Perhaps you have noticed an increase in the mermaid population at your local swimming pool.
Fascinated by the glamorous, colorful life lived underwater in the movies and on television, children are attempting to turn the imaginary world into reality by purchasing their own mermaid tails. Unlike fish, though, it turns out imaginary mermaids need to be schooled in just how to swim with all of that real gear.
“The fins are great for kids, and I want them to get to wear them, as it does make them stronger swimmers and more confident in the water, but I want them to do it safely,” said Nicole Wildman, also referred to as the Wild, Wonderful Mermaid.
Swimming with a tail is much harder than it looks, Wildman said, which is why she is teaching little girls and boys how to safely swim in a fin.
“To be a mermaid, first of all, have the dream. Second of all, be a good swimmer — that is main, and do not turn away from training,” she said.
Wildman started swimming when she was 2 and swam competitively for 11 years. While studying theater at Marshall University, she began training for the mermaid life to add to her list of performance skills.
She became a free diver and scuba diver before learning to swim with a tail, and she studied the sciences of swimming and what those who wear fins call “mermaiding” for several years.
“I just wanted to combine my love of theater with my love of the water, and what better way to do that than a mermaid character,” Wildman said.
She has lived as a mermaid for 10 years and mostly performs at birthday parties, makes special guest appearances and participates in swims at mermaid conventions.
But she wants to be sure non-mermaids are safe in their fins. Nationally, the popular costume accessories have been linked to an increased risk of drowning. Last year, while working at Nitro Swimming Pool, Wildman noticed children were bringing their own monofins — single fins that attach to both feet — to the pool.
“When I came back from doing my training, I found little girls throwing on tails with no training and trying to jump into the pool and swimming, or worse — not swimming,” Wildman said.
She remembers several who struggled and had to be helped and said to keep young swimmers safe, “There was a lot of ‘I’m sorry, you can’t swim in your fin,’ and that’s no fun.”
So Wildman started the Mermaids Swim Safely class, where she teaches the basics of fin life, including proper kick technique, how to find treasures under the sea, and how to properly get in and out of a fin and escape it if necessary.
The classes are offered to children ages 5 to 14, and the cost is $25 each. Fins are provided.
“It brings the dream to life,” Wildman said. “Instead of just dreaming that you are a mermaid, you are a mermaid.”
Students also learn to build strength and hold their breath underwater.
One of Wildman’s first students, Jodie Pierson, 11, has taken classes with her for more than a year.
“Honestly, I just really like swimming,” Jodie said. “I can do the mermaid stroke perfectly, I can go to the bottom of the 12-foot and stay alive, and I can do handstands and all kinds of stuff.”
Jodie has a full body fin — a pink scale-patterned suit that reaches from her feet to her belly and matches her one-piece bathing suit.
Her fascination with mermaids began when she was about 2. She remembers watching “The Little Mermaid” on repeat nearly everyday.
“I just wanted to be a mermaid,” Jodie said. “I didn’t know it was possible until I saw people with tails swimming around.”
When her mother saw an ad for Wildman’s class in the newspaper, she signed her up.
Jodie doesn’t need as much attention as the newcomers, but Wildman keeps a close eye on her while she swims around, occasionally doing a handstand and showing other students how to escape their fins.
Wildman also teaches Fitness in Fins, for ages 15 and over. The class includes yoga, calisthenics, dance and swimming with a fin.
To her, the mermaid life isn’t all glamorous, and it’s not all about teaching others to be mermaids, either.
Wildman often extends her training to use it as a platform to advocate for wildlife conservation.
“One of my big pushes is clean rivers, clean lakes,” she said. “I’m trying to get in with all of the West Virginia wildlife specialty groups so that I can be a spokesperson, because when you put out the hashtag ‘save the mermaids,’ people will actually start considering these issues.”
Wildman has volunteered with and participated in the Tour de Coal and Coal River Group for almost 10 years, as well as participating in clean ups along the river.
She is a supporter of the Elk River Water Trail, Birthplace of Rivers National Monument and Friends of Cheat, locally. Nationally and internationally, Wildman has participated in ocean cleanups, as well as several smaller beach cleanups with various organizations.
“I want to encourage anyone who dreams of being a mermaid to check it out, but recognize that it is a sport, and like all sports, should be practiced and properly supervised,” Wildman said. “No untrained fin swimmer should ever wear a mermaid tail in open water, fresh or salt.”
For those who cannot make it to the class, Wildman has some tips for parents and new mermaids:
n Don’t swim in a train in water deeper than you can stand in.
n Don’t use a tail until you can tread water for at least 60 seconds, float for 30 seconds and are able to swim at least 25 yards unassisted.
n Be strong underwater swimmers.
n Know how to dolphin kick.
n Know how to get in and out of the tail quickly in the water in case of an emergency, and how to swim in the tail safely.
n Don’t be left unattended in a fin and be within arms reach of a parent.
Reach Jennifer Gardner at
304-348-5102 or follow
@jenncgardner on Twitter.