On day one of Vertical Blue 2018 – the elite freediving competition held annually in the Bahamas – Chinese national record holding freediver Jessea Wenjie Lu announced a world record attempt in the discipline of Free Immersion (FIM), with a dive to 93m. For the first time at the competition, Diveye – the underwater drone – was live-streaming every dive in the event, to an audience watching from all over the world.

Jessea made the target depth – just as she had done when she performed the same dive some weeks prior in training – but this time, she suffered an underwater blackout (low levels of oxygen, leading to a loss of consciousness) and needed to be rescued by her safety divers, which effectively ending that edition of the competition for her. During the remainder of the course of the elite competition, the women’s FIM world record was contested by other high-level female competitors, being taken to 93m by Alessia Zecchini (Italy); and then Sayuri Kinoshita (Japan) took it further, first to 94m, and finally 97m.

Jessea Lu has since described this set-back as being an important learning experience, which has served to help her change and improve her understanding of herself, and in turn her approach to competitive freediving. Having carefully analyzed the factors that led this attempt to result in a different outcome to her training dives, Lu considers the experience to be a positive one. She is firmly regarded as being among the highest-level female athletes in freediving, despite only having been a competitive athlete (and regular medal winner) for three years, and a freediver for only four.

Jessea Lu
Jessea Lu

Known for her extremely long breath-hold, Jessea holds the Static (STA) National record for China, and currently ranks third in the world under AIDA rules in Static, with a personal best of eight minutes and one second. She is also number one in China in the other two pool disciplines with official performances in Dynamic (DYN) of 200m, and 150m in Dynamic No-Fins (DNF). She also holds the Chinese national records in two of the depth disciplines, with ratified dives in Free Immersion (FIM) to 86m and Constant Weight No-Fins (CNF) to 60m. In Constant Weight (CWT) – in which she is second deepest in China – Jessea’s personal best is just one metre behind Xu Tong Mika, who took the national record to 86m in 2018.

Amongst her many achievements on the international competition circuit, Jessea notably won a Silver medal for her FIM dive to 86m in the World Championships in 2017. That same year she had also won overall Gold medals in two other competitions: the Caribbean Cup in Roatan, and also at Deja Blue VIII in Grand Cayman. The previous year – her first time at Vertical Blue in the Bahamas – Lu won Silver for her Constant No Fins (CNF) dive to 60m, as well as breaking two Chinese national records.

Beyond competing, Jessea Lu is a self-proclaimed animal lover and enjoys frequent encounters with marine life both at home in Hawaii, and also during her travels worldwide.

In spite of Lu’s fear of the cold, in 2017 she became one of the first few people to explore the underwater world of the Antarctic on breath-hold, with her sponsor Harbor House Life. Traveling there on a small (15m) sailing boat proved not to be the most comfortable way to travel, but the trip as a whole was a dramatic and unique experience that she considered to be both exciting and also very challenging on many levels. She was able to interact with leopard seals, humpback whales, and penguins, and reconnect with the simpler elements of life.

Aside from being a talented freediver, Jessea is also a scientist, with a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Pharmacogenetics. Originally from Shanghai, Jessea studied Biomedical Research at Beijing University, and at the age of 22, she moved to the US for her Ph.D. studies. Upon completion, Jessea relocated again, this time to Hawaii, where she took her first freediving course in 2014. Lu continues to base herself largely in Hawaii, where she is able to work remotely as a pharmacogenetic consultant, and she teaches PFI freediving courses to students of all levels.

Jessea Lu, China #FacesOfFreediving Photo © Tim Calver/DeeperBlue.com
Jessea Lu, China #FacesOfFreediving Photo © Tim Calver/DeeperBlue.com

Jessea shared a little bit about herself with DeeperBlue.com: her freediving passions that lie outside of competitions, where she loves to dive, and what freediving has meant for her. Read on to find out more!

DeeperBlue.com: What continues to inspire your freediving?

Jessea Lu: In general, I freedive to spend time with friends and animals in the water. Freediving also gives me an opportunity to gain awareness of inner emotions which, I believe, sets the tone for the day-to-day experience of life. In turn, it improves my experience.

DB: Who do you most admire in the freediving world?

JL: I find myself inspired by many talented divers.

DB: Where are your favorite places to freedive?

JL: I prefer to freedive with marine animals, wherever they are. I had a great experience with dolphins in Kona (Hawaii), penguins in Antarctica, sea lions In Galapagos, seals in California, Mantas in the Maldives, turtles in Malaysia, sharks in Bahamas and Cuba, whales in Sri Lanka and Tonga.

Jessea Lu. Photo by Daan Verhoeven
Jessea Lu. Photo by Daan Verhoeven

DB: Can you tell us about any exciting locations that you would you love to freedive?

JL: Norway for orcas.

DB: What would be your best piece of training advice for beginner/intermediate freedivers?

JL: Train with people you are excited to spend time with.

DB: Top freediving athletes favor a variety of cross-training methods. What is your preferred form of dry training and why?

JL: I’m still experimenting, but I believe it will be something simple enough that I can do even if I’m constantly traveling.

Jessea on her way to a PB (photo © Daan Verhoeven)
Jessea on her way to a PB (photo © Daan Verhoeven)

DB: What is your pre-dive preference: breakfast or fasting?

JL: Fasting

DB: What general nutritional principles do you follow?

JL: For years before competitive freediving, I had iron-deficient anemia, so now I pay attention to iron-rich food. Other than that, any fresh ingredient is welcome.

DB: Freediving is a teacher: what important life-lessons has freediving given you?

JL: I used to fear being cold. Now I can embrace it. Before I hate eating ginger, now I like it. What else can I change?!

Super strong ladies, Jessea, Sofia and Tomoka (photo by Howard Holtzman)
Super strong ladies, Jessea, Sofia and Tomoka (photo by Howard Holtzman)

DB: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

JL: I never know. I want to dive frequently just like now – with beautiful and healthy coral reef, I hope.

DB: Can you describe your most memorable or significant dive?

JL: My first WR attempt of 93m free immersion dive in July 2018, in which I had my first underwater blackout. It was memorable because I learned so much about myself from this experience. I walked away feeling happy.

DB: Which of your achievements are you most proud of, and why?

JL: My 8 minutes static apnea in Beijing, 2016. It was the first time I returned to my home country for a competition and I got to celebrate with my Chinese friends.

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