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Becoming a Part-time Mermaid is a Big Trend in China – It’s as Difficult as it is Lovely


Courtesy of Atlantis Sanya/PADI

Is it really any surprise that the world’s largest scuba diver training organization is instructing a new generation of freedivers in the art and techniques of “mermaiding?”

PADI, the aforementioned organization, now offers four levels of mermaid diving certification, which is essentially freediving but with a large and sometimes heavy artificial tail that requires a different kind of human locomotion.

Humans have always been drawn to forms of extreme movement, and since ancient times, bungee jumping with jungle vines, surfing with primitive boards, or skiing with pieces of wood covered in leather and fur have allowed people alternative ways to move around and get their thrills.

That hasn’t stopped, and modern technologies like parachutes, or in this case artificial mermaid tails, have continued this millennia-old pastime.

The genesis of these mermaid diving courses is Dada Li, the world’s first Chinese woman to hold a Master Freediving training certification from PADI—shecreated the first professional underwater performance team composed of freedivers only.

Atlantis Sanya/PADI

“I was inspired by an old movie called ‘Splash’ in the 1980s,” Li tells CNN Travel. “The heroine is a mermaid who lives in the sea… That image has lived in my head ever since.”

“A mermaid tail ties both legs together so they can’t move freely, [so] we need to use our belly and waist to move like a dolphin. It requires practice to make this movement smooth and elegant like a real mermaid.”

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Since 2012, Li has been enchanted with freediving, a skillset that involves a deep understanding of human physiology, and one which doesn’t include any equipment but regular flippers and a pair of goggles with a snorkel. She was the first female freediving instructor in her home country of China, where she now holds position of PADI ambassador.

Li decided to use her skills to pursue her dream of becoming a mermaid, and in doing so she stumbled upon a growing sport which is now exploding in popularity worldwide.

Worldwide mermaiding

Atlantis Sanya/PADI

Standardized mermaiding (and mermanning for that matter) schools, techniques, and competitions have swept across the globe in the last decade, and the percentage of international diving licenses given out for mermaid diving will surpass all other kinds if the trend continues.

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Corinna Davids, head of development of the mermaid courses offered by SSI (Scuba Schools International), told CNN Travel they have mermaid diving programs in more than 3,000 diving schools worldwide, and more than 1,000 certified instructors in China alone.

In 2015, after years of working to find, and then eventually to make, a functional “merfin,” she founded a performance diving team consisting entirely of mermaid divers to perform at aquariums and other watersport events in China.

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The market for performance mermaid diving is growing, not just in terms of licenses issued, which has helped diving license issuing grow by 40% in China in 2018, a rate eight-times the world average, but also for venue demands, as mega-resorts like Atlantis in Sanya pay regularly for live mermaid performances; recently they broke the Guinness world record for the largest ever.

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