The Young Girl and the Sea

High school senior Heidi Mason has been reeling in big ones since she was knee-high to a grouper

Adolescence is a trying time to begin with, but at an exclusive private prep school like Ransom Everglades, situated between a sun-dappled stretch of Coconut Grove's tree-lined Main Highway and shimmering Biscayne Bay, the emphasis on academic performance can drive a student nuts. Heidi's friend and senior classmate Ingrid Seroppian has known the fishing superstar since the seventh grade. "You get plenty of opportunities to learn how to deal with stress at Ransom," deadpans Seroppian. "I was kind of a typical giggly young teen. Then I met Heidi. My mom says that's what changed me. I started working harder, taking more AP courses, studying more. It definitely helped. I'm going to Amherst in the fall. I've had many conversations with my parents about Heidi. I think she tries to do too much -- I don't think she sleeps or eats."

When asked to choose one word to describe Heidi, seventeen-year-old junior Eric Bernstein -- Heidi's boyfriend, sailing partner, and frequent companion -- immediately responds "busy. . . . I think she really enjoys everything she does." But Eric disagrees with the notion shared by everyone from Linda Mason to Ingrid Seroppian that Heidi might be spreading herself too thin. "She'd lose more by not doing it all," he contends. "College will be good for her. It's getting so she can't find any more challenges."

"Heidi's always thrived on competition, thrived on pressure. She's been like that since I can remember," says Linda Mason with a subtle air of resignation that lets you know she wishes her daughter were maybe just a little less ambitious. "I think she's missed some of the kid part," Linda frets. "She never went through that giddy, silly stage a lot of girls go through. She always read a lot and liked good conversation and people who knew what their beliefs were."

"At Miami Beach Rod and Reel Club functions Heidi would invariably leave the other kids to hang out with the adults," Don Mason chips in. "At eight she was glued to my side. By ten or eleven she'd started to branch out more. By twelve she was right there with the old-timers, discussing setting the drag versus cupping the reel, rigging baits, what dropback she uses from a kite. She held her ground with men who'd been doing it their whole lives."

According to Ingrid and Eric, however, Heidi's parents needn't worry about her missing out on the teen stuff. She enjoys many of the same activities as her peers -- going to movies, the Grove, South Beach. She's been to several proms. She'll frequently record Friends or ER on her VCR and watch them with Eric on a Friday or Saturday night. Heidi listens to, in her words, "everything but country," and hopes to attend upcoming Hootie and the Blowfish and R.E.M. concerts.

Ingrid describes Heidi as "not the typical fake, materialistic person." Which is why it comes as a mild shock to learn that this quiet, humble, down-to-earth honor student tools around town in a fat black muscle car. Heidi's parents surprised her with the spanking-new Firebird Formula -- complete with V8 engine and T-tops -- on her sixteenth birthday. "It was such a great surprise," Heidi gushes. "I pulled up to the dock after winning all these titles [the weekend she swept the 1994 Miami Billfish Tournament] and there are my parents with the car, beaming. I knew it was for me."

Heidi seems perfectly comfortable being an anomaly: a young woman kicking butt in a man's sport. A quiet scholar and avid conservationist with a gas-guzzling car that does 160. And, most of all, a well-adjusted teen with two loving, concerned parents in an era when, to judge by MTV, Beverly Hills 90210, or movies such as Kids or Clueless, the traditional nuclear family is extinct.

She doesn't drink: "Fishing and drinking seem to go together, but I don't see myself ever wanting to do that." She doesn't get high: "For some reason when people try to pressure me to do things, I react strongly to the opposite." She isn't promiscuous: "There's a big difference between the social order at Ransom and the rest of life. Over half of my class has been together from the seventh to twelfth grades. It would be almost incestuous to date someone you've known since they got braces." And she doesn't care about popularity: "I prefer a few really good friends that I can count on to a gaggle of superficial 'Hi, how ya doin's.'"

You'd think her parents would be ecstatic. Cautiously optimistic is more like it. Heidi is their only child, and they prefer to err on the side of overprotectiveness. For example, Heidi has abided by a strict curfew since long before such a thing became countywide law A 10:00 p.m. during the week, midnight on Friday and Saturday. "Some of my friends don't have any curfew," Heidi protests. "That's my only real debate with my parents, though. I mean, I've made up my mind not to do [drugs and alcohol] because I don't want to, not because my parents told me. I respect it, though."

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