• By: Ali Matthews

Dive into Ottawa’s Mermaid Lifestyle

Photos by Ali Matthews and Chantal Halley

Something magical is happening on Argyle Avenue. Situated between the Canadian Museum of History and the Queensway, the Taggart Family YMCA-YWCA is all but closed by 7pm on Saturdays. However, in the shadow of a museum dedicated to science and nature, groups of women make their way through the dark to turn evolution on its head.

We are talking about the AquaMermaid school, of course.

Our fascination with mermaids is nothing new – from Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of woe in 1837 to 1984’s rom-com ‘Splash’ and finally to Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ in 1989 – but today, mermaids have evolved into a full blown lifestyle. The mermaid culture is splashed all over social media, transforming everything from hair, clothes, fabrics, skin, nails and household goods into rainbow/glitter/iridescent perfection. Of course, the pinnacle of the mermaid lifestyle is donning your very own mermaid tail.

On this particularly mild Saturday, I was granted the opportunity to dip my foot, erm fin, into mermaid-ing, through the world’s largest mermaid school, AquaMermaid. Founded by Canadian mermaid enthusiast, Marielle Chartier Hénault, the school currently boasts classes in Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, Phoenix, Kitchener and Ottawa, where men, women and children (7+) can attend a class, buy a membership or host their own magical parties for every occasion.

Walking onto the pool deck in the middle of the kids AquaMermaid class, nothing seemed particularly out of the ordinary and in fact, was quiet. It wasn’t until I looked a little closer that I realized that the children in the pool were gliding so quietly through the water thanks to mermaid tails, with their parents dutifully filming the experience. Everyone seemed to be having fun and there is something especially charming in seeing mer-children. As usual, kids seem to make everything look too easy.

At 7pm it was time for the adult lesson to begin and the kids in the main pool effortlessly glided out and into the shallow pool for some final photos, as if it were second nature. Despite this display of ease, I would soon learn that being a mermaid is not a very graceful experience.

I was joined in class by two other nervous and willing writers. Our instructor, Kim, without a tail, led us through the basics as what to expect. Each class runs through a set schedule. Over the hour you are provided an introduction, a swim test, basic techniques, drills and practice followed by games and free swim.

First thing, we needed to pick out and put on our tails. Pink or blue were the two options we were given – though the children’s tails came in many more colour combinations. We quickly picked out the monofin of our choice (all of us picked blue) and slipped them on, by strapping the fins, essentially fused flippers, on our feet then shimmying the ‘skin’ up out bodies. The tail material was pleasantly high waisted, which heavily outweighed the fumbling process to put them on. Bottom line, mermaid tails are flattering!

Once on, the idea of swimming became intimidating. I am a very strong swimmer and the inability to move your legs at-will suddenly made me anxious. However, the instruction was clear, helpful and any apprehension quickly faded away. We used pool noodles for the first rounds of instruction and I was surprised by how quickly my comfort level in sporting a monofin happened.

That being said, it was work. For me, my ankles hurt, for another, her legs cramped and for another, her ligaments felt strained. Essentially, this is not every day movement and it is a workout. On the positive side, you are having so much fun learning and challenging yourself, you don’t even realize you’re working. All discomforts were manageable and easily forgotten.

When we mastered swimming without a pool noodle, we moved onto synchronized swimming techniques. We were passable at best, but I enjoy a challenge. As we fumbled through the moves, it was the company of the other mermaids that made it especially enjoyable. We could all laugh at ourselves and we attempted repeatedly to spin on ourselves and actually lift our tails above water. (Maybe a out-of-the-box corporate team building idea?)

We also did somersaults, which are instinctually fearsome when your legs are useless, but with the help of our pool noodle security blankets, these were quickly mastered as well.

After a quick game of octopus with a couple of mermaid members, we were granted free time. Due to our occupations, it was completely taken over by photos and videos (which were very fun) but limited the time to actually enjoy swimming in the pool without being bound by instruction or drills.

I had one moment to actually swim underwater with my mermaid tail – you know, really channel my inner Ariel – and the feeling was amazing. The tail truly is a mini motor and the freedom was addictive.

Overall, I had a great time.

If you want to try AquaMermaid, here are my tips:

  1. Definitely wear a well anchored bikini top or one piece –  you will be moving around A LOT and don’t want to worry about wardrobe malfunctions.
  2. Bring friends – being a mermaid is great, but being a mermaid with friends is awesome.
  3. Don’t bother shaving – no one sees your legs, mermaid bonus!
  4. Minimal makeup and hair – you will be getting everything wet and you don’t want to worry about your blowout or mascara.
  5. Prepare for a quick getaway – the YMCA is closed, so there is no time for loitering.
  6. Definitely bring a camera!!

You can take a lesson for $60 each or sign up for a membership for $75 a month. If you are trying to live the mermaid lifestyle, definitely do a membership so that you can have more time to explore your new skills.

See you in the pool!