Molchanovs Athlete Interview: Leena Oijala from Finland

Molchanovs Athlete Interview: Leena Oijala from Finland

By Kristina Zvaritch

For Leena Oijala, freediving represents a perfect combination: the beauty and silence of the underwater world combined with the physical and mental skills required to explore its depths.

In 2014, Leena moved to Maui, the second-largest island in Hawaii’s archipelago, and saw it as the perfect opportunity to learn water sports. While she tried surfing and enjoyed it, she didn’t feel that it could become a passion of hers. She had also taken up open water swimming, and gained the confidence to navigate the Pacific Ocean’s diverse conditions.

But when Leena tried freediving a few years later, everything clicked - finally, a physical and mental sport that encompassed the serenity and silence of the ocean. Although the freediving community at the time was not very developed in Maui, she found a few other people that shared her passion for the sport.

Depths of about 20m (66ft) was reachable from shore, but deeper depths were mostly accessible by boat, so locals mostly enjoyed spearfishing in the shallow reefs. This inspired Leena and her best friend to start Freedive Ohana, their freediving school since 2019. With the school, they could make their goal of sharing proper safety skills and creating a local community of freedivers come to life. Since then, Freedive Ohana has seen numerous students pass through to eventually compete in international and world championships. Leena also did her fair share of freediving travel, exploring Roatán, Dominica, Finland, Panglao, and Mexico for recreational diving trips and competitions.

Leena currently sits at the top of AIDA national rankings for Finland, holding the number 1 spot for FIM (81m / 266ft), CWT (83m / 272ft), and CWTB (84m / 276ft). I sat down with her to hear more about her competitive goals, physical and mental preparation, memorable freediving experiences, and her work as a yoga and fitness instructor.

Photo Credit: @daanverhoevenfreediver


Kristina Zvaritch: Hi Leena - congratulations on your national records and first place medal at the AIDA XIBALBA 2024 Depth Competition. How was your experience?

Leena Oijala: Thank you very much! Diving in Cenote Ucil was a beautiful experience, and so different from diving in the ocean. It was my first time diving deep in freshwater, and into the darkness! The organizers and team of the Xibalba competition did an excellent job creating a very supportive and cohesive environment, making participation in the event feel quite special.

KZ: Diving in cenotes sounds otherworldly! Could you describe to me the mental preparation required for your deep dives?

LO: I do a fair amount of visualization for deep dives, both in and out of the water. Right before a target dive, I remind myself to focus on the positive sensations that the dive will provide, so that I can also physically find the optimal place of relaxation.

KZ: Great tip! And as a competitive freediver, what goals or milestones are you aiming to achieve in your career?

LO: My main goal is to continue to freedive for a long time, both competitively and for spearfishing. Any records I can achieve along the way are a bonus.

Photo Credit: @daanverhoevenfreediver


KZ: An excellent goal. So what's the most challenging aspect of training for freediving, both physically and mentally? And what's the most enjoyable?

LO: The most challenging aspect for me is definitely any form of static apnea, both mentally and physically. It's always been my least favorite of all the disciplines, although I've grown to accept that it is an important part of training.

I often hear other freedivers talk about the joy and amazing sensations they feel on their dives, but in all honesty, I have never experienced a dive where everything felt completely perfect. However, it's the sensation of accomplishment and cumulation of hard work after a successful dive that brings me joy, which is ultimately why I do it. Plus, the people I dive with are pretty cool, too.

KZ: It’s refreshing to hear your honesty, thank you for that! To continue on this streak of honesty - have you ever had a freediving "fail" or moment that didn't go as planned? How did you handle it, and what did you learn from the experience?

LO: Haha, I've had many! Equalization has failed me many times, and early turns have often been the consequence. My most recent fail would have to be a surface blackout on a FIM dive, which I was completely shocked by, but helped me identify weak points in the dive, a notable one being my speed. Completing a FIM dive to a shallower depth a few days after was the best way for me to handle the mental effects of the blackout and gain back confidence for FIM dives.

KZ: Glad to hear that you were able to gain back your confidence so quickly! Now, on the other hand - can you share with us a memorable or unique experience you've had while diving?

LO: I live in Maui, Hawaii, and each winter we are visited by humpback whales. Although you can always hear them underwater during their stay, seeing them underwater is pretty rare. The most unique experience I've had is being approached by a mother whale and her calf, as they swam around us for a few minutes. They are such beautiful and calm creatures.
Photo Credit: @daanverhoevenfreediver

KZ: That's definitely a bucket list item! I understand you're also a yoga and fitness instructor - what role does physical fitness play in freediving, and are there specific physical or yoga exercises you recommend to improve performance?

LO: I think physical fitness is very important for competitive and recreational freediving, and yoga can be beneficial if applied in the correct way for the individual. I love both cardio and strength training, but do it as much for overall well-being as for freediving performance. I incorporate some freediving specific work into my dry training, but am also incredibly fortunate to be able to train in the water rather frequently.

There is no specific yoga exercise I would recommend as everyone's needs for improving performance will vary. However, I do perform a pranayama exercise daily to help with overall breath awareness and relaxation ability, so would recommend finding a qualified instructor to help find or develop one for anyone that struggles with their breathing and/or relaxation.

KZ: Definitely, pranayama goes hand-in-hand with freediving, doesn’t it? So tell me, what piece of advice has forever shaped your diving?

LO: That there is something to be learned and gained from every experience, whether it was positive or negative.

KZ: Wise words! Now let’s wrap up with my favorite question - what are some MUST-HAVE Molchanovs pieces in your gear bag?
LO: I recently received the PRO 4 Monofin Carbon from Molchanovs and it has certainly helped me improve my speed! The last few dive sessions have been my first deep dives with a monofin, and I'm excited to see where it takes me. Although it doesn't fit in my gear bag, it will fit in the Molchanovs Hard Case when I take off for my next competition!

Follow Leena on her freediving adventures and competitions on social media!

Instagram: @leenaoijala and @freediveohana
Website: www.freediveohana.com

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