Diving into the Deep:  Kehan Pan’s Journey of Freediving and Self-Exploration

In the profound azure depths,  Kehan Pan (Eric)  found his tranquility and strength. His story, from the harsh cold of his homeland in Northeast China to the warmth of the Pacific, from the halls of academia to the depths of the ocean, is a journey of courage, self-discovery, and endless exploration. Eric’s early life was filled with conventional success, but it was in the deep sea of freediving that he discovered his true self and passion for life.

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For the first 20 years of his life, Pan was no different from many high achievers, earning admission to Tsinghua University, China’s top academic institution and expecting a promising career However, his life took a complete turn in the summer of 2017. At 22, Pan first encountered freediving during a trip and quickly developed a keen interest, embarking on another successful trajectory of his life. In 2019, Pan moved from Beijing to Chicago, for a master’s degree at Northwestern University. In this diverse environment, he encountered people from different cultural backgrounds and shared with them his love for freediving. Parallel to his academic pursuits, Eric kept on freediving training and used free time and holidays to further his freediving education in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Pan’s dedication and talent quickly led to significant progress in freediving. By the time he graduated with his master’s degree, he had made a lot of progress in freediving; he surpassed his coach, an instructor with ten years of diving experience. At the end of 2018, he traveled to Egypt for training and successfully became an international freediving instructor, marking a new height of his athletic career.

As he enhanced technique and accumulated experience, Pan began to participate in international freediving competitions, and his exceptional talent in the sport started to emerge. In 2019, he competed in his first competition, the Caribbean Cup, and successfully dived to a depth of 63 meters, ranking 11th in the Free Immersion discipline. This competition not only sharpened his technique but more importantly, boosted his confidence and passion for competitive freediving.

During the pandemic in 2020, when international competitions were paused, Pan moved to Hawaii to continue training with Daniel Koval and Kristin Kuba, prominent members of the U.S. national team. Through daily interactions and training with these outstanding athletes, Eric realized that freediving is not just a sport, but a way to explore personal limits and find inner peace. Their deep friendship also quickly integrated Eric into the core group of American freedivers. In 2021, Pan participated in the prestigious Vertical Blue competition. As one of the youngest athletes, he successfully dived to 77 meters, earning a dedicated fan base with his unique skills.

Afterwards, he moved to LA, where he trained with the U.S. national team captain, Lance Lee Davis, who resides in Torrance, LA. Despite the water temperature dropping to 53°F in Redondo Beach, they persisted in training every week at 7 a.m., rain or shine. Apart from the training life, Eric is also a rare bilingual freediving instructor; and he offered English and Chinese freediving courses and trained students at Santa Catalina Island. He was beloved by his students – in their own words, “Eric’s intrinsic and infectious passion makes him a great instructor and ambassador for freediving. He is a very experienced athlete and trustworthy instructor. He guided us to realize the spiritual side of the sport.”

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Pan’s competitive journey continued. In 2022, he participated in the Caribbean Cup again, securing a sixth place in Constant Weight discipline. That year, he trained for two months in Hawaii with Daniel and Kristin, improving his monofin (CTW) from 72m to 82m. He later moved from LA to the San Francisco Bay area. He remained as a key figure in the Californian freediving community and continued teaching freediving and leading training sessions for other athletes.

In 2023, Pan participated in the 7th CMAS Freediving Outdoor World Championship. Interestingly, His friendship with Lance Lee Davis continued here, where they became neighbors again on the Roatan Island, Honduras, with Eric as the captain of Team China and Lance as the captain of  Team U.S.A. Their long lasting friendship supported them through the competition. To prepare for the World Championship, Eric arrived more than two months in advance at the competition site, Roatan Island, working remotely while training intensively. Despite the challenges from the tropical environment, such as currents, storms, and even tornadoes, Pan’s training went exceptionally well, quickly helping him to regain his competitive state and advance to depths over 90 meters. However, a month before the competition, Pan unfortunately contracted COVID-19. After experiencing high fever and a lengthy recovery, his physical condition and training plans were significantly affected. Facing such adversity, Pan demonstrated resilience and perseverance as an athlete. He resumed training a week before the competition and challenged all four disciplines at the competition. He announced relatively conservative target depths and successfully completed them, becoming one of the few athletes to perfectly finish all four dives despite the physical challenge. His 88m Constant Weight (CWT) dive made him the deepest freediver on the West Coast of America and ranked as the world’s top 12. His Free Immersion (FIM) dive of 83m brought him to the world’s top ten, a phenomenal achievement for a young athlete. These not only matched the best performances of U.S. national team members but also showcased his technical skills and game intelligence to the world.

After the World Championship, Pan went to Mexico to participate in the Azul Freediving Challenge, the largest depth freediving competition in North America. Despite sinus problem and his busy work schedule, he still performed well in the Constant Weight Bi-fins (CWTB) and Free Immersion (FIM) disciplines, winning two gold medals with depths of 77m and 78m, respectively. His performance demonstrated that he is one of the most outstanding freedivers in North America.

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2023 was undoubtedly a milestone in Pan’s freediving career marked with multi-dimensional accomplishments. Not only did he achieve excellent results as an athlete, but he also expanded his involvement in the freediving community through becoming an international judge. In the same year, he judged two international freediving competitions including the U.S. National Championship.

With the rapid global development of freediving, Pan has a clear vision for promoting the sport and enhancing his professional proficiency. In 2024, he plans to organize the first freshwater freediving competition in Northern California’s Lake Berryessa with the local dive shop. This will introduce more people in California to learn about and participate in freediving.

As Eric explores the unknown depths of the sea in search of tranquility, experiencing the freedom of body and mind, his life becomes a profound dive. Every breath, every leap, is both an exploration and an ode to infinite possibilities.

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