Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 611

4 AUGUST 202 2 4 1 WEEKENDING Photography: Caroline Richardson, Sharon Nicol If you’ve tried wild swimming and want a new passion, it might be time to dive into the world of mermaiding, suggests Patsy Westcott A fin romance From the sirens of Greekmyth to films, TV and video games, mermaids – or more accuratelymerfolk – have gripped the imagination. Now ‘mermaiding’, dressing up and swimming wearing amonofin and mermaid tail, is gaining ground. “It combines freediving and swimming with performance skills, and an element of cosplay [dressing up as a character],” explains Cornwallbased freediving instructor Ian Donald of FreeDiveUK, who arguably started themermaiding trend here with his first mermaid course in 2014. Many people now running UKmermaid schools trained with Ian, who o ers his expertise to people working as merfolk inmodelling, film, TV, aquaria and waterparks. Meanwhile, a whole industry has grown up around fins and tails, which start from£43 for a basic adult tail andmonofin to bespoke designer silicone numbers costing upwards of £1,800, as well as a plethora of events and activities. Some, like Brighton andHove’s annual mermaid parade, March of the Mermaids – held this year on 23 July – aim to raise awareness of marine conservation. Others are simply for fun. More than 500 people donned tails at Plymouth’s Tinside Lido, setting the world record for the biggest gathering of merfolk, organised by wild swimmer Pauline Barker (left) during The Queen’s PlatinumJubilee. “It was a great way to bring the community together for a very inclusive event,” she says. Why do it? “It’s about releasing the endorphins that go with exercise, while being in cold water adds extra exhilaration, but the greatest booster is the camaraderie of folk doing the same thing,” Pauline adds. Former businesswoman, Tefl teacher and swimming coach Ann Dieckmann, from Worthing, runs SussexMermaid School. After qualifying as a swimming teacher, an essential prerequisite for teaching mermaid skills, she trained with Fin2Fit, which o ers a monofin instructor course certified by SwimEngland, in partnership with the Royal Life Saving Society UK, plus a swimming awards scheme for children. “Swimming in amonofin can help improve swimming skills and confidence in the water. Specifically, it’s a good way to learn butterfly because your legs are strapped together, forcing you to adopt the correct undulatingmovement,” says Ann, who pre-pandemic ran amermaid bootcamp at Worthing’s Splashpoint pool, but these days focuses on mermaid parties, the profits fromwhich go to the Zanzibar Schools Project (zanzibarsp.ninja), funding children and young people to access education. Kirsty Jones, an orthopaedic sta nurse atWorthing Hospital, first donned her fins in 2019 and celebrated her 40th birthday with amermaid-themed party. “I’ve loved water-based activities since I was a child,” she says. “Swimming in themonofin provides a whole body workout, but it’s especially good for your legs, bottomand abs. Nursing is very busy and stressful and being in water helps me release that stress. Above all, it’s really good fun.” MermanNiall Walters, 44, a surf lifeguard on Brighton beach, agrees: “Lane swimming is tedious, but dressing up in a fin and tail and swimming an obstacle course, or diving down to the bottomof a pool, you never feel bored. I’ve never laughed somuch inmy life as in themermaid classes.” Swimming instructor Donna Rumney, who runs drop-in mermaid sessions at Newcastle’s Jesmond Swimming Pool, says: “It’s for anyone who can swim, from six to 60-plus. You learn to swimon your front, your back, under and on top of the water. You do handstands, somersaults and synchronised swimming, upside down and rotating as well as working as a group. It’s a great activity to do alone or as a family.” Artist Zoe Allen, 45, who lives and works at an art gallery in the city, attends with her son, Linus, eight: “It’s a lovely thing to do together,” she says. “As an adult, you don’t often get the opportunity simply to play and to explore movement. The fin is quite powerful. Once you’ve swum wearing one, normal swimming seems quite boring. I recently took the fin on holiday, and it was really good fun.” So, if you’re looking for a new leisure activity this summer, give it a go andmake a splash. ‘Swimming in a monofin is a whole body workout. Above all, it’s fun’ ENJOY MERMAIDING IN SAFETY Start in a pool, in an environment where lifeguards are present – and do take some lessons ärst. Check the instructor is a swimming teacher qualiäed to ASA level 2, with additional mermaid training, or a qualiäed freediving instructor. Look online for local classes: • än2ät.com • planetmermaid.com • mermaidsswimuk.co.uk making waves Sussex Mermaid School in Worthing runs mermaid swimming classes and experiences for all ages ( left and bottom left); Jesmond Pool’s Michelle Blake gets into character as Ariel (bottom)