“There is an old Malay legend in which two warriors once dueled to the death. The island gods transformed the bodies of the two mighty warriors into a pair of small islands, separated by a narrow strait. These islands became known as Pulau Hantu Kecil and Pulau Hantu Besar.”
There may be little to remind the modern Singaporean of those ancient legends, but the islands still remain. The shallow, protected lagoons and the strait between the two islands, collectively known as Pulau Hantu, are popular destinations for beach-goers in this vibrant City-State at the southern tip of Malaysia. Singapore sits on the Straits of Malacca, which connect the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, and are considered the world’s heaviest traveled seaway.
“Freediving is one of the few sports that provides a new experience every time I do it. It is a journey into the unknown. The ability to transport your mind away from the world with a physical presence.” Bernard Wong
For Bernard Wong, founder of Singapore Freedivers, the irony is that his island nation has almost no diveable waters. With the exception of Palau Hantu, which has poor visibility and shallow depths, freedivers in Singapore have to travel elsewhere to enjoy the world’s fastest growing sport. Bernard explains that “There is no avoiding the travel to freedive. In terms of safety, the visibility is very bad and the traffic (boats) is too high in our waters.”
We are standing on the shore of the Singapore Strait, looking southward towards Indonesia. We had met at the East Coast Park Food Market…a popular “Hawker Food” center for a quick lunch. Bernard was soon explaining some of the history behind Singapore and their ambitious land-reclamation projects. He pointed out that the 185 hectare East Coast Park is the largest park in Singapore, and is built entirely upon reclaimed land.
As we stood on the man-made beach and watched the hundreds of container ships queuing up to offload their cargo at the Port of Singapore, Bernard Wong told DeeperBlue.com about founding Singapore Freedivers about five years ago.
“I wanted to go freediving, but I had no trained diving buddies. I wanted to train and educate people to freediving…build the sport in my country.”
As an AIDA (International Association for the Development of Apnea) Freediving Instructor who was certified through Apnea Academy and Pure Apnea (based in South Africa), Bernard recognized an unique opportunity to introduce the sport of freediving to Singaporeans. Up until the founding of Singapore Freedivers, most people viewed freediving as a cheap alternative to Scuba diving, but there was no route to local certification or any freediving clubs. With little participation in the sport, there was a real lack of interest in organizing trips to the Coral Triangle.
“There is no real freediving spots in Singapore. We mostly arrange trips to dive in Cebu in the Philippines or Bali in Indonesia,” Bernard tells DeeperBlue.com.
“We provided people who wanted to learn freediving an opportunity. We introduced the sport as exercise or fitness training” explained Wong. “We hold pool training and have monthly training sessions and classes and organize monthly trips to freediving destinations. These trips are from 3-6 days and we get to experience the depths and the marine life we can’t get around Singapore.”
The fitness component is also an important aspect of Bernard’s interest in the sport. An accomplished bicyclist, Bernard has won Gold at the 1997 South East Asian Games, which is a bi-annual multi-sports event that takes place between the years when the Olympic Games and the Asian Games are held. This level of athleticism translates into Bernard Wong’s enviable 6 minute plus Static breathhold times and 40 meter plus depth dives.
When asked about pool competitions in Singapore, Bernard tells DeeperBlue.com that he is working with the Apnea Association of Singapore, the AIDA National body for Singapore to organize future sanctioned pool competitions. The AAS hosted the Singapore Freediving Open in September of 2015, which was the first AIDA National Competition in Singapore. “I look forward to our country hosting some more quality pool competitions very soon” says Bernard, with his infectious smile beaming. “Perhaps you will come and compete?” We have no doubt that would be a golden opportunity to experience Freediving in this tropic paradise.
You can find out more about Singapore Freedivers on their website.
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