uses this project to raise awareness of the importance of sea conservation.
As liberating as her carefree lifestyle was, it also came with its own set of woes, one source of which was the people closest to her.
“They saw me as a beach bum,” laughs Lim. “My family did not approve of what I was doing. They thought that what I was doing was not financially stable.”
I prefer to listen to my body and allow it to decide when the right time is to go deeper. The key is to focus on the journey, not the destination.
Her family wasn’t wrong. Lim admits she had to dig into her savings on occasion to tide through the scuba diving low seasons. But to her, financial stability was overrated, especially when compared to waking up to breathtaking views of the ocean and the sea breeze in her messy hair.
“Sometimes, I would compare my life with those of my peers, who were making far more money than I was. But it didn’t really bother me,” she says. “To me, what’s important is being true to myself and just living in the moment.”
In 2014, while on a scuba diving trip in Thailand, the intrepid adventurer discovered and fell in love with the sport of freediving. As it turned out, she had more than just a knack for it. At her competitive debut just a year later, she set a new women’s national record in the constant weight with fins category with a free dive of 38 metres. Despite receiving no support from national sporting bodies, Lim continued to pursue this newfound passion and broke more national records in the years that followed.
In 2019, Lim blacked out during a training dive for the Caribbean Cup competition in Honduras and had to be resuscitated.
But even that near-death experience did little to rattle her. She ended up bagging a bronze medal and earning a place in the annals of sporting history — she is the first Singaporean to win a medal at a major freediving competition.
In light of the pandemic, which has severely curtailed travel and affected the demand for scuba diving lessons, Lim has had to rethink her career once more. But instead of taking the seemingly obvious solution of returning to the banking sector, she’s making the bold move of going back to school — to learn physiotherapy.
This does not mean her freediving exploits are over. When asked if she is aiming to break her personal best record of 70 metres this year, her response was one that aptly sums up her life.
“The thing about freediving is that if you’re too focused on the number, it’s going to be hard to achieve it,” she says. “I prefer to listen to my body and allow it to decide when the right time is to go deeper. The key is to focus on the journey, not the destination.”