Visions of Ariel had been swimming through the imagination of my adventurous middle child, Poppy, for weeks. “How much longer until my mermaid lesson?” she demanded daily in the lead-up to her late-spring visit to “mermaid school” at the University of Ottawa pool. With the monofin swimming craze continuing to sweep across the globe, it had become the ultimate splashy fantasy for my avid swimmer.
Marielle Chartier Hénault launched AquaMermaid in February 2015. Since then, her company, which operates in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa, has introduced more than 4,000 people to mermaid swimming. Some choose to become members and swim weekly; others try it just once, signing up for birthday parties or an introductory session just to get a feel for the sport.
“Kids mostly come for fantasy,” explains Hénault, “but adults usually come for the great workout — for core, glutes, and lower back — but also for fun and because occasionally they too love the idea of being a mermaid.”
Poppy anticipated plenty of fishy fun, dreaming of powering around a swimming pool, splashing wildly with her new fin.
She was one of five small girls grinning poolside at the start. They each chose a stretchy neon-coloured polyester spandex tail, complete with scales and a hard fin (a pair of co-joined flippers) at the foot. But before launching, they completed a quick swimming safety test. (Mermaids are asked to be strong swimmers and should be able to swim at least 10 metres solo.)
Then they eagerly threaded themselves into their tails and hopped into the pool, ready to flick their fins. Their instructor, Celeste, took them through several exercises, including dolphin kicks and swimming on their side, back, and front, to get a feel for the tail. Next they practised swimming through hoops and to the pool bottom to collect weighted rings. “The whole idea is to make it fun,” says Hénault, “but to learn how to swim with the tail at the same time.”
Turns out, swimming like a mermaid requires considerable stomach and core strength. Nearby, a couple of strong teenage girls were making a great success of it, zooming up and down the lane and slapping the water with their tails — bang! bang! — just like a couple of happy beavers. But for the smaller mermaids-in-training, it was more of a struggle.
Many public pools have banned the use of mermaid tails for safety reasons. “That’s why we created a school,” says Hénault. “I feel people are worried about safety. So we teach them to swim safely. One of the things they should be aware of is that the fin makes them much longer. It adds 1½ feet to your body.”
While there were no men in sight during our mermaid experience, the company does get merman enthusiasts. “Little brothers come with their sisters,” says Hénault, “and we had couples sign up for Valentine’s Day.”
If you love swimming and want to indulge in pure fishy fantasy for an hour, AquaMermaid is good fun. While there’s no doubt that on dry land two legs are easier than one fin on dry land — hopping about is difficult — power and grace in the water can be yours at the flick of a fin.