Interview: Molchanovs Athlete Jessea Lu On Freediving Training and Competition

Interview: Molchanovs Athlete Jessea Lu On Freediving Training and Competition
By Kristina Zvaritch

We’re excited to welcome the most recent addition to our lineup of Molchanovs athletes - Jessea Wenjie Lu!

Jessea made a big splash in the freediving world shortly after her entrance into it almost 10 years ago. Born in Changzhou, China, Jessea moved to the US at 22 for her Ph.D. studies in Pharmacology and Pharmacogenetics. However, it was only after finishing her graduate degree and moving to Hawaii that she became inspired by freediving. In the middle of a scuba diving trip, Jessea stopped underwater to stare at freedivers moving gracefully below the surface and knew that it was something she must try for herself.

Since she began her competitive freediving career, Jessea has collected 1 World Record, 37 National Records, 15 gold medals, 7 silver medals, and 8 bronze medals under her weight belt. As a freediving educator, she’s certified over 500 students in both the USA and China in her role as Instructor Trainer. And finally, as an explorer, Jessea’s freediving adventures and deep love for animals have taken her all around the world - diving underneath blue whales in Sri Lanka, drifting through a school of hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos, and playing with penguins around melting icebergs in Antarctica, just to name a few!

In her current role on land, Jessea works remotely as the Senior Director of Clinical Pharmacology, where she supports the research and development of new drugs in the immunology and oncology fields. This allows her to travel the globe and freedive wherever the waters call her.

We wanted to know more about Jessea’s competition and training experience to share some tips with new freediving competitors, so we went to the source herself. Check out our interview with Jessea below!

Kristina Zvaritch: Hi Jessea! So you’re currently still ranked number one in China for both Static Apnea (STA) and Free Immersion (FIM). Do you have any plans to set new PBs in these disciplines? What about in other disciplines?

Jessea Lu: I’m in Vietnam today, but when I go home to Hawaii, I’ll get back to some training and hopefully go do some diving in Europe in the summertime. Because of the traveling, training plans are hard to be consistent - it depends on location availability, but I’m trying to dive as much as I can. So, currently, I have no plan for PBs or any kind of performance goals, just to enjoy it and dive as much as I can!

Also, in the past, I just felt that it didn’t work for me to plan for a PB - it just comes when the time is right.

KZ: What an instinctive approach, thanks for sharing that with us! Now tell me, among all freediving disciplines, which one has a special place in your heart as your favorite, and why?

JL: I like FIM the most - my hands and feet are exposed to water, and I can feel the water on my skin; it’s a really pleasant sensation. I also think that, on a deep dive, FIM allows for the possibility of small variations in movement rather than a very repetitive motion in the exact same fashion. In FIM, you can spin a little bit or move your hand a bit higher or a bit lower. So there’s some change you can play with, and I really enjoy that.

KZ: I definitely agree with you there! Going back to your freediving origins, could you share with us the story of how you first got involved in competitive freediving and what inspired you to pursue it?

JL: My first event was at Deja Blue in 2015, and that was organized by Performance Freediving International. My very first freediving class with PFI was with Kirk Krack, and he just casually invited me to join this competition in Grand Cayman as additional training. So it was 2 weeks of training followed by 1 week of competition. I was told it’s going to be so much fun and friendly, and I’m happy everyone just hung out and dived together. It didn’t even feel like it was a competition; the competition itself was just a continuation of the training weeks.

During the training weeks, we had already done all of the procedures for a competition day: we had a start list on training days, and everything was well-organized. The only change was that the judges were present; nothing else was different from the training weeks, so I really appreciated that. I especially appreciated the people that I met at that event - the feeling was very family-like. We all kind of accepted each other; it was collective fun and not a very intense competitive atmosphere at all.

It was really great actually, it was a wonderful experience!

KZ: What an inspirational entry into the competitive world. Now, thinking about your freediving journey, could you tell me about the most memorable competition day you’ve experienced so far and what made it so special?

JL: Actually, competition days are not as memorable to me as animal excursion days. But if I had to say a competition day, perhaps it would be either my blackout at Vertical Blue 2018 or my successful dive at Vertical Blue 2022, which was also my last competition - one of those two days!

I think those were more of the days when I could be more reflective on what made a dive work and what didn’t make it work, so it was more of a learning experience. It wasn’t just going and repeating the same thing I do all the time; it was more like a new experience where I went to learn something new about myself and experience something different. It was unique in a way, and that was why it was memorable.

But overall, I think the animal encounters are way more interesting, and I think back on those experiences a lot more than competitions!

KZ: I’m sure they are! So for our aspiring freedivers looking to enter the competitive world, what advice or tips would you offer to help them get started?

JL: Spend time studying competition rules. A small, detailed movement can make the difference between white card dives and a disqualification. The rules are as important as the training.

I would also say to treat competition as an experience rather than going there for specific results - don’t forget that it’s still a competition with yourself rather than with everybody else. It’s the safest and most controlled environment to explore your own limits, so anyone can sign up at any time - I really encourage that.

KZ: That’s absolutely true! So tell us, Jessea: how do you deal with pre-competition or pre-dive stress? Are there any particular techniques you use that you would recommend to new competitors?

JL: There’s always going to be stress - just don’t focus on it too much; it’s a normal thing, so just let it be. It shouldn’t affect the dive so much, it should be what we do as a normal dive. Also, the more competitions you go to, the more that stress will also become part of the routine.

It’s just not possible to avoid it!

KZ: That makes sense. Now, as an experienced athlete, what gear do you find essential for your freediving? Are there any favorites you recommend to others?

JL: My favorite pieces of equipment are nose clips and wetsuits - I think you can do a lot with those two. Of course, the wetsuit protects the body against sunburn and jellyfish stings, provides warmth, etc. I’m not a fan of masks; I don’t mind not seeing things clearly when freediving, especially when there are no animals! The feeling is more important. I just really like the feeling of a nose clip, I can equalize so my hands are free to swim. It’s a very calming sensation to me.

I’ve also always enjoyed diving with Molchanovs fins. They allow me to explore my potential with uncompromised comfort, and it just became natural to continue using these amazing fins in my training.

KZ: Great to hear about Molchanovs fins! Speaking of fins, what’s your preference for bifins and monofin: carbon or fiberglass? Do you feel a difference in performance between the two?

JL: For bifins, I definitely prefer carbon - there is a noticeable difference in performance. For monofin, I’ve dived with a fiberglass blade, and it was enough for me. Although I have not tested the carbon monofin yet.

I did recently got a new monofin from Molchanovs, and I’m excited to try it out!

KZ: We’re excited, too! Now, could you please walk us through your typical training routine? Do you participate in other sports or activities besides freediving to supplement your training?

JL: To be honest, I don’t really have a training routine as I’m not a routine person. I like to keep things as simple as possible - the only thing I do is get up and stretch, I don’t eat breakfast, and I go do my dive. It’s just that simple, nothing too complicated.

I train part-time because I always have to work, so my training has to fit around my work. That’s kind of a challenge along the way. But the good thing is I think that freediving is an interesting sport - it does not demand somebody’s full-time commitment to improve and progress. It’s more of a short-duration but intensive sport in which someone can commit short blocks of training time and still be able to progress quite visibly.

For other sports and activities, I do love horseback riding and kitesurfing, but not for the purpose of supplementing freediving!

KZ: That’s a great point, which brings me to my next question! Balancing between your professional commitments and training routine can be difficult. How do you manage to balance both work and training effectively?

JL: There’s also only limited time for everybody; we only have 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so it’s a choice depending on each person’s situation. Sometimes, we cannot do two things at 100% each; we have to prioritize one thing over the other for a certain period of time, and I think that’s okay. We just have to find out what’s the right balance for each person.

One tip I’d give is multi-tasking whenever possible. I used to work on equalization while I was waiting in the coffee line or for an airplane, and stretches can be done while you’re watching TV. There are things you can multitask in your daily life!

KZ: Alright, that covers training - now onto nutrition. Maintaining proper nutrition is a must for athletes. Do you follow a specific diet centered around supporting your freediving training? If so, could you share some insights into your diet and how it helps your performance?

JL: I’m Chinese, so I eat everything—no specific diet. But I do love meat and fresh fruits and vegetables—something that is available locally and just balanced, I guess.

Bon appétit!

KZ: Thank you! Now, to wrap things up - where is your favorite place to train depth? What about the pool?

JL: My favorite place to train depth would be somewhere accessible from shore without having to use a boat. Most importantly, it’s with happy divers and good people. I really like Kona, Hawaii, but in recent years, I think a lot of divers have moved away because the cost of living is very high in Hawaii. But I really like Hawaii - if more people would be around, that would be great!

For swimming pools - probably just wherever the lifeguard lets us practice. Nothing particular, just wherever freediving is allowed, and we have good safety and training buddies to go with. That’s good for me!

Follow Jessea on her journey using the links below!

Instagram: @jesseadiving
LinkedIn: @wjielu

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