I can honestly say that I never really harboured secret dreams of being a mermaid. Growing up I watched the movie Splash a few times and I remember being intrigued by the Cornish folk tale about the mermaid of Zennor (I actually thought she was real!), but as someone who hasn’t even seen Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid‘, and who isn’t a natural, confident water woman, you wouldn’t exactly describe me as one of neptune’s wannabes.
But when I found out about a course in Newquay run by Freedive UK that gives people the chance to channel their inner Ariel (or Madison), I was intrigued – just how can you swim so effortlessly underwater wearing a mermaid tail without breathing apparatus?
It was the concept of underwater breathing that really sold it to me and, as ever, with surfing at the forefront of my mind, I thought it would be an ideal and fun way to become more confident in the water. The fact that Kelly had already booked a place on the course gave me an added bonus in having a buddy to share the adventure with!
In the past couple of years I have developed a bit of a thing about not being able to breathe which is not just confined to when I’m wiping out on a surfboard. It happens whenever I do intensive cardio at the gym – I honestly think I’m not going to be able to get my breath so I was a bit apprehensive about holding my breath underwater!
Our instructors Rich and Lissy began with a bit of theory on the physiology of breathing – what happens to our bodies and how to prepare for a ‘dive’ by doing a 2 minute ‘breath-up’ which keeps the heart rate low. Being relaxed is key to being happy underwater for longer periods of time and by running through your favourite song lyrics or taking a visual walk through your house you can help to still the mind.
As soon as I realised that the body has more oxygen than you imagine, I felt a lot calmer….until I got in the pool.
Into the unknown
We began in wetsuits and masks and paired up with our dive buddies. Kelly was up first to do her dives and she looked so relaxed and at ease. Then it came to my turn and I started to panic. I felt the tears sting at my eyes and I struggled to get a grip. I was almost at the point of bailing out and fleeing from the pool when Kelly said ‘You don’t have to do this but I know you can do it.’ I had come this far, I knew how much the course was going to help me and the fight instinct kicked in…I wasn’t giving up!
In my 2 minute breath up floating on my back, I focused on the timing of my breathing and letting myself completely relax in the water. After what seemed like an eternity, Rich announced it was time for our ‘final breaths’ – this was it. I took my last inhale and submerged myself into the water.
I kept my eyes closed the whole time. My limbs softened, I allowed my head to drop and I felt like I had entered the abyss. Time fell away, my mind emptied completely and I have never known peace like it. I felt totally relaxed like I had transcended to a higher state and I almost didn’t want to surface.
My mind got the better of me and when I came up, my first thoughts and words I think (after my recovery breaths) were “I could have gone for longer.” When asked by Rich how long I thought I was underwater, I honestly thought it was about 50 seconds so when he announced in true Top Gear style “You did it in…1 minute……..49 seconds!” I was totally shocked! I couldn’t believe it! And when he told me how totally relaxed and natural I looked, especially after my initial panic, I thought he was talking about a different person. Water really does have a calming influence on me.
Channelling my inner Ariel
I was so stoked by the afternoon that when it was time to get our mermaid tails on, I didn’t care if I couldn’t get the hang of swimming with a tail on, or if I looked like a hamster with bloodshot eyes for the underwater photo shoot. Good job really cos swimming with tails on is a lot harder than it looks!
Lissy showed us how to swim underwater using an undulating motion. She looked effortless and graceful while I thrashed about on the surface without really getting anywhere. Eventually I managed to dive under and reach the bottom of the pool where Lissy went through some underwater poses like smiling, opening our eyes and resting on our elbows – all crucial stuff for the photos with Al Scarlett who did an amazing job (and was very patient!).
After swimming through hoops under water, more posing and honing our skills, it was unfortunately time to hang up our tails and graduate from mermaid school. I had an absolute blast – it was so much fun and for me, mission well and truly accomplished with a new found confidence of being underwater. I can’t thank Rich and Lissy enough for their patience and encouragement and I have already got my eye on the next course!
Freedive UK are based in Newquay. Visit their website for full details on all their courses