Mermaiding is a new trend that blends fitness with fantasy and it’s making waves across the UK. Here, three devoted fans tell us why they can’t resist the call of the sea
Do you need some vitamin sea? Well the latest aquatic hobby could be for you. Mermaid swimming, or mermaiding, merges fantasy and magic with an intense swim workout.
Swimmers wear specially adapted monofins covered with thin fabric tails. This allows them to glide through the water with all the grace of Ariel from The Little Mermaid, both legs working as one.
Lily-Rose Sheppard, founder of the UK Merpod, a Facebook community for merfolk across the UK, says: “When I started the group there were about 10 of us, now we have over 500 members.
“The recent growth is amazing. More and more people are wanting to join the UK mermaiding scene.”
The craze has similar wellbeing benefits to wild swimming.
“Mermaiding is very liberating. It’s a stress buster, not to mention a fun way to relax and let off steam,” says Lily-Rose.
“It’s also a great escape from the stresses of the real world, which many of us are craving right now.”
Local pools around the UK are now offering beginner lessons to teach learners how to safely swim with a monofin. It’s even possible to attend conventions to meet other mermaids and mermen.
Here, three real-life mermaids reveal why they can’t resist the call of the sea.
Jade Forrest, 37, lives in Bicester, Oxfordshire (@mermaidjade100)
For as long as I could remember, every time I stood by the sea I’d feel genuine terror. While I’d happily swim in pools on holiday, the unpredictable ocean was a no-go for me.
By 30, working as an admin assistant, I’d accepted that I’d probably never take a dip, until one day, in 2016, a friend posted a photo of herself mermaid swimming on social media. She looked so graceful. I’d always loved an excuse to dress up in costumes, but this was a whole new level.
“I need to do that,” I told my partner Craig. “But you’ll have to put your head underwater, not to mention swim in the sea,” he pointed out.
“This could cure my phobia,” I insisted.
From then on, I saw it as a challenge. I wasn’t the strongest swimmer but I decided to teach myself with a beginner’s tail in a swimming pool. Practising in the pool, over the course of a year, I learned to swim confidently with the monofin and even plucked up the courage to put my head underwater. Free-diving lessons helped me to feel calmer under the surface and more in control of my breath.
But it took all the courage I could muster to wild swim in the sea off the Cornish coast for the first time. I had to take a lot of deep breaths to get into the water wearing my tail, worrying the whole time I might panic.
But instead of fear, I felt such a rush gliding beneath the waves.
My nerves disappeared.
It was cold but so exhilarating. I didn’t venture far from the shore the first time.
But now my confidence has grown, I’ve even swum in the Caribbean over coral reefs. Mermaid swimming has helped me prove to myself I’m capable of anything. I respect the ocean, but I know now that I can handle myself if something goes wrong.
I’ve recently become a mum to my three-month- old son, Bellamy. But it hasn’t stopped me mermaiding – I had a bump photoshoot under the water when I was pregnant. Mermaiding isn’t just my hobby, it’s a way of life.
Sarah Daily, 31, lives in Northampton (@storiesofnyx)
Being a mermaid is such a thrill. My job is to make people believe mermaids are real and I spend my time dressed as a mermaid, swimming in a three-metre fishtank at festivals around the UK.
I’ve always been a water baby. I loved synchronised swimming as a kid, then trained as a swimming and scuba diving instructor. When I started free-diving I learned how to hold my breath for five minutes – something that has come in very handy for mermaiding.
Then three years ago a company called Mermaid Cove asked me to take part in a fishtank photoshoot. It seemed the perfect blend of everything I loved – swimming, diving and performing. I never looked back.
Mermaiding has opened up many opportunities. I’ve even done a photoshoot with alligators and sharks in the Bahamas. Most people would be terrified, but I’d been shark diving before, so I felt calm. I hoped my photos would show people sharks aren’t mindless killers, but peaceful creatures.
It was incredible to swim with them in their natural habitat and they didn’t seem remotely bothered by a mermaid in their midst.
Right now I’m a lifeguard as, thanks to the pandemic, performing hasn’t been possible. But I can’t wait to get back to it properly.
It’s not just a job. Like many people I struggle with anxiety and sometimes feel very overwhelmed. So for me, the freedom I feel mermaid swimming is a form of meditation. What’s more, I’ve made friends for life.
Carla Watkins, 34, lives in Colchester, Essex (@carlawphoto)
A city job in marketing wasn’t my dream career but, by 30, that’s where I’d ended up. Then one day I was browsing YouTube when I saw a clip of a woman with a beautiful tail swimming like a mermaid. I was mesmerised.
Back in 2015, no one had heard of mermaid swimming, and there weren’t any local pools offering mermaid lessons. But I was desperate to give it a go.
I was a good swimmer but, being a size 18, I wasn’t sure they made mermaid tails in my size. Eventually to my delight I found a company in the US that could.
I taught myself to use it in my local council pool. Swimming with both legs together was challenging but the tail had a special feature I could release if I got into trouble. I certainly got a few stares from the other swimmers but I loved the freedom underwater swimming gave me. I even gave myself a mermaid name, Kerenza Sapphire, and started making seashell bras from old bikinis and sequins.
Once I was confident in the pool, I started wild swimming with my tail off Clacton-on-Sea, which was much more exhilarating.
I got a few negative comments about my weight from people on the beach. But I didn’t care, my body had never been fitter or stronger.
I was surprised when some women on the beach actually came over to congratulate me, saying they’d never have the confidence to try mermaiding because they felt overweight. I felt sad that body hang-ups put some people off.
So in 2018, I quit my desk job to become a mermaid photographer. I ordered tails in various sizes and held photoshoots for hen parties and private clients. Many women were nervous at first but once they’d tried on the tail they loved it.
It was heart-warming to see their self-esteem grow. I’ve even inspired some clients to take up mermaid swimming themselves. I’m proud that I’ve turned my hobby into a job and helped other people to feel more body-confident too. I’m proof you don’t have to be skinny to give mermaiding a go.