In-house writer Amanda Yap picks apart the recent rise in mermaids…

Mermaids are glorified mythical creatures with soulful singing voices that echo across the oceans. Their upper body is that of a female, while their lower body is a fish tail. Historically, mermaids have been presented as seductive sirens that lure sailors to their watery deaths, but arguably Disney’s introduction of Ariel (The Little Mermaid) reignited a desire in children to exude that air of beauty and gracefulness, as only a mermaid can. This fantasy has now been brought to life: Teaching proper swimming techniques while wearing the realistic fin, designed to allow aspiring mermaids – and mermen – to swim faster. For those, like me, who question the seemingly unnecessary additional elements of this unique style of swimming, we are about to find out what makes being a professional mermaid so appealing.

"Most mermaids are qualified freedivers, which means they are exposed to competitive breath-holding whilst swimming great distances without re-surfacing at any point in time." © Andrea Izzotti

“Most mermaids are qualified freedivers, which means they are exposed to competitive breath-holding whilst swimming great distances.” © Andrea Izzotti

"Mermaiding" has its origins in ancient Greek mythology © 123rf.com

“Mermaiding” has its origins in ancient Greek mythology © 123rf.com

“Mermaiding” involves elements of freediving and physical training

Swimming like a mermaid doesn’t just mean wearing colourful fins and frolicking about in the water. This curious activity could very well be the next fitness craze – working the core muscles, avoiding the “burn” because you are too busy swimming. Furthermore, it trains one’s physical stamina, especially the strengthening of the lower body from the abdomen to the feet, using the dolphin kick to swim forward.

As for submerging for more than three minutes without looking pained or uncomfortable – this is also another hurdle mermaids must overcome without the help of scuba gear, a feat that people often underestimate. Most mermaids are qualified freedivers, which means they are exposed to competitive breath-holding whilst swimming great distances. Having this skill gives them greater mobility and visibility in the water as they perform.

The final qualifying factor for becoming a mermaid is the art of appearing graceful and beautiful, just like in those fairy tales. It also takes a certain amount of skill and endurance to control body movements, as well as the self-confidence to make the performance look believable. 

The art of performing

Performing on land is passé; the real challenge comes when the performance is underwater. The art of appearing serene and completely at ease in your own skin while swimming with a tail (aka monofin), while not looking like a blue-faced, oxygen-deprived extra from Titanic, is one of the aspects that are often overlooked. Mermaids are used as underwater performers to add to the magic and aesthetics of underwater exhibitions like  ADEX (Asia Dive Expo). Just like any professional performer, being a mermaid is a serious occupation where maintaining full control of your body and a wet 15-kilogram tail is a constant chore. What do their performances entail, you may ask? It involves synchronised swimming and various tricks, from doing back flips and floating on their backs to blowing bubble hearts for entertainment.

And the challenges don’t end there. Once these mermaids go back to being ordinary humans, they’ll inevitably have a raft of earthly ailments to deal with: sunburns, blistered toes, sore muscles, bloodshot eyes, and even bouts of flu, because of the long periods in cold water. So what makes it all worth it? Answer: The wonderment of their audience as they are transported to this imaginary realm. For these mermaids, their simple hope is that people treat their passion with the same respect and professionalism as they do with other occupations, and encouragement that a dream can come true when one acts on it.

Hidy Yu, Cara Keilani and Dada Li – the mermaids of ADEX Singapore 2016

Hidy Yu, Cara Keilani and Dada Li – some of the mermaids at ADEX Singapore 2016

Feeling empowered – Initiate climate awareness and self-confidence

As a mermaid, attracting business is not all about beauty and entertainment. Character also plays a pivotal role in securing bookings, what kind of impression to portray and what kind of values you would like to impart. It may seem unimportant since it’s all part of the act, but from the public’s perspective, especially with children being a significant component of an audience, moral standards have to be upheld.

As ambassadors of the ocean, mermaids also hope to bring about awareness of the ocean and its inhabitants. While facing a crowd of children at a party, founder of Tiggs Tails, Fifi Fogg, will show the rubbish that’s typically found in the ocean, explaining how each object can be hazardous to marine animals, for example, how turtles mistake floating trash for jellyfish and eat it. Urging people to spare a thought for the oceanic world is all part of a day’s work for mermaids. They gain contentment and a sense of achievement playing the role of a mermaid with a voice that represents marine life, to save the many vulnerable creatures from joining the extinction list.

Finding their own bubble of serenity

As humans, we all need our “alone time”, and it’s no different for mermaids; their comfort zone happens to be underwater where the noise of the bustling modern world cannot reach. Without the burden of scuba gear, their senses are unhindered, allowing them to see the aquatic universe and admire its fascinating inhabitants. Their deep-breathing techniques allow them to still their minds, connecting them to their underworldly surroundings.

Joyce Ng in the famous ADEX Mermaid tank

Joyce Ng in the famous ADEX mermaid tank

It is not a cushy 9-to-5 job that earns big cash, but mermaids are as deeply committed to their profession as anybody. It’s their mission to keep the passion and love alive so that it can spread to others around them, as well as do their part to protect the world’s oceans and its inhabitants. For the naysayers, this swimming of a different form will quickly die out after people tire of their childhood fantasies. However, whether “mermaiding” is destined to become the next fashion in extreme sport, only time will tell.