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The Ferrerases take a dive

This weekend Audrey Mestre-Ferreras and Pipin Ferreras hope to beat two of their own free-diving records -- tandem and female -- as part of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea's Ocean Fest. Competitive free-diving involves going underwater without a mask or tank, staying under for longer than three minutes at a time, and going as far down into the deep as possible. Pipin currently holds the male world record at 532 feet, while Audrey, his wife, is the reigning champ in the female category at 411 feet. Together they hold the tandem world record at 381 feet. Mental preparation is even more important than physical fitness to free divers. One must put mind over matter to get the body into a state of complete relaxation in order to withstand the pressure.

"When you're free-diving, all you hear is the sound of your heart beating and the friction of the mechanism. It's as if you become just spirit and heart, because you have to block out all the uncomfortable feelings from your body," Audrey says.

The "mechanism" is a contraption with weights attached at the bottom and a balloon with a small air tank suspended at top, which gives the diver some control over the speed of the ascent and descent. In the center of the mechanism is a hollow pole through which premeasured cable or rope runs up to a boat.

The Ferrerases admit that beating their own records this weekend won't be easy, as the currents are fairly strong. Still, they're confident they can do it. For the attempts, which take place Friday and Saturday at 11 a.m., they've lined the inside of the pole with Teflon and opted to use a friction-reducing stainless steel cable. Safety isn't a big concern, as a scuba diver stands by every 65 to 100 feet along the way to make sure all is going well.

In 1998 Pipin went looking for someone with whom he could share the free-diving experience. After being turned down by everyone he asked, Pipin turned to Audrey, one of his scuba-clad safety divers. She agreed because she wanted to feel what Pipin did. Their first tandem dive was more significant to Audrey than their marriage a few months later: "We communicate telepathically underwater. We just know when we've gone far enough."


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