Mermaiding is no Game
From hating swimming and suppressing her childhood dreams to what turns out to be a surprisingly challenging underwater job, MERMAID DEEPBLUE has paid her dues as both scuba- and freediver. And that includes two years refusing to give in to a 7m depth barrier – not to mention the occasional ‘princess problem’. Photos by PIA OYARZÚN
FOR AS LONG AS I REMEMBER, I had never felt comfortable in water. My childhood dream of becoming a mermaid faded away as soon as I tried learning to swim – I felt I was just not made for it. I kept choking, felt panicky and could never really relax.
So I forgot about this little dream, and went on with my life.
One day on a trip abroad I was given the chance to scuba-dive with sharks in an aquarium. I was so impressed by these animals that I became passionate about them, did some research and came across mermaid Hannah Fraser, who had danced under water with tiger sharks. My forgotten childhood dream was reignited, and I decided that I would make it happen – I would become a mermaid.
I bought my very first swimmable-fabric mermaid tail online from Finfun, but my first mermaid swim in a pool with my sister felt horrible as the chlorinated water burnt my eyes. This was far from my vision of being the Little Mermaid.
However, I kept pushing my psychological and physical boundaries and, over time, reached a level of confidence I would never have expected.
My passion for sharks led me to want to raise awareness of their need for protection. The Jaws image still pervades, but as divers know sharks are an integral part of the eco-system, help to regulate it and deserve to be respected and defended.
I discovered with joy a video of Deepblue, said to be the largest female great white ever seen, off Mexico, and decided that my mermaid name should be Mermaid Deepblue.
Now I needed to learn to scuba-dive properly if I wanted to enjoy plenty of inwater time with the sharks while, for the mermaiding, I needed to perfect the art of freediving. And both skills would be essential for my planned underwater modelling.
Luckily at that time, 2014/15, mermaiding was trending in the UK. Freedive UK was proposing to run its first mermaid course, and I was a participant. Later, Learn 2 Freedive started offering mermaiding and freediving lessons, as well as occasional aquarium shows.
The first large UK mermaid event finally took place in 2017, as more than 300 “merfolk” gathered in Bexhill, making their mark for Guinness World Records.
I started on my freediving training, but unfortunately was stuck for two years at a maximum depth of 7m because of equalisation issues.
Unwilling to give up, however,
I contacted Steve Millard of Learn 2 Freedive, who immediately recognised the problems I was having. One weekend of open-water practice and I had passed my AIDA 2 depth exam – I was ecstatic!
I also qualified as a PADI Open Water Diver and started diving with sharks, soon followed by my first modelling experience with them, guided by talented photographer Pia Oyarzún from the Made in Water project.
Her eye for amazing dive-spots and the professionalism she and her safety team displayed enabled me to achieve amazing outcomes very safely from the outset.
Appeared in DIVER June 2018
PIA TOLD ME THAT I had appeared very comfortable compared to many other models on their first such dive so, having discovered something I could do well, I decided to keep doing it!
Mermaiding is not a game, an easy hobby suitable for anyone – it requires a lot of training to be graceful while staying safe. Silicone mermaid tails weigh 12-14kg and can be difficult to manoeuvre under water, yet they remain buoyant enough that many mermaids add extra weights to them to help them swim at depth.
This makes ascents very slow, risky and energy-consuming, so you’d better not panic when you decide that you need some air. This is an activity you can never practise on your own, mainly because of the risk of losing consciousness while breath-holding.
Add the fact that you need to have your uncovered eyes open, usually in chlorinated water, hold your breath and look relaxed and happy while swimming gracefully through cold water towards that aquarium window – this is the real mermaid deal!
My underwater modelling sessions in open water are intense. Spending half an hour under water at 10, 15 or 20m without a mask, I can’t see anything. The sea can be rough and subject to sudden temperature changes, to which I’m very sensitive because I’m wearing no wetsuit.
Of course, as PADI divers we’re always aware of the need to respect corals and all living organisms – the wrecks we pick as locations are mostly bare metal, and my team are always there to guide me on where I can safely hold on or stand without touching any living thing.
Of course, when the sharks are around I need to stay absolutely calm, respect strict safety rules and rely entirely on my team to let me know if there are any issues.
Quite honestly, during my last photo session with sharks (the wedding dress one above), I couldn’t have cared less about what they were doing because I was having what my friends would later call “princess problems” – my crown kept moving around, and I constantly needed to rearrange my dress and hair to look graceful.
The sharks were just grey shadows passing nearby. Panic is unlikely when you’re that fully occupied!
No matter how intense every moment is, I’m filled with happiness after every experience because this activity has enabled me to combine everything I love: dancing, modelling, ocean conservation and extreme sports.
Meditation and breath-hold sessions have brought me an inner peace and strength I had never imagined, which is invaluable during difficult life-events.
I DO SCUBA- AND FREEDIVE just for fun as well; I took them up because I was driven by mermaiding, but now I’m hooked. Many of my holidays have to be by the sea for this reason, and one of my biggest dreams now is to experience freediving under the ice some day!
I’ll take part in fund-raising events and photo or video projects anywhere, but I do have another job; it’s very difficult to make a living from mermaiding and underwater modelling.
That income stream enabled me to make the necessary investments, such as buying my tail and, by taking away the financial pressures, lets me participate in many projects that are unlikely to generate income, such as charity work.
The only girls who I think might have succeeded financially are in the USA, and they have created other kinds of business around their mermaid activities: top- and tail-making or rental, waterproof make-up brands and so on.
In the UK you can earn money from “dry” events, but aquariums are tough on safety, hygiene procedures and insurance risks, so tend not to enable the underwater activity to develop there.
Over time my views on conservation have grown stronger, as I realise with each new shark experience that in many ways they’re like large dogs or cats – certainly judging from the way they wanted to grab the coconut I was holding during my last session, and caring not a jot about me!
I hope pictures of me with them help to change people’s minds and foster respect for sharks and for the ocean.
Follow Mermaid Deepblue on Instagram (@mermaid_deepblue), Facebook or Twitter.