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Livia Belcea (left) attends an AquaMermaid class. All photos by Tristene Villanyi-Bokor.

Mermaid for a day

By Livia Belcea on April 8, 2016

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I’m not a very good swimmer. In fact, I’m a terrible swimmer. I’m afraid of the deep end, I’m very bad at holding my breath and I panic when I go a little deeper under water. Diving? Forget about it.

But when the opportunity came for me to learn to swim like a mermaid, I seized it without a second thought. I love to try new things, especially when they involve sport and physical activity, or something new and unusual. But in reality, let’s face it: who doesn’t want to learn to swim like the Little Mermaid Ariel?

AquaMermaid is a swimming academy based out of Montréal that teaches children and adults the art of swimming like a mermaid or merman. They offer a variety of group and individual classes, mermaid memberships and even birthday and bachelorette parties. Swimming like a mermaid is not a new concept, but it’s new in Ottawa. AquaMermaid is the only mermaid school in the Nation’s Capital and its surroundings, and it is already very popular. More than just a great time under the sea, swimming like a mermaid is a serious workout, especially for your core, and above all, an amazing opportunity to discover your inner mermaid.

I arrived at the University of Ottawa pool and was greeted by two AquaMermaid instructors, Sahej Kaur  and Vanessa Smith. I picked my mermaid tail and we proceeded to stretch our legs and arms. Vanessa and I dipped into the pool and went over the basic moves, sans mermaid tail, so that I can get a sense of what I should be doing when my legs are tied together. Most of the motion is in the hips, as they undulate through the water and create propulsion. We then slipped our mermaid tails on, which are made out of typical bathing suit material and a dual flipper-like plastic end, and we got back in the water. Sahej was giving me tips from outside the pool, as she supervised the other mermaids as well.

It was odd to have my legs tied together at the beginning, but the feeling quickly dissipates once you start figuring out how to use your new mermaid tail. Since I’m not a good swimmer, I started my mermaid career with the help of a good old floating board. It kept my head above water so off I went, undulating away.

Getting the motion right did not come easily at first. Your hips have to create a consistent motion and you then have to let your legs and your head follow and complete the motion. It’s also a lot easier to do this with your head in the water. For me, this was hard because I completely forgot that I had to slowly blow out the breath of air I took in while I was under water. It wasn’t very graceful, but I managed to get the hang of it and swim for a couple of feet at a time.

Soon, I was ready for my next move: swimming on my back. This is where I thrived because my face was above water and I was able to breathe and relax. I started by learning how to thread water and bring my knees, and consequently my tail, up and a bit out of the water. This was essential in being able to get into position for the back swim. I gave it a go with the floating board and soon graduated to swimming without it. Once I got the hang of swimming on my back, I was unstoppable! I found the motion a lot easier, and I found that I could also control how fast I was going. I was doing short laps in no time, and eventually, I felt the sheer joy one feels when they’ve reached a sense of freedom and serenity. This was it. I was swimming like a mermaid, I was part of their world, and it was magical.

It was soon time to get back on land, but before then, I was able to try a few more moves, such as swimming through a hoop, swimming on my side, and retrieving a ring at the bottom of the pool. The latter wasn’t as successful as the others, but it was a great goal to set for next time. Maybe after a few more lessons, I may even be able to do a hand stand with my mermaid tail sticking out of the water!

Swimming like a mermaid might sound a bit unconventional and even intimidating, but with the expertise of the instructors, their kind and positive attitude and great coaching, it is sure to be an unforgettable experience, for children and adults alike.

Learn more about AquaMermaid at their website.