Mermaid school expands as more people demand sea siren experience

A new school that teaches people how to swim in mermaid tails is expanding across Ontario. It's part of a growing mermaid swimming craze, but its running up against safety concerns at public pools.

A new swimming school teaches people how to swim strapped in mermaid tails

Aquamermaid school has just opened in Toronto. Here, instructors teach students of all ages how to swim in mermaid tails 3:34

"How about we do some handstands now?" suggests swimming instructor Olivia Ginty to her class at an indoor Toronto pool. Her adult students disappear underwater and brightly coloured mermaid tails emerge, flopping in the air.

Once they catch their breath, there are woops of joy and applause from the group. "Awesome, very good!" exclaims Ginty.

Welcome to mermaid school. Aquamermaid surfaced in Montreal in February, has just floated into Toronto and will make the leap to Ottawa come September.

Sixty dollars covers tail rental plus a one-hour class where students ages seven and up learn how to swim like mermaids.

School is in session at Aquamermaid in Toronto (CBC )

"It's really fun to be a mermaid," declares nine-year-old Sarina Heydary. After some instruction, she gleefully glides through the water strapped in a sea green tail made of stretchy fabric pulled up to her waist and a plastic fin at the bottom.

"Business is great. We actually have a lot of popularity in our adult classes, surprisingly," says Ginty, a certified lifeguard who calls herself a "mermaid instructor."

A recent surge of wearable tails for sale online has spawned new opportunities for anyone with mermaid inclinations. Don't be surprised if you sight them them at your next public swim at the local rec centre — unless you happen to live in Edmonton or Surrey, B.C. where mermaid tails are banned from city-owned pools.

That's because binding swimmers' legs together has raised safety concerns.

But Aquamermaid says it provides a supervised environment where people can safely get a workout and realize their mermaid fantasies — at any age.

'The Little Mermaid' effect

"We all watched The Little Mermaid when we were kids, right, so it's kind of cool to experience that," says 23-year-old participant, Emily Dawe.

Mermaids — mythical aquatic creatures that are half human, half fish, have been part of folklore for centuries. They got an extra boost in modern times thanks to the wildly popular 1989 Disney movie version of The Little Mermaid — a story about a sea nymph who traded her tail for legs to be with a prince.

Dawe is here celebrating her friend, Pawel Pietruszczak's 32nd birthday.

Pawel Pietruszczak and his friends celebrate his 32nd birthday at mermaid school. (cbc)

Pietruszczak, who dyed his hair sea foam green for the occasion admits he was inspired by the Disney movie.

"You know how she wanted legs? I definitely wanted fins. So here I am," says the health-care worker who reveals he will change his hair to a more subdued colour before returning to his job on dry land.

But, for now, he can escape into the mythological mermaid — or merman — world. "It transports you," he says after charting the waters in his aquamarine tail. "You get to be in a totally different body and it's quite a liberating experience." 

Nancy Mactavish learned how to swim the butterfly stroke while wearing her dark green tail. The 57-year-old came to class for the fantasy aspect and because she heard it was a good workout.

"It's harder than you think it's going to be. You can feel it in your stomach and hips the whole time," says a spent Mactavish after her session.

West coast mermaids

Lori Pappajohn runs Mermaids International in Vancouver. She hosts parties and coaches children who want to swim in mermaid tails. (Lori Pappjohn)

For those dreaming of becoming a mermaid on the West Coast, Mermaids International hosts parties plus individual coaching for children in the Vancouver area.

"It's just really taken off, it's amazing," says owner Lori Pappajohn who calls herself a "professional mermaid."

Pappajohn, a singer and harpist by profession, says the mermaid business is so good that "last year I did more mermaid gigs than music gigs."

She says she recently hosted a 40th birthday party where the women were "big burly hockey players. And it was a surprise, they didn't know. And I thought, 'This is not going to go well.'"

But, she says, by the end of the session, "I could not get them out of their tails. They just swam and swam and swam. It just brings joy to everybody."

Mermaid struggles in Edmonton

Krista Visinski sports her mermaid tail in Edmonton. The aspiring mermaid instructor has started a petition, protesting the city's ban on mermaid tails in public pools. (Donovan Wright)

It also brings joy to Krista Visinski in Edmonton.

"When I get in the water, go under water, I feel so peaceful, so relaxed," says the 24-year-old who would eventually like to host children's parties and do underwater performances.

But she has hit a snag with her training. The City of Edmonton has sounded the siren, banning mermaid tails from its public pools. Visinksi discovered this recently when approached by a city pool lifeguard while practising her mermaid moves.

She said, 'Hey, you can't swim with your ankles bound.' She said there's a ban happening in the city. I was very upset," says Visinski.

"The City of Edmonton has determined that mermaid tails pose a serious safety risk to younger swimmers," said spokesman Christopher Webster in an email.

Visinski has started a petition, asking the city to lift the ban and instead implement rules — such as a swim test — "to ensure the safety of people who choose to train and dream of life as a mermaid."

In Toronto, a swim test is required before people can sport mermaid tails during public swims.

Visinski says she's met with city officials and feels encouraged that Edmonton will eventually embrace mermaid tails. "It is something that the city is interested in. I think they just banned it more because people are afraid of what they don't understand, because mermaiding is a bit newer to Canada."

New it may be, but it's definitely making a splash.

Birthday boy, Pietruszczak, says he will return for another class so he can once again give up his legs for a tail — even if it's just for an hour. "It's really joyful and it's something I need in my life," he says.

About the Author

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris has worked as a CBC video journalist across the country, covering everything from the start of the annual lobster fishery in Yarmouth, N.S., to farming in Saskatchewan. She now has found a good home at the business unit in Toronto. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca

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