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Deborah Andollo : The Diva of Depth

I was manning the booth at the DEMA exhibition in Miami when Cliff, our News & Media Editor, caught my attention and waved me over to meet with Deborah Andollo. “The godmother of freediving!” he declared.

Hers is, indeed, one of the first names to appear along with Pelizzari’s and Pipin’s on the AIDA website’s world record history in both constant weight and No-Limits. In 1996 she she excelled in constant (61m) and no-limits (110m) , and did 100m in variable weight last year in Italy. Deborah has inspired many of us not only by her records but also with her personality.

Deborah, characteristically, was smiling. We all smiled: it was contagious. Martin Stepanek, also at our booth, joined in the conversation. He admitted being a big fan of hers in his younger years. Deborah doesn’t speak much English, but we found a common language in French (she has been married to Frenchman Eric Testi for 10 years) and so I had the good fortune to enjoy a one-on-one interview. I was happy to meet such a friendly person amidst the total madness of DEMA and engaged in conversation on my two favorite subjects: freediving and the preservation of the environment.

I had heard through Cliff that Deborah was working on opening an Apnea Academy in Cuba. When I heard the term “Apnea Academy”, my first reaction was to ask her if she was involved at all with Umberto Pelizzari. “Not at all” she answered; “in fact, the real name is Blue Yemaya Diving Academy !”. We didn’t have much time, as Deborah was running to a meeting, so I dived right into the subject. What is the Blue Yemaya Diving Academy about, who’s behind it, and most of all: where is it located?

Deborah explained to me that “Yemaya” is behind it. Yemaya is the goddess of the oceans.

Tu sais?” (“You know ?”) , she asked me in French.

I didn’t, really, although I believe I had heard the term in the film Ocean Men, when Pipin explains that he makes offerings to the Sea Goddess before each dive to get her protection. She continued, explaining that in the Cuban Santeria pantheon, Yemaya is the goddess of the sea who created our world, and like the sea she has multiple aspects, shifting from beautiful and serene to violent and powerful. Yemaya is often depicted as a beautiful mermaid. What could possibly be a better image to represent Deborah’s projects?

Now that I better understood the mysticism behind her school, I wanted to know about the mechanics of it. She took my pen and my notepad and wrote “Blue Yemaya Diving School, Havana”. From there she drew three arrows- one going to Cubanacan Nautica (a Cuban governmental association), one to Deborah Andollo, and one to ACUC (Association of Canadian Underwater Councils). She explained: “You see, we are three partners in the school in Cuba. The Cuban government provides a place and the equipment for the school, and ACUC , an international certifying agency, provides the accreditation of my freediving course.”

Deborah had been working for years on a freediving education system, and the ACUC had asked her to create a program and be its ambassador.

“The same concept will be set up in Cozumel with the same partnership, but for the Cuban Government. There, a resort will provide logistics for the course.”

I was interested by the fact that a scuba agency certifies freedivers. Deborah pointed out that her Academy will also include scuba courses. She believes it would be too much of a challenge for freediving, as a discipline, to grow “alone”, and sees diving as a big family composed of apnea, spearfishing/underwater hunting and scuba (air, nitrox, trimix). She has a point. I, too, believe that scuba and freediving go hand in hand. A good example of this was seen in the Sony Open Classic in Cyprus this year. Without the support of the great scuba and tech divers the event would not have been possible.

To close the chapter on the Blue Yemaya Diving Academy, Deborah emphasized that her courses will also involve some yoga, some visualization techniques, and will also cover the marine ecosystem. She added that NIMAR and Cressi Sub (her sponsor during many years of competition), will be partners in both Cuba and Cozumel.

Deborah’s devotion to the ocean and the environment has also led her to create Blue Yemaya Productions, which she says has special significance to her and to Eric.

She feels that capturing the beauty of the underwater realm on video and sharing it with the world is very important. Blue Yemaya Productions is a media platform, a window on the world’s oceans that will also show freediving outside of the competition circuit.

I thanked Deborah for her time as she gave Cliff and me a parting smile. She’ll update about the opening of the first school in Cuba (expected in January 2004) and, later on, the facility in Cozumel.

The experience, charisma, and grace that Deborah Andollo carries with her will be more than enough , I ‘m sure, to make Blue Yemaya a splashing success.

Learn more about Deborah Andollo at . Visit often, as her new website for Blue Yemaya Academy should be up and running soon.

Nico Danan
Nico Danan
I curate OceanMinds where fish get their news. A multilingual digital jack of all trades, underwater creature mostly, I am a chocoholic who believes in mermaids.