Did you know that being a mermaid – or a merman – is a hot new travel trend?
I didn’t. Until I visited Hawaii and took a new, two-hour “Discover Mermaid Experience” class with Sara Ferguson, owner of The Mindful Mermaid Swim Academy, a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) program launched around the world, including on Maui. This aquatic adventure is now available at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa in Kaanapali, right in its shallow pool waters near the stunning waterfall grotto. In fact, “Mermaids are the new black,” says Ms. Ferguson with a laugh – she is PADI’s leading mermaid instructor.
Other courses offered are a full-day PADI Mermaid course, and another one that is more advanced, which occurs over two days, and Ms. Ferguson even includes an underwater photo shoot. Then Voila! You’re a certified mermaid.
Ms. Ferguson should know. She actually wrote the mermaid program for and with PADI, and it’s the first step to being a certified PADI mermaid. And seeing that she is lean, and lithe, with long, long, long flowing red hair, she actually resembles a live mermaid – especially when wearing her tail – and is a great teacher of all-things-ocean. Actually, that’s what mermaids are all about – “We inspire others to protect the ocean, and we educate the younger generation to become ocean ambassadors,” she told me when we were both in the pool.
In fact, believe it or not, there are actual “pods” of people who love to dress up and swim like mermaids and mermen. One of them, based in California, is called “Merfolk Pod” and it lists 451 members on its Facebook page. Ms. Ferguson, furthermore, told me that every year, for the past three years, in May, there has been a California Mermaid Convention held in Rancho Cordova. Ms. Ferguson said it’s one of the largest mermaid conventions, where more than 100 mermaid and merman attend, where they take classes such as “How To Keep Your Wig On Underwater.”
Well, I was intrigued and decided to see for myself, with my very own tail at my feet (and with my tongue firmly in cheek). My beginner’s Discover Mermaid” class cost $149, doesn’t require a regulator, and is the first step in eventually becoming certified. This initial program lasts for about two hours.
First things first. After I signed on for the experience, Ms. Ferguson gave me leggings and a crop top bearing orange-and-pink fish “scales,” just like a mermaid would wear. Next step was putting on the matching tail/skirt, to which had been attached, at the bottom, a beginner’s plastic black monofin. I must admit, I looked “mer-mazing!”
All I needed next was a snorkel and mask – I opted out of using a regulator. Ms. Ferguson added that “People fly in from all over the world,” to experience her mermaid classes, and that “It’s a way to be magical.” She even asked me to create my own personal mermaid name. I chose “Debunk,” as it resembles my real name – and well, sort of, describes my work as a journalist. (Ms. Ferguson’s mermaid name is “Sarandipity.”) Whoever knew that mermaids would be so popular – kind of like unicorns? “It’s a niche for sure, but people love it,” said Ms. Ferguson with a laugh.
Then, I got into the pool and then, holding my hands, Ms. Ferguson showed me how to create a “Dolphin stroke wave” in the water, using my tail. I have to say, using a monofin/tail to swim really works your abs as you point your toes underwater with your legs together. It’s basically pulling in your stomach and “zipping” it up – and you will definitely feel it in your abdomen the next day. What a workout! “It’s the ultimate water Pilates,” she added.
After that she taught me how to actually do a mermaid trick – by going underwater, and snapping my tail high above the water. Wow! I achieved it on the first try, and it was so much fun.
Ms. Ferguson is an excellent teacher. She created this course as she was a certified scuba diver and instructor who loved working with “Nervous Nellies,” in the water. She herself can free-dive into the water, and hold her breath for an incredible three minutes and 45 seconds to 109 feet underwater! “This course lets kids and adults have an ocean experience, and learn more about the ocean…remember also, that it’s a mermaid’s job to protect the ocean.”
When she’s not teaching other mermaids, Ms. Ferguson is passionate about sharks. Ms. Ferguson travels the world making ocean-conservation videos with a focus on sharks. “People have been conditioned to think of sharks as bloodthirsty murderers, when in truth, we kill over 11,000 sharks per hour, a far cry from the 10 humans they kill each year,” Ferguson explains. “When they can see you clearly, sharks usually swim away. If people are swimming in murky water, they confuse us for their favorite meal, a seal. I spend time in the water with sharks every week and have seen how they really are, beyond the demonization of their mainstream portrayal. Sharks are just a big, graceful fish that have very little interest in humans and they need our help before it’s too late.” Holding her breath, Ferguson swims to depth without a mask with these wild animals to convey an idea of coexistence. Watching her is like seeing a real-life Ariel in action.
Right now, in the world, there are more than 500 PADI Mermaid Instructors and Mermaid Centers – in far-flung locations such as the Maldives, in the glaciers of Switzerland, in farmland Wisconsin, Australia, Mexico, and in Cornwall, England – which is the mermaid capital of the world.
Says Drew Richardson, President and CEO of PADI Worldwide, “Mermaids are real. Anyone can be one and by doing so you become part of our mutual movement to restore the balance between humanity and the ocean.”
In other words, PADI is filling the oceans with mermaids offering magic and hope, just when it’s needed most.
The entire experience was “Fin-tastic.”
And let me just say a few words more about the Hyatt Regency Maui, one of my favorite resorts on Hawaii. In fact, its one of the hotels where I stayed on my honeymoon back in 2000. Back then, the head concierge told me an interesting story. ” She told me, “When I arrived at a guest’s room one day, the guest came out into the hallway and asked me to set up their room with roses, rose petals, Champagne and some exotic flowers as a surprise later in the evening, when he and his wife were going out to dinner. ‘Money is not a problem,’ the guest told me. ‘You had told me downstairs that you could take care of anything that I need. I want you to make sure that everything is done precisely the way I want.'”
“So I arranged for a dozen long-stem roses, rose petals, Dom Perignon Champagne, and a large tropical floral arrangement all to be set up in their room – within a three-hour time frame. Everything went as planned. The next day, the guest told me he has traveled all around the world and has never received such level of service! My response was ‘Welcome to the Hyatt Maui where your dreams become a reality.'”
That story from the concierge illustrates a lot of what this resort offers. Some important history: When the Hyatt Regency Maui opened in 1980, it was the world’s first destination resort, situated on forty tropically landscaped oceanfront acres, complete with extensive gardens, water playgrounds, wildlife (we love the penguins) and a notable art collection. There’s also an excellent first-rate Marilyn Monroe spa on the premises — ideal for a blow-dry after your mermaid course in the water. And let’s not forget the helipad on the roof – for when you arrive in your private jet.
And if you’re reading this, you probably are, so make sure to fasten your seatbelt for a fun experience all around.
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