NEW CLARK CITY, Philippines: The first time Beckie Liu surfed, she got hit on the head by her surfboard.
But after just 30 minutes of learning to surf in Phuket, she was hooked.
“Ever since then, I haven’t stopped. It’s kind of like getting addicted ... you crave it, you think about it every day, it’s really like an obsessive kind of feeling," said Liu, who represented Singapore at the 30th SEA Games in the women’s longboard category.
This meant travelling overseas to surf. Liu, then a student at the National University of Singapore, would go on surf trips to places like Bali.
“I would stay in the cheapest guesthouses, just eat one, two-dollar meals because most of the money would be spent on accommodation and flights,” she said.
"(People) think I’m spending a lot of money," she said. "But if you plan it wisely and you don’t have very high expectations for your accommodation ... It’s cheaper than Singapore."
For Liu, it was not about competing - at least not yet.
“(It was) just pure passion. It’s like euphoria, it’s like being in love and it’s like your first love," she said.
"You feel like a kid again, that feeling of contentment ... It’s magical. The first time I went into the ocean and had the chance to experience what waves are like, the feeling was like coming home to something."
Her parents were supportive of her surfing, said Liu, but she knew she had to be financially independent to further her dream.
“I think not objecting was already a big support. I think I relied on my parents a little bit in the beginning,” she said.
“After that, when they said no and I had to pay for these trips for myself, that’s when I had to find a way to earn money and go. (I had) to (study) and earn money at the same time to fund my passion.”
So Liu decided to start her own business while in university, launching her swimwear brand Haikini.
“When I was young, I really liked sewing my own clothes and I told my mum when I was 12 that I wanted to be a fashion designer,” she said.
“When I started surfing, I found myself wanting to choose swimwear (that is) functional for the sport that also looked good," she added. "There were very few brands around that time that fit those criteria."
Drawing inspiration from a trip to Hawaii, Liu took her leap of faith.
“Swimwear is a pretty competitive industry. There are very low barriers to entry - if anyone wanted to do it, they could. It’s just like why, why do you want to do it?” she said.
“For me, I wanted to fund myself surfing, I also wanted to show girls in Singapore what you do in life is not bound by where you are.”
Even though she started from scratch, the business broke even within three months and has been profitable ever since, Liu said.
"I have a really tight community of customers, and they are the ones that really inspire me and motivate me to continue,” she said.
“My mission is to introduce surfing to more girls in Singapore, in Asia, try to increase Asian representation in surfing."
RIDING THE WAVES AT THE SEA GAMES
A chance encounter on Instagram opened up the window for Liu to compete at the SEA Games.
Liu had commented on a photo of a surfer “dropping on a wave” and as it turned out, he was part of the contingent heading to the Philippines.
“He discovered my profile and told (the) surfing association that this girl can do longboard,” she said. “They told me to do the qualifiers and I just went for them - it was my first time competing."
She joined Mohamad Nazir Salleh, Michael Lim, Arthur Kor, Michelle Ooi and Nurimran Jaffar in Singapore's first national team for surfing.
“I kind of reached the point where I was able to push myself in the sport so I was thinking of ways to just be better," said Liu, who had set herself the goal of competing in 2020.
Liu finished fifth in the women’s longboard event at her maiden Games - no mean feat considering the surf conditions following Typhoon Kammuri.
“The conditions were incredibly challenging. I arrived a month earlier to practice but the ocean could not have dealt us a more difficult hand,” she said. “Due to Typhoon Tisoy (Kammuri), the conditions were windy, waves were big, a little bumpy and messy too.
"It was difficult to find the right wave to ride but I managed to get a couple of good rides during my heats to get through to the bronze medal round."
Added Liu: “During the bronze medal match, I had a really bad wipeout. The pressure was on, and unfortunately the time and the waves were not on my side this time.
“Some days you win and some days you learn. You don't ever lose. This SEA Games experience taught me what I needed to work on for future competitions so I'm incredibly grateful no matter what the results are.”
This has not quelled her competitive fire - Liu plans to continue competing in the future.
After her SEA Games stint, she will return to Bali, where she surfs, manages her business and conducts surf camps for girls.
“I admire those people who can make their passions into their livings as well,” she said. “They say if your passion is your work, you will never work a day in your life. But I don’t think so, because if you are following a passion, you are working every day in your life - every waking moment you are thinking about work and your career.
“But I would never switch it, I would never say to myself, 'I'd rather do (something else)'."