TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Mass-produced mermaid tails and fins make it possible for anyone to become a mythical, underwater creature. However, the popular products can be more dangerous than parents realize, so the Grand Traverse YMCA is offering a special course to teach any aspiring mermaid how to stay safe in the water.
The craze has been popping up at pools and beaches across the country for the past few summers, but it is not without risk, instructor Christine Byrne said. The scaly tails bind a swimmer's legs together and limiting their movement to swim stokes that can be difficult for even experienced swimmers.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to take an upcoming fad and make it safe and fun by offering a class,” Byrne said.
The tight-fitting skins that cover the lower body constrict a child’s legs, and untrained youth can get into trouble in the water, Byrne said. Many parents buy mermaid gear for their children unaware of these dangers, she added.
Cousins Amarah Lesperance, 10, and Kylee Cooper, 11, donned mermaid-like skins and tails during a trial run of the program last month.
Lesperance's mother, Nicole, said although it took some getting used to, her daughter and niece quickly caught on.
“It was tricky for the first five minutes, but soon she was doing handstands and flipping her tail in the air,” she said.
The 90-minute class, offered in June and July, covers how to wear and care for the tail and skin, warm-ups, individual assessment of water skills, an introduction to swimming and tricks wearing mermaid gear and synchronized swimming.
“Mermaids are one of those mystical things,” Byrne said. “It’s almost like they were transformed.”
It’s not only the young who are intrigued by the new trend, adults are welcome to participate and even the YMCA staff are diving in.
“I didn’t expect 20-year-old male lifeguards would be excited about it,” Byrne said.
Lifeguard and swim instructor Tylus Francisco’s enthusiasm earned him a new nickname — King Triton, so called for the merman character in Disney’s "The Little Mermaid" animated movie.
Byrne said mermaid classes offer more than a good time. They support health and fitness by motivating youth to move.
“It inspires them to be active, to shut the screens off and to do something different,” she said.
Cooper’s mother, Andrea Cooper, said she appreciates the opportunity to expand her child’s world.
“It’s a new, fun experience,” she said. “To try things like that makes a person more well-rounded.”
Classes are open to those 7 and older with basic swimming skills. Not every youth with the desire to take the course has the swimming skills, but “it gives them something to work toward,” Byrne said.
Barber writes for the Traverse City, Michigan Record-Eagle.