A Fairytale Life Underwater

In the world of imagination, children dream of living a fairy tale. In reality, there’s the mermaid academy. Yes, there are swimming schools for those who want to be like Ariel, the heroine of the movie The Little Mermaid, or, closer to home, Jezebel.

Being a mermaid is not all about carousing in the water among the coral reefs and schools of fish, as Ariel does with her long colorful hair trailing her. It also means learning the basic strokes of gliding and moving underwater with legs enclosed in a 2-kg mermaid tail, movements that also happen to work out the core abdominal muscles, the lower back, legs and entire upper body.

That is why being a mermaid takes training, and an aspiring mermaid or merman, as the male counterpart, can enroll at the Philippine Mermaid Swimming Academy which was founded in Boracay but also has sites in Manila and Cebu.

Indeed, mermaid training is challenging work. At the PSMA, the different lessons last from 90 minutes to five hours long, depending on the level. The first lessons include familiarization with the mermaid tail, a safety briefing, learning the four basic swim strokes and breathing techniques and also practicing these skills in three-meter deep waters.

Scuba Mermaid – Photo by Paulo Violas, permission granted by PSMA

Advanced swimming lessons specialize in breathing and equalizing techniques, rescue exercises, various underwater mermaid tricks, bubble and blowing in a depth of 10 meters of water.

A certificate card from the International Mermaid Swimming Instructors Association is given during the introduction and the advanced levels.

Other lessons include free-diving basic techniques, performance mermaid and scuba mermaid. These three require a Professional Association of Diving Instructors Certification or a Free Diver certificate from the International Association for Development of Apnea.

For those who are afraid of the water but still want to capture a perfect mermaid moment, the Academy offers a mermaid photo opportunity. For 30 minutes, PSMA teaches the student how to pose like a pro. Fees include the tail rental and directed photo shoot on dry sand and in knee-deep sea water.

The growing number of mermaid and merman enthusiasts has prompted the celebration of the first-ever International Mermaid Day on March 29 and March is the mermaid month.

All photos were granted permission from PSMA. For inquiries, you can check the website:

Philippine Mermaid Swimming Academy 

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A Mermaid’s Tale

The best part of traveling is meeting new people. As I was solo traveling in Moalboal, Cebu, I met a mermaid, Odessa Bugarin. She left her city life and became a scuba and freediving instructor, a professional mermaid, producer and conservationist.

In 2013, Odessa, a divemaster certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), joined a group of mermaid performers in the beautiful aquarium in MGM, Macau.

Odessa opened her own school, Mermaid Odessa Swimming Academy, in Anilao, Batangas and Moalboal, Cebu in 2015. That same year, she focused on her free diving and also gained her certification from the International Association for Development of Apnea Level 3.

In 2016, Odessa was one of the real-life mermaids who performed in the ADEX: Meet the Mermaids in Singapore and has been continuously invited to the event. ADEX is the longest-running and the largest dive expo in Asia.

Her mermaid swimming skills became polished with training, and she has become comfortable using her mermaid tail, which she admits could be arduous and uncomfortable. “A mermaid coach will guide you and provide safety while you’re overcoming the discomfort coming from the fact that the tail binds your legs together. There are ways to make things easy.” She said.

The Conservationist

“As a real-life mermaid, I can use the fantasy of the wonderful mermaid world to reach out to people and spread my causes and advocacies. I started to meet people with the same passion. I realized that I could actually buy or get my own tail and so I did and I was addicted to it. I brought it everywhere with me which led to my rendezvous with underwater photographers. I then discovered that I could also do underwater modeling to promote marine life awareness and conservation.” Odessa said. As a diver, she calls herself an ambassador of the oceans, sharing her own deep and intimate connection with marine life.

Odessa joins clean-up drives and picks up trash from beaches and sea. She also volunteers to care for rescued dolphins.

Photo by Michael Aw, permission granted by Odessa

Her ease in the water has gotten her some plum assignments. Michael Aw, the founder of Ocean Geographic, said he worked with Odessa for a campaign against the use of crocodile skin and meat, and she even posed and swam with the crocodile. She also had a photo where she was dancing with the sharks. She conquered in diving the Avalon Jardines de la Reina – Gardens of the Queen and met notable persons sharing her advocacy to protect the marine environment.

Photo by Michael Aw -Dancing with the Sharks

Odessa’s message to would-be mermaids: “I hope that you do know that being a mermaid is not all about being beautiful or it’s not all about fantasy. It’s not all about cool photos and videos. Please use that beauty and fantasy to reach out to people. Be a mermaid, servants of the world’s oceans. Keep diving, exploring, and discovering. Share everything you know about the magical big blue. LOVE Mermaid Odessa.”

And behind the pretty face, perfectly-shaped body and synchronized dolphin kick swimming of a mermaid is a woman with a genuinely big heart for the ocean.

You can also check out her Youtube Channel: Mermaid-Odessa

Updated on July 22, 2020.