Happy International Mermaid Day! Where we’re at: I’m sharing my journey in 2022, including this trip to Mexico in February.
Alright fellow fish-loving friends, to try to track my mermaid obsession over the years is going to bring us all the way back. And I mean all the way. I was born in 1989, Disney’s The Little Mermaid was released in 1989 – coincidence? I think not.
Things picked up a few decades later, actually. My twenties were filled with countless siren-themed Halloween shell-ebrations, many annual Mermaid Parade pilgrimages to Coney Island, a mermaid-themed bachelorette for a fellow ocean addict, and memorable trips dragging family and friends to meet the Weeki Wachee Mermaids in Florida.
The last one is what really hooked me. (Get it? Yeah sorry the mermaid puns won’t lighten up anytime soon, so get onboard.) One year, after being totally transfixed by watching those glorious retro underwater artists do their thing in the Sunshine State, I thought – okay, I gotta get in on this! After scouring the internet for mermaid schools, I flew to the Philippines for three days of splashing around in a tail for my birthday. It was the early days of the mermaiding industry, and while the course itself was questionable, I was quickly addicted to Ariel-ing. Two years later, I couldn’t get tail time off my mind, and so brought my best girlfriends to Isla Mujeres for another mer-themed birthday at the famous Shell House.
That’s where I learned that mermaiding had come a long way since the world first sang along to Part of Your World — with Mexico being one of the epicenters of this unique form of diving.
Launched in December 2020, the PADI Mermaiding Program sought to bring the same safety standards, training consistency and eco-minded values to the underwater world of mermaid diving that it has brought to scuba diving and freediving for decades.
On a trip to Cozumel that same month, I met two of Mexico’s first PADI Mermaids –Julie Ferrara of Freedive Cozumel and Carmen Mantione of Tulum Mermaid. While I didn’t sign up for the certification at the time, I certainly got my fins wet trying mermaiding and freediving with them on the reefs of Cozumel and in the cenotes of Tulum.
It was just a matter of time before I came back and made it official – which I got to do this February when I finally signed up for my PADI Advanced Mermaid Certification! Already in Tulum for my High Flying Aerial + Mermaiding Retreat, I couldn’t think of a better fit. Carmen, a once New York stylist turned Mexico mermaid with a passion for pole fitness, was the perfect fit for both teaching my course and leading a day of mermaiding for the performers-in-training at my aerial retreat.
What is the PADI Mermaid Program?
Mermaiding is for just about everyone – it’s a standalone course, so you don’t have to be a scuba diver or freediver to become a mermaid.
There’s really so many directions one can take mermaiding in but many instructors tend to prefer to swim down one path – one, the more athletic, freediving-based practice, others, the more costume-heavy, fantasy experience. Personally I feel connected with both, and love that so many options exist for expressing oneself underwater. Make sure you find an instructor who shares your interests!
Once you do, there are four options in the PADI Mermaiding Program, in brief!
• PADI Discover Mermaid Experience: Similar to a DSD in scuba, this program introduces simple mermaid activities in shallow confined water.
• PADI Basic Mermaid Course: The certification courses kick off with Basic Mermaid, starting with a brief and fun eLearning or classroom session following by at least one session in a pool or pool-like conditions, giving you a first taste of mermaid swimming and breathholding.
• PADI Mermaid Course: Mermaid builds on Basic Mermaid with another, more in-depth eLearning or classroom session, as well as an additional water session adding more dynamic mermaid skills.
• PADI Advanced Mermaid Course: Advanced Mermaid once again adds onto the previous courses, this time adding a thorough eLearning or classroom sesh followed by two additional mermaid sessions in open water.
I had already decided I wanted to go all in and take Basic Mermaid through Advanced Mermaid in one shot – a popular, three day option. This allowed me to visit three different aquatic environments in Tulum: two cenotes, and one ocean reef!
Day One: PADI Basic Mermaid
Basic Mermaid is where it all begins — a one day course that teaches you the origins of mermaid history and culture, which goes way beyond the famous red-headed mermaid so many of us know! In fact, the earliest known stories date back to about 1000BC, in Mesopotamia, or the modern-day Middle East. Many were full fish with human faces, a departure from the upper human body and lower fish tail bodies we know well today!
Even my beloved Weeki Wachee Springs got a shoutout in the history lesson, meant to show that looking back at the 3,000 year history of mermaids, this is not a passing fad but an enduring tale told in cultures across the globe. Mermaid diving is just the next evolution.
The course went on to start to introduce the basic concepts of mermaid safety, mermaid equipment, being an environmentally friendly mermaid (choosing makeup safe for aquatic environments, for one!) and outlining the basic mermaid entries and floats.
One of my favorite facts from Basic Mermaid? In many Asian languages, the translated term for mermaid is human fish, with no gender reference. Thus, the term was chosen by PADI to be an inclusive, gender-neutral term that applies equally to all. Each of my three day eLearning sections took me about an hour, but I was nerding out hard and taking notes – it might take less for many. My rooftop poolside classroom location didn’t exactly inspire me to rush, either. I do love that eLearning can be completed anywhere!
Later, we got right to the fun stuff (um, I mean, in case you couldn’t tell, for me eLearning was also the fun stuff, haha) at Cenote Cristal in Tulum. It was my first time at this particular cenote and I instantly loved the colorful hammocks, the jumping dock, and of course the clear blue waters. Not cenotes are created equal – in fact, some in Tulum don’t even allow fins, making it impossible to mermaid in them. But Cenote Cristal in particular is great because it has two long lines running across it, great for resting or watching your instructor complete a skill.
After a topside warm up and gear up, we worked on mermaid floats, surface swims, treading water, duck dives and dynamic swims, and some super basic safety skills. I felt totally refreshed after being out of a tail for some time!
On its own, PADI Basic Mermaid is great course for someone who is a little curious about mermaiding but not quite ready to commit to kissing their feet goodbye for more than one day. Personally, I definitely left craving more.
Day Two: PADI Mermaid
Right away, I could tell the PADI Mermaid course goes deeper. Over ten modules, I studied things like the physics of water and air and equalization and how pressure effects the body – for scuba divers, this will be a nice refresher, with a mermaid twist!
One thing I found interesting was that buoyancy in water reduces directional cues from gravity, and changes in your body position can affect your sense of balance (duh! I know this from yoga!) but is why we can sometimes get disoriented when swimming upside down in mermaiding.
This course also gets into safe breatholding, also known as apnea, which is where freedivers will start nodding along. Can I tell you how pumped this section got me to finally take PADI Freediver someday?! I loved really being introduced for the first time to the science of breathholding and how it can be effected by digestion, training levels, relaxation, and beyond.
Finally, the course touches in more detail on mermaid equipment and care, unique mermaiding skills (yes please, unit on blowing underwater kisses!), and emergency procedures.
Still, perhaps my favorite aspect of the PADI Mermaid eLearning was the recognition that mermaid diving adds this element of creativity, art, and performance that aren’t really otherwise a typical aspect of diving. While scuba diving is so much about exploration of the underwater world, freediving is very much about exploration of the self and pushing past our mental limits. Mermaiding then introduces these new elements of play and artistic expression and collaboration. I want them all!
For our water sessions, we headed to Tulum’s Yax-Xen Cenote. The hotel and restaurant we used as our base, Manglex Eco Hotel, has a small pool where I completed my static breathhold session, a practice where you submerge in water and time how long you can hold your breath, taking into account everything you just learned about the body’s experience in apnea. This is something I can’t wait to keep learning and focusing on.
Then, we headed out to the shallow canal of the cenote to complete even more mermaid skills – those underwater kisses, pindrop descents, upside down swims, longer dynamic dives, underwater turns, rescue drills, maskless swims, tail removal, and more!
Carmen’s tail collection is endless – in addition to a wide-supply from popular brands, she hand makes many herself, meaning each day of the course I got to play in a different look. I won’t lie – this may have been one of my favorite parts of the entire certification. If you’ve ever felt shamed geeking out over the color of your dive gear – first of all, girl, come on a Wander Women Dive Retreat – and second, know that in mermaiding, it’s a celebrated part of the fun!
Day Three: PADI Advanced Mermaid
Okay, so PADI Advanced Mermaid is where you really move from training mode to real life – or you know, whichever version of reality mermaids exist in. It’s day three of mermaiding now, and you move from confined water into open water! What’s that, you ask? PADI uses these terms for all their dive programs, and what they mean definitely varies in different marine environments around the world. But, in general, confined water is meant to either be a pool or replicate the conditions of one as much as possible, like a shallow bay, and open water is something like the open ocean, a lake, a purpose-built quarry, etc.
The Advanced Mermaid eLearning jumps into describing open water environments and conditions like the differences between salt versus fresh water, tides, currents and waves (I enjoyed learning some science behind these mysteries of the sea!) and how to assess conditions.
It then built upon the previous courses, adding in more weighting techniques, rescue procedures, aquatic life interaction tips, and a lengthy section on making mermaids ambassadors for the underwater world – a cause very near and dear to my heart.
For this day’s open water sessions, Carmen arranged a real treat – a trip to the Tulum reef! Tulum is mostly known for its magical cenotes, but the call of the ocean for me is always strong. We met on the beach and hopped in our boat for the day and first took a short ride up to the Tulum Mayan Ruins, which are already in my opinion some of the most stunningly located ancient ruins on the planet. But seeing them from the sea, with the Caribbean waters lapping up against their shores? Wow, it was one of the pinch-me moments of the course.
At the reef, we slipped into the salty waters and marveled at what felt like a stingray convention beneath our tails. Between diving down and blowing kisses at them, we checked off skills like rescue simulations, more advanced breath hold techniques, and just getting comfortable in more variable conditions open water can bring.
Back on shore, Carmen and I toasted with fresh coconuts bought from a beach vendor to my newest PADI certification – my lifelong dream came true, and I was a mermaid, for real!
Honestly, the PADI Mermaiding course really blew me away. As someone who had already spent quite a bit of time in a tail, I kind of half expected it to be a formality for me. It was not! I learned so much from the eLearning every day, and it really kicked up the urge I’ve had for a while to get my freediving certification next, too.
And, I really enjoyed the skills! Putting a name to and practicing some of the various movements and actions I’ve seen mermaids take was empowering, and while I always hope I’ll never have to use any safety skills I practice in any dive training, I know that they make me a better citizen of the underwater world.
And as always, I appreciate PADI’s commitment to using every opportunity to spread a message of love and conservation for the waters that make up this planet!
I know many will ask, as I myself did, is this something we really need a certification for? And having had a few mermaiding experiences before this, I really surprised myself with how vehemently I now thing yes – the PADI Mermaid program brings structure, safety, environmental consideration and consistency to the mermaid industry that I think it needed.
Okay, so if you’re thinking, less talk, more tails – how do I sign up?! You can find the growing list of PADI Mermaid Centers around the world here, and read on for a bit more inspiration if you’re intrigued!
The Best Places in Mexico to Mermaid
My Mermaid Inspiration
• Splash: The ultimate mermaid movie, in my opinion! I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that many of my adult ideas about love and women’s hair styles were formed by this Daryl Hannah and Tom Hanks hit.
• The Mermaid Podcast: I’m hopelessly hooked on podcasts, and this is a fun one to listen to en route to a mermaid trip, or while editing underwater footage from one!
Mermaid Packing List
• A Mahina Mermaid Fin: A woman-owned, sustainable small business that makes the best fins in the biz! Mahina was one of the first professional mermaids in the world – she knows what she’s doing. I’m proud to own one in black and teal!
• Mermaid Tails: Cape Cali makes some of the most well-respected tails out there, designed to fit Mahina fins and manufactured with material produced from recycled fishing nets, demonstrating their 100% commitment to ocean conservation. They also have the biggest selection I’ve seen anywhere of land-based mermaid gear!
• Stream2Sea Sunscreen: The name says it all – these products are made to safely make their way from streams to the sea, as all products we put on our body should! Another small, female-owned business you can feel good supporting.
• Mermaid Straws: Not just straws but mermaid-plated cutlery, drinkware, apparel and accessories! A small business that donate a percentage of sales to Plastic Bank, organize beach clean ups, and of course, creates products that reduce polluting waste.
• Fin Pins: The holographic mermaid stickers by this brand are just begging to go on your laptop – and are created by two female biologists who donate proceeds to research and ocean conservation. Bonus? They ship plastic free!
Any questions about the PADI Mermaid course, mermaiding in Mexico, or more?
Fire away in the comments, I’m here to share!