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South Africans embrace mermaiding as a sport


A dozen South Africans dressed as mermaids and mermen frolic in a Johannesburg pool, mimicking the movement of the mystical sea creatures.

Mermaiding is a fast-growing sport worldwide, and now South Africa has its own school to teach it – the “Merschool”.

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MERMAIDING IS ‘LOTS OF FUN’

Before diving in, students each slip on a brightly coloured fabric tail ending in a monofin.

The swimmers are black and white, from 13 years old to in their forties. They include a schoolteacher, a yoga instructor and even an accountant.

“It’s lots of fun,” says mermaiding instructor Izelle Nair.

“It’s for fitness, it’s for fun, it’s for fantasy, it’s therapy – but most of all, mermaiding is a sport.”

Ann Bender, 36, poses for a portrait in her mermaid attire at the Merschool centre in Kayalami, Midrand, on 3 June 2022. Mermaiding is a fast-growing sport worldwide and includes several skills such as monofin swimming, sculling, tricks and breath-hold. Image: Marco Longari / AFP

MERMAIDING NEEDS ‘A LOVE OF COSTUMES’

In the water, students undulate up and down the pool perfecting their dolphin kicks, or practise sculling – hand movements to propel the body also used in synchronised swimming.

“We swim with a dolphin technique and we use sculling, and then we put it all together and we work out a little sequence,” Nair says.

Izelle Nair

To be a mermaid – or merman – all that is required is a little technique, some breath-holding skills and a love of costumes.

Underwater, students attempt to perform a graceful aquatic backflip.

SYNCHRONISED SWIMMING AND MERMAIDING HAVE MUCH IN COMMON

Nadia Walker, another mermaid coach from the world of synchronised swimming, says both sports have much in common.

“The back rolls, some of the warm-ups and activities that we do, come from swimming,” she says.

The school hopes to send at least one contender to next year’s World Mermaid Championships in China — and that one day the discipline will become an Olympic sport.

© Agence France-Presse



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