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Did you know that being a mermaid — or an Aquarius — is a hot new trend?

I didn’t until I visited Hawaii and took a new two-hour Discover Mermaid Experience course with Sara Ferguson, owner of Mindful Mermaid Swim Academy, a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) program that is being rolled out worldwide was, 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 breathtaking Waterfall Grotto. “Mermaids are the new black,” laughs Ferguson — she’s PADI’s Leading Mermaid Instructor.

Also offered is a full day PADI Mermaid course and another more advanced course spread over two days, and Ferguson even includes an underwater photo shoot. Then voila! You are a certified mermaid.

Ferguson should know. She wrote the mermaid program for and with PADI, and it is the first step to becoming a certified PADI mermaid. And since she’s slim and lithe, with long, long, flowing red hair, she actually resembles a living mermaid – especially when she’s wearing her tail – and is a great teacher of everything – ocean. Actually, that’s what mermaids are all about, she says. “We inspire others to protect the ocean and we train the younger generation to be Ocean Ambassadors,” she told me while we were both in the pool.

Ferguson added that “people fly in from all over the world” to experience her mermaid classes, adding, “It’s a way of being magical.”

In fact, there are actually “swarms” of people who love to dress up and swim as mermaids and watermen. One of them, based in California, is called “Merfolk Pod” and lists 451 members on its Facebook page. Ferguson also told me that a California Mermaid Convention has been held in Rancho Cordova every May for the past three years. Ferguson said it’s one of the biggest mermaid conventions, with more than 100 mermaids and mermen attending and taking classes on topics like how to keep your wig underwater.

Well, I was intrigued and decided to see it for myself, with my own cock at my feet (and with my tongue stuck in my cheek). My beginner class, Discover Mermaid, costs $149, requires no regulator, and is the first step to eventually becoming certified. This initial program takes about two hours.

The important things first. After I signed up for the experience, Ferguson gave me leggings and a crop top with orange and pink fish scales, just like a mermaid would wear. The next step was to put on the matching tail/skirt which had a black plastic beginner monofin attached to the bottom. I have to admit I looked mer-mazing!

Author Debbi Kickham poses in her mermaid outfit at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa in Kaanapali.  (Courtesy of Debbi Kickham)
Author Debbi Kickham poses in her mermaid outfit at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa in Kaanapali. (Courtesy of Debbi Kickham)

Next, all I needed was a snorkel and mask—I didn’t use a regulator. She even asked me to create my own personal mermaid name. I chose “Debunk” because it resembles my real name – and somehow describes my work as a journalist. (Ferguson’s mermaid name is “Sarandipity.”) Who knew mermaids would be so popular — sort of like unicorns? “It sure is niche, but people love it,” Ferguson said, laughing.

I went into the pool and then Ferguson, while holding my hands, showed me how to use my tail to create a “dolphin dash wave” in the water. I have to say that using a monofin/tail for swimming really works your abs as you point your toes underwater with your legs together. It basically sucks in your stomach and “pulls” it up — and you’ll definitely feel it in your stomach the next day. What a workout! “It’s the ultimate in 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 did it on the first try and it was so much fun.

Ferguson is an excellent teacher. She started this course as she was a certified diver and instructor who loved working with “nervous nellies” in the water. She herself can freely dive into the water and hold her breath for an incredible three minutes and 45 seconds at 30 meters underwater.

“This course lets children and adults gain sea experiences and learn more about the ocean…Remember, too, that a mermaid’s job is to protect the ocean.”

Sara Ferguson, who travels the world making ocean conservation videos focused on sharks, is shown swimming with sharks.  (Photo by Andre Musgrove)
Sara Ferguson, who travels the world making ocean conservation videos focused on sharks, is shown swimming with sharks. (Photo by Andre Musgrove)

When she’s not teaching other mermaids, Ferguson is passionate about sharks. She travels the world making ocean conservation videos with a focus on sharks.

“People have been conditioned to think of sharks as bloodthirsty killers, when in fact we’re killing over 11,000 sharks an hour, a far cry from the 10 people they kill every year,” Ferguson explains. “When they get a good look at you, sharks usually swim away. When people swim in murky water, they mistake us for their favorite food, a seal. I spend time in the water with sharks every week and have seen what they really are like, beyond the demonization of their mainstream representation. Sharks are just big, graceful fish that have very little interest in humans and need our help before it’s too late.”

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