SINGAPORE: Binding your legs together, squeezing them into a silicone or cloth tail, then jumping into a pool could sound silly, but for those who are a child at heart, it is a dream come true. Films like The Little Mermaid and Splash, as well as recent Hong Kong movie, The Mermaid, have inspired many to embrace "mermaiding" as a hobby, women and men alike.
Former Singapore national swimmer Nicole Cheng – who goes by the moniker Mermaid Lilith – is a strong proponent of mermaiding as sport, "not just some kind of frivolous activity”. “Like pole dancing, it uses a lot of core muscles and it’s a good way of getting fit while having fun," she said.
“A lot the energy stems from the core, and if done correctly, it causes the energy to flow through to your legs in that wave-like momentum. And with the propulsion from the fin, you’ll use your arms to direct you. So all in all, I think it’s a more engaging muscle group activity compared to regular swimming.”
Cara Neo, or “Syrena”, the founder of the Singapore Mermaid School, added that while it is a form of exercise, the fun-factor also helps.
“It looks easy, gracefully gliding through the water, but it actually requires a lot of muscle coordination, control, and stamina,” she said. “A lot of my students are surprised at how tired they are after the first session. It activates numerous parts of your body - a powerful toning exercise for the arms, core, and glutes.
“The best thing is that you have so much fun while you're doing it that you don't realize how much you've worked out until later.”
Many mermaids are also divers, and the hobby can also be seen as a form of freediving. Dada Li from China, a "mermaid model" and performer, is an AIDA (International Association for Development of Apnea) International Freediving Instructor, while Odessa Bugarin – or Mermaid Odessa - from the Philippines was a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Divemaster in Boracay.
SYMBOL OF THE SEA
Fun, fantasy and fitness aside, some are using their tails to draw attention to a larger cause.
Fifi Fogg, founder of Tiggs Tails, a company that makes mermaid tails, holds tours in Perth, Australia to teach children about the importance of keeping the oceans clean.
“During the Mermaid Tours, we show treasures of the ocean - which are manly shells and other little items that have been found under the sea,” said Ms Fogg. “We also have a little bag made of hemp with some nasties, and that comprises of plastic, fishing line and other rubbish.
“We talk about how each piece of rubbish hurts the sea creatures. For example, turtles will think plastic trash in the ocean are jelly fish and they will then get a very sick belly from eating it.”
A mermaid herself, Fifi said she makes it a point to pick up litter around the area with her daughter whenever she goes swimming.
Mermaid Odessa also emphasised the importance of education on the need for marine conservation. In 2015, she opened a mermaiding school in the Philippines with that in mind.
“Most of our students are kids or adults who are not very aware of what’s happening with our world's oceans and that’s one of the missions of my school: To get everyone involved with nature,” she said.
“As a scuba diving instructor and a competitive free diver, I have a very intimate relationship with the ocean. We, divers, see more, know more and I would like to share that to the whole world if possible.”
“I think being a mermaid is an advantage, because when people see us wearing our tails, they get excited," Odessa said. "In this way, we get connected to them and I believe if we could reach out to them, we can make a difference.”
She also volunteers with rescued dolphins and helps pick trash from the beach and the sea.
“Whenever I’m diving, I wear shorts on top of my wetsuit with two really big pockets, and believe it or not, when I’m scuba diving, they call me ‘basurera’ – or garbage collector – as I would always come back with two pockets full of rubbish.”
“FESTIVAL OF THE OCEAN”
Five mermaids will be at the Asia Dive Expo (ADEX) in Singapore to draw attention to the cause as well.
According the event's executive director John Thet: “At its heart, ADEX is also a festival about the ocean, at a time when there is a pressing need to protect the marine environment and its incredible biodiversity.
“Every year, ADEX is dedicated to a different marine species, and this year the show is devoted to seahorses, with conservation talks, books and films all revolving around these delicate, endangered creatures.”
Members of the public will get to meet the mermaids from China, Singapore, Philippines, and Hong Kong from Apr 15 to 17.