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How he’s fast-tracking underwater dreams with bond-free scholarship
Lucas Chew Singaporean Finswimmer
National finswimmer Lucas Chew wants to be a fish farmer in the future. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

This national athlete and NUS Sports scholar is embracing life at full speed, both in and out of the water

The next time you catch finswimmer Lucas Chew competing, it is best not to blink.

The 22-year-old mono-finswimmer can cut through water and finish a 100m race in just 42.45 seconds – a triumph he achieved when representing Singapore at the 2022 SEA Games in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“The fastest I’ve gone is 16 seconds in 50m. Before I even think about taking a breath, I’ve already reached the wall. It is really exhilarating,” says the national swimmer. 

“I love the speed and the thrill. Some say finswimming is the F1 (Formula One) of swimming.” 

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Finswimming is a turbocharged underwater sport that involves swimming with the use of carbon-fibre fins – single or double – and snorkels. It is a sport that has been gaining traction over the years and made a return to the SEA Games in 2022, after an 11-year hiatus. 

“I love the speed and the thrill… Some say finswimming is the F1 (Formula One) of swimming.”

– Mr Lucas Chew, recipient of the NUS Sports Scholarship

Mr Chew does not just swim like a fish; he is also fascinated with everything under the sea. The aspiring fish farmer is a first-year undergraduate pursuing environmental studies under the National University of Singapore (NUS) Sports Scholarship. 

“I study plants and fish, and how they co-exist,” he says. “I love seeing fish swim around peacefully and being a farmer is humbling because whatever you produce will go to restaurants or people’s homes. I like the idea of making such a contribution.”

Truth be told, Mr Chew admits he disliked swimming in the beginning. It was something his parents started him on to manage his asthma, but noticing his knack for the sport, his swim coach got him to compete at age four.

Mr Chew competing at the 18th Asian Finswimming Championships in Phuket, Thailand in 2023. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LUCAS CHEW

He was fast and enjoyed the thrill of the speed, but the training was tough and he decided to give it up at the end of primary school.

“My parents agreed to it but they told me to choose a sport of my choice in secondary school,” he recalls. “Funnily enough, when the time came, I chose swimming again. As much as I didn’t enjoy training, I didn’t have an interest in other sports. This time, it was also different because it was my choice.”

However, it was only at polytechnic that Mr Chew chanced upon finswimming. He entered a sport lifesaving course which had a segment where swimmers don fins while rescuing people in the water or ocean. 

One try and he was hooked. “I love the speed. It also gave a different dimension to a sport that I already enjoyed,” he says.

Wanting to take it to the next level, Mr Chew tried out for and was accepted into the Singapore national finswimming team in July 2019. Soon after, he represented the nation at the 17th Asian Finswimming Championships in December that year.

The next lap

While pursuing his passion for finswimming, Mr Chew was also on the lookout for a tertiary education that would enable him to continue as a Team Singapore athlete.

“A lot of athletes worry that when they enter university, it might clash with their sport, and they can only choose one,” he shares.

Thankfully, the NUS Sports Scholarship affords him bboth the rigour of education while training locally with the Singapore team. Although being a student-athlete is demanding, the scholarship helps him balance both. Mr Chew also has a dedicated sports manager who serves as a mentor and assists him with goal-setting. 

In addition, the NUS Sports Scholarship is bond-free. “I was offered other bonded scholarships, but having the freedom to decide what I want to do is my recipe for success,” he says.

Mr Chew gets the flexibility to schedule classes around his training and his lecturers are supportive enough to let him work around examinations and assignment deadlines should they clash with competition season.

Mr Chew (front row, second from left) with his teammates from the Singapore finswimming national team at the SEA Games in Vietnam, Hanoi in 2022. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ANDY CHUA, SINGAPORE NATIONAL OLYMPIC COUNCIL

However, nothing is possible without discipline, says Mr Chew who plans his days meticulously – from the minute he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed – in order to attend classes, complete his schoolwork and report for training every evening.

This July, he will also be heading to one of the world’s largest agritech centres in Chicago, United States, for his summer exchange programme. Despite the fact that he will have to miss a competition, an excited Mr Chew has chosen to go because it is a step closer to realising his fish farming dreams. 

It is a brutal schedule, but Mr Chew says it is important to find something you are passionate about at a young age as it makes all the difference. 

“There is a lot of character-building in sports. I find the discipline that comes with it very useful,” he says. “I credit my swimming background for a lot of things I can do right now academically as it has helped me to stay more focused.

“I hated swimming at first, but now I love it. Imagine if you did something you loved from the start, how beautiful would that be.” 

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