In late 2020, PADI announced it was jumping on the mermaid bandwagon — or is it a tail?
PADI is now offering a complete mermaid training program. Other scuba diving and freediving training agencies like SSI and NAUI have been offering such a program for some time now.
PADI’s main goal in creating a mermaid training program appears to be to capitalize on the interest in mermaiding in China. It is trendy among the Chinese! In fact, the PADI training program has been released so far, only in English and Chinese.
Closer to home, considering an increased interest in near-my-home outdoor activities by people tired of being confined during the pandemic, this mermaid program could be another way for a dive professional and dive center to generate revenues in its local market. It can be another line of equipment to carry in a dive store.
We will review what the PADI mermaid training program is and how it compares to other mermaid programs. Is it for you? Is it any good?
What are Mermaids and Mermen?
Everybody (probably) knows what a mermaid is, especially since Disney’s The Little Mermaid movie in 1989. Mermaids appear in the folklore of many cultures around the world. Traditionally, a mermaid had the head and upper body of a woman with the tail of a fish.
Nowadays, a mermaid can be a man or a woman. Because the word ‘maid’ typically refers to a female domestic worker, we’ve seen people using ‘merman’ as the male counterpart to ‘mermaid’. Merman is even in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. In that context, what would be the generic term referring to both male and female ‘mermaids’? ‘Merfolk’ appears to be the consensus.
But PADI decided that for the sake of simplification, mermaid should be a generic term to be used by any gender. Apparently, in many Asian cultures like China, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam, the word ‘mermaid’ is not gender-specific. In Chinese, the word ‘mermaid’ roughly translates to ‘human fish’, and therefore, it is a generic term.
Let’s go with that for now. In the rest of this article, ‘mermaid’ will refer to both male and female creatures.
The only gender-related thing to note at the moment is that your mermaid training program can be marketed and taught to both male and female customers, although you may find that young girls are more interested than young boys. At the adult level… We’ll see!
What is Mermaiding?
Mermaiding is the practice of swimming underwater in a mermaid costume, which typically includes a tail and other accessories. You either do it for the fun of it or for entertaining spectators like they do at the Denver Downtown Aquarium.
If mermaiding seems easy, it simply means that the performer you are watching was well trained because it is a complex activity. Swimming underwater as a mermaid is actually a mix of numerous activities:
- Freediving: You spend time underwater while breath-holding and swimming.
- Blind Freediving: When freediving, you wear a mask. You see underwater. As a mermaid, you swim with no mask, making it harder to see, especially in saltwater.
- Monofin: When performing as a mermaid, you use a monofin, which significantly reduces the range of movements you can do with your legs. A monofin consists of a single surface attached to both of the swimmer’s feet.
- Cosplay: On top of everything above, you throw a mermaid tail covering your monofin, legs, and waist.
If you’ve worn a cosplay costume on land, you know it can be tricky. In the case of a mermaid, you are doing so underwater, which adds a level of complexity. Cosplay is the practice of dressing up as a character from a book, video game, or movie. Sometimes, you will see mermaids on land, like at the entrance to the DEMA Show. That is pure cosplay and doesn’t require as much training.
As for the monofin… If you never tried swimming underwater with a monofin, seek it before thinking it’s easy. You may be surprised! In all truth, it’s not that it is difficult per se, but it takes time to get used to it.
Try entering and exiting the water with feet tied in a monofin and your legs tied in a mermaid tail. You’ll have fun!
So… If you take somebody who has never done freediving, monofining, or cosplay, throw them underwater with a full mermaid costume, and ask them to swim like a dolphin with a monofin… You are heavily task loading that person!
Kids and adults want to be a mermaid for its fun, but training somebody properly and safely is a serious endeavor.
Let’s see what PADI designed for its mermaid training program. Then, we’ll analyze what it means and how to use this training program.
The PADI Mermaid Training Program
PADI wants its mermaid training program to be a stand-alone program next to scuba diving, freediving, and first aid (EFR). It is so far nowhere to be seen on PADI’s website.
The PADI mermaid training program comes with four levels of mermaid training:
- PADI Discover Mermaid Experience
- PADI Basic Mermaid Course
- PADI Mermaid Course
- PADI Advanced Mermaid Course
Let’s simplify it! There’s really 2 courses:
- Mermaid: Pool only.
- Advanced Mermaid: Pool and open water.
The Basic Mermaid Course is a half-course, just like the PADI Scuba Diver course is the first half of the real PADI Open Water Diver course.
And the Discover Mermaid Experience, obviously, is partly an easy-and-quick experience and partly a marketing tool to promote your mermaid training program, just like the PADI Discover Scuba Diving program is to scuba diving training.
Here is a summary of each level of the PADI Mermaid Training program:
PADI Discover Mermaid
- Prerequisites: None.
- Minimum age: 6 years old.
- Pool (confined water) depth: Water shallow enough in which to stand.
- Minimum pool sessions: 1
PADI Basic Mermaid Course
- Prerequisite 1: Ability to swim at least 25m/80ft.
- Prerequisite 2: Ability to float comfortably at the surface for at least 3 minutes.
- Minimum age: 6 years old.
- Recommended minimum hours: 2
- Pool (confined water) depth: Maximum 3m/10ft.
- Minimum pool sessions: 1
PADI Mermaid Course
- Prerequisite 1: Ability to swim at least 50m/160ft.
- Prerequisite 2: Ability to float comfortably at the surface for at least 5minutes.
- Minimum age: 10years old.
- Recommended minimum hours: 6
- Pool (confined water) depth: Maximum 5m/15ft.
- Minimum pool sessions: 2
PADI Advanced Mermaid Course
- Prerequisite 1: Ability to swim at least 100m/320ft.
- Prerequisite 2: Ability to float comfortably at the surface for at least 10 minutes.
- Minimum age: 12years old.
- Minimum hours: 10
- Pool (confined water) depth: Maximum 5m/15ft.
- Minimum pool sessions: 2
- Open water depth: Maximum 10m/30ft.
- Minimum open water sessions: 2
Who can teach PADI mermaid courses?
There are 3 professional PADI mermaid levels:
- PADI Basic Mermaid Instructor: You can teach Discover Mermaid experience and the Basic Mermaid course.
- PADI Mermaid Instructor: You can teach what the basic mermaid instructor can teach, plus the Mermaid course and the Advanced Mermaid course.
- PADI Mermaid Instructor Trainer: You can teach everything, including the Mermaid Instructor course.
There are numerous ways to obtain these PADI mermaid instructor ratings. It depends if you’re already a mermaid instructor with another organization, if you are a freediving instructor, if you have taken a mermaid course before, if it’s a sunny day, if your lunchbox had a mermaid sticker on it in preschool, etc. Just contact the PADI training department to sort it out!
However, it is worth noting that you do not need to be a scuba diving instructor nor a freediving instructor to become a PADI mermaid instructor.
If you operate a dive center, you may want to find new people to join your team to take care of your mermaid training program. It’s a way to expand your influence in the community. And certain scuba diving instructors may not have the ‘image’ you want to use to promote your mermaid training program. I won’t say more, to remain politically correct!
The PROs and CONs of the PADI Mermaid Training Program
Here’s a first set of impressions on this brand new PADI mermaid training program.
The PROs of the PADI Mermaid Training Program
PADI is the largest scuba diving training agency in the world. If PADI opens up its marketing machine to promote underwater mermaid adventures, it may help boost consumer awareness, and that should help your mermaid training program, regardless of the training agency alphabet under which you are teaching.
This new PADI mermaid training program is like all PADI training programs: It’s concise and well designed. It’s like a pre-packaged cake mix! Add water, throw in the oven, and sell, sell, sell! But this could also be a negative aspect.
The CONs of the PADI Mermaid Training Program
On the surface, the PADI mermaid training program could appear a bit superficial. Is it a hamburger with no meat?
The structure and the theory part of the courses both appear quite solid and easy to use. However, we wonder about the number of pool and open water sessions as well as safety measures and instructor prerequisites.
Since mermaiding involves freediving, blind freediving, monofinning, and underwater cosplay, it would seem logical for mermaid instructors to be well trained in freediving.
And when training mermaids, in order to prevent task overload, shouldn’t we gradually introduce the various challenges associated with being an underwater mermaid? Something like this would seem more logical to me:
- Demonstrate freediving ability.
- Demonstrate no mask freediving ability.
- Demonstrate monofinning ability.
- Then… Try mermaiding with a mermaid fin tail and costume.
Personally, if I were to train my own children, I think I would like them to practice freediving first, then freediving with no mask and doing the dolphin swim with a monofin, before throwing them in the water to do all of that with a mermaid tail restricting the movement of their legs.
If so, then the number of pool and open water sessions planned in the PADI mermaid program would be insufficient.
We can also wonder why a safety diver is not required or highly recommended. From what I have witnessed on professional mermaid photoshoots, safety scuba divers are always present. It makes sense to me! And if so, the mermaid instructor should be trained as a scuba diver.
Our Recommendation on How To Teach The PADI Mermaid Training Program
If you decide to teach the PADI mermaid training program, you must follow PADI’s standards for numerous reasons, including the fact that PADI’s educational structure is usually sound, and because you want proper liability protection and insurance coverage. But ultimately, your focus is on providing an outstanding customer experience.
You may want to figure out how you can increase the quality of the mermaid training courses you offer under your own professional brand. PADI’s minimums are just that — minimums. Offering better quality and an improved customer experience is usually a sound business decision and marketing approach.
Remember that people will come to you for the fun of experiencing being a mermaid, not to rush through a course for you to issue a c-card.
We are pretty sure that your mermaid clients would much prefer pictures and videos to a PADI c-card!
Equipment Required to Provide an Underwater Mermaid Experience
Remember when tech diving started? It was hard to find suppliers for tech diving gear. Nowadays, everybody sells tech diving gear, including the mainstream brands like Mares and Aqualung. We suspect the same will happen with mermaid gear.
The two fundamental components of a mermaid gear set are:
- Mermaid tail
When modeling, you wear more than a tail, as you can see in the picture featured at the top of this article, but for offering the experience to your customers, you simply need mermaid tails and monofins.
I say ‘simply,’ but it may not be so simple at the moment.
In high-end mermaid tails, the monofin goes inside the tail. At the low-end, you will find tails starting at the ankles and leaving the monofin out of the tail to play the role of the tail fin. You may also find mermaid tails incorporating the monofin. You will have to google around.
Sizing will be an issue. You have to match foot size with leg length and waist size.
If you want to carry such equipment in your dive center to sell as a profit center, you will have to chase suppliers around. I suggest you contact your current fins supplier to request they add monofins and mermaid tails in their catalog. After all, most dive gear brands are starving for more sales at the moment!
Beyond that, if you are interested in pushing your own mermaiding adventure to a higher level, you will want to look at a custom-made tail. In this case, we are talking about a multi-thousand dollar expense. Have a look at MerNation to get an idea.
You may want to join the Mer Network and educate yourself from the mermaiding discussions happening in that forum.
Raising the Bar on Professional Mermaid Training and Modeling
If you are serious about your own mermaiding skills, you will want to find a training facility offering a lot more than the basic stuff included in the PADI Mermaid Training program.
For instance, our friends at Sheroes Entertainment and LA Mermaid School have provided training for professionals mermaids for years. They also trained Hollywood actors and actresses and staged numerous professional photoshoots.
Moving underwater as a mermaid is one thing. Taking and holding an underwater pose for a photoshoot is another thing! Controlling bubbles coming out of your mouth is a thing in itself. Usually, it requires a lot more training and logistics, including safety scuba divers. You will also find that graduating from a professional underwater mermaid model training program will require many more dollars!
Have a look at a few women and men performing underwater mermaid modeling in the following video. It’s art!