Did you ever watch Splash when you were little and get a little obsessed with the idea of becoming a mermaid?
I remember seeing an article on £1,000 ‘genuine’ mermaid tails for diving in a Sunday supplement once aged 10. I promised myself when I was grown up, I'd buy one.
As adulthood approached, I quickly realised my money was needed for rent, bills and feeding myself every month, instead of tails. My mermaid dreams were permanently put on the back burner.
However, down in Cornwall, Ian Donald hasn't given up of people's mermaid dreams quite so easily. He's started a legitimate mermaid training academy at his diving school, Freedive UK.
I went along to live out my childhood fantasy and see if I have the skills to make it in the big blue after all.
Where Is It?
Held at the Glendorgal hotel in Newquay, the course is based at the gorgeous Porth Beach.
It starts pretty early in the morning, so getting there the night before is advisable.
I found the Green House Surf Lodge was the best place to stay. It's super close to Newquay station and only 10 minutes walk along the beach to the course.
Not at all pricey, it's one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed in when visiting Cornwall. Make sure you keep a note of it for the next time you visit!
What's It All About?
The diving school has started courses in the art of being a real life mermaid, but its main function is as a breath-hold diving school.
“There has been a lot of publicity around diving as a mermaid over the last few years," says Ian Donaldson, head of Freedive UK and my mermaid tutor.
We see so many mermaids in videos and they’re doing it wrong!
"We think it’s a great way to get the word out about freediving as a sport and appealing to mass market."
“Also, we see so many mermaids in videos and photos and they’re doing it wrong!" he says. "If you’re going to be a mermaid, you should do it properly and safely."
How Do You Learn To Be A Mermaid?
After a 30 minute talk on breathing techniques and safety (the same introduction you would get on a freediving course) I found myself in a swimming pool wearing a full length wetsuit.
Before we were allowed anywhere near our tails, we had to practice breath holding techniques - very important if your going to be a real mermaid. You don't see many mermaids swimming around with oxygen tanks on their back.
"Most people can hold their breath comfortably-ish for one minute," explains Ian. "After that minute, the body still has most of its oxygen and doesn't actually need to breathe."
"Most people with no training can actually last another minute, feeling uncomfortable and then a third minute after that."
There's nothing crazier than catching a sight of yourself and seeing a mermaid fin!
"In that third minute, you will probably experience some palpitations and contractions in your abdomen as your body registers the lack of oxygen entering your body, but they're nothing to worry about and can be controlled."
It all sounded pretty scary, but as I practiced my breathing control under the water, I realised he was right. I stayed under for three minutes and 50 seconds. I was ready for my mermaid tail....
Do You Look Crazy?
Well, yes - but that's all part of the fun.
As I entered the water, I was shocked at how unnatural it felt to swim with a fin.
In order to move the tail effectively, all movement has to come from the hips. If you try and kick, you'll find yourself heading towards down into the sea bed!
Once I had a few goes, I felt more at ease and it suddenly became a lot of fun. There's nothing crazier than catching a sight of yourself in the water and seeing a big mermaid fin!
Once all mermaids are swimming, the course moves on to teaching you how to look natural under water with no goggles or breathing equipment (the photo below shows that I may not have mastered this trick)
How Can I Do It Too?
If you want to become a real life mermaid too, there are a few options to choose from.
You can do a one-day course, which introduces you to the world of mermaids (or mermen), all in the safety of a heated swimming pool.
There's also a three-day course, which includes the AIDA 1-2* freediving course.
If you want to go even further, you can book onto a four-day course in Malta which will take you into the open water to dive deep with a mermaid tail and put your freediving skills to the test.
Once you've decided what kind of mermaid you want to be, head over to Freedive's site and book in the date of your choice!