Gliding through the water with a mermaid tail – while looking elegant – is much harder than you think. By Deborah Lin
(From left) Deborah with Shape writer, Estelle, and Syrena of The Mermaid School.
Red-haired Ariel of Disney fame. The Little Mermaid, penned by Hans Christian Andersen. The bevy of mermaids in The Pirates of the Caribbean. And Shan in Stephen Chow’s recent movie blockbuster, The Mermaid. One thing these mythical creatures all have in common: elegance and deft motions with their tails.
I imagined myself a similar picture of grace, gliding through the water, when I accepted this assignment to learn with Cara Nicole Neo, also known as Syrena, Singapore’s first mermaid.
Syrena is the founder of The Mermaid School. Set up in mid-2015, it offers four progressive levels of certification for aspiring mermaids – bronze, silver, gold and platinum.
By the uppermost echelon, you master breath control up to 30 seconds, swim with props like hula hoops and veils, and even get to fashion your own mermaid persona, among other mermaid skills. There is a strong emphasis on friendship and sisterhood, and students also learn about mermaid mythology and culture. Classes are kept small and conducted in groups of up to five (private mermaid experiences are also available, see Where to Learn below).
“Being in the pod gives me such a confidence boost, and I have developed strong bonds with the mersisters across the different levels,” says Aishah Wahib, 32, a recent bronze-level graduate. “Mermaiding really leads you into a whole new realm!”
Becoming a mermaid
Welcome to our first lesson with The Mermaid School. My hopes of being that elegant mermaid soared as I watched Syrena zip effortlessly around the pool. After all, her silicone tail was a whopping 15kg, while those of water-loving Shape writer, Estelle, and mine were merely 1kg, made of spandex.
Stretchy or not, it was quite a struggle getting into the tail! Think squeezing into a super-tight pair of leggings with a monofin at the end, then shuffling to the pool’s edge on your bum. A tad awkward, no?
In the water, Estelle and I work on mimicking Syrena’s undulations, or body wave motions, while trying our best to stop guffawing as we appear more flop than flip.
Moving in the water with a tail takes effort. Practice makes perfect!
The undulations are similar to a belly dance-cum-dolphin kick (the same leg movement used for the butterfly stroke). It’s twice as hard because you have to propel yourself forward in the water using mainly your core and glutes
“Students do tell me they experience muscle aches the day after,” shares Syrena as Estelle and I expressed surprise at the workout we got. “It’s only then that they realise how hard they’ve worked out!”
[Try! Flex your stomach and lift your hips up and down, while pressing your legs together (all the way to your toes, outstretched) and moving them simultaneously.]
Admittedly, my excitement was slightly dampened because I could hardly propel myself forward. The motion doesn’t come naturally, and at first, I found myself overcompensating with my arms because of the inability to kick.
Tip: Don’t overthink. Once we stopped focusing on which muscles to tighten or relax, achieving the undulations got easier. We started the motions at the pool’s edge and moved on to the water proper with the kickboard. I found it easier to move in the water without any flotation aid (these aids are necessary for beginner mermaids to refine their technique and develop foundational skills).
Beginner mermaids are required to use swimming floats to refine their technique and develop foundational skills.
By the second lesson, I was able to get from one end of the pool to the other, or about 25m, in one breath and without any float. In the same session, I also improved my ability to sink (by sculling to the bottom and exhaling air bubbles) and start on the backstroke (this helps if you need to rest). Only two hours in and I already feel like a little mermaid!*
*At press time, the writer was still three lessons shy of completing the bronze-level certification class.
FIT FACTOR 7/10
Mermaiding is hard work! Moving in a tail is counter-intuitive, especially if you prefer swimming freestyle or using the breaststroke. It takes a strong core and lower body (right down to your ankles) to nail the undulations with grace and poise.
FUN FACTOR 8/10
I look forward to learning and mastering increasingly challenging moves. Each lesson seems to, ahem, swim by much too quickly. Plus, there’s plenty of interaction among the mersisters in group sessions, and definitely more giggles than your usual swim class.
FEAR FACTOR 3/10
Being unable to use my legs was daunting at first, but the uncertainty waned with better tail control. Lessons are big on safety: You start at depths of 1.2m with kickboards, and have to master floating and swimming to the surface before advancing.
WHERE TO LEARN
Choose from group classes at Bukit Timah ($440 for five 60-minute sessions) or private classes at a pool venue of your choice (starts from $300 for an hour). Cost includes tail rental. Adult students are required to swim at least 25m with a board and tread water for minimally 20 seconds. Requirements and classes for children differ. Visit www.themermaidsyrena.com for more details.