I remember, like most little girls, I spent my summers playing in the pool and pretending to be a mermaid. As a girl growing up in sunny south Florida, going for a swim was a common occurrence. Be it the beach, the pool, the lake, even the bath tub (it counts too), I would pretend I could swim with whales and glide effortlessly like the fish did.

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It was quite relaxing for me and as I got older and more comfortable in the water, I would lay flat with my tummy on the bottom of the pool to see how long I could hold my breath. It got to a point where there were many times I would lose count and would spend close to three minutes underwater! It was every mother’s nightmare to find her child at the bottom of the pool, so I opted to sit Indian style rather than belly down, but nevertheless my mother would watch and worry, making sure I didn’t spend too long underneath the surface.

It felt so soothing to stay under and meditate. It’s no wonder that studies find that watching a fish tank is good for you. It lowers your blood pressure, steadies your breathing and gives you an overall calming effect. But being one with the fishes is probably ten times better!

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I recall swimming at the Florida Keys and following a fish that caught my eye. Beautiful in color and quick as a whip. It zoomed past me and so I followed. After I had fun chasing him, I came back up for air and realized I swam out further than I had expected. There was another incident where I swam with turtles in the Grand Cayman Islands and lost my group because they couldn’t keep up with the sea turtles.

I would lose myself in these quiet moment underwater and it soon became an obsession.

Little did I know, my underwater mediations were part of an actual sport. I came across this practice after perusing through articles and youtube videos of a sport called Freediving.

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Freediving is a form of underwater diving that relies on a divers’ ability to hold their breath until resurfacing rather than using scuba gear. After a few videos, I noticed one diver with a strange set of fins. He did not have two separate flippers, rather he had one enormous fluke, called a monofin. My heart burst with excitement and I could not take my eyes off the screen.

The funny thing about Youtube though, is that it recommends more videos you might enjoy, and soon I was caught down a whirpool of endless underwater spectacles each showcasing my new discovery: the monofin. Shorty thereafter I stumbled upon a video that read Mermaids. Mermaids?! I thought to myself. And of course, curiosity got the best of me, and I clicked and clicked and clicked through endlessamounts of this new information.

As it turns out, I learned that there are countless of mermaid professionals who are entertainers and ocean activists, educating everyone from CEO’s at museums and TEDx talks at aquariums and especially children in schools.

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One of the most notable people in this industry is Mermaid Melissa, who is the onlyperson to legally change her first name to Mermaid. She is the most successful and most sought after mermaid, holding her breath underwater for roughly five minutes. If you don’t think that’s impressive, try holding your breath and see how long you last. She started her business in Orlando, Florida but has traveled to as far as Australia and Japan. This is an industry that has grown in popularity all over the world over the past few years. There are even classes held on “mermaiding”.

It was my dream to try and swim in one of these gorgeous, colorful mermaid tails. So when I heard that MerNation, a company dedicated to creating original, custom-made mermaid tails, was offering a “Mermaid For a Day” promotion, I jumped at the chance.

Once I reached out to them, they were so sweet and accommodating. I was asked for my weight, height, favorite color, etc. We planned accordingly and agreed on a time and place to meet.

Finally the day came to try out this gorgeous blue and yellow tail they picked out for me. It was a five hour drive from Miami to Ocala but it was totally worth it. The natural springs that are hidden in central Florida are ice blue and crystal clear. I met the MerNaiton team and the photographer for Firelight images and they were more than wonderful. They eased my nerves and guided me the whole way. From putting on the tail to helping me inchworm my way to the water.

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The process could not have gone any smoother. However, if anyone thinks that being a mermaid is easy, they are sorely mistaken. Those tails weigh anywhere between 30-50 pounds and your legs and feet are bound to it. The shallow water was a breeze but as soon as I got to the 30 foot drop off at the spring, I could see the scuba divers practicing below me and I could feel my heart race.

Holding myself afloat was exhausting, even with a pool noodle to help me out; the nerves affected my ability to hold my breath for the amount of time I wanted. It was a total body work out. I got cramps on my feet and my calves and it was all very terrifying at first, but eventually, I got used to it and fell in love with the tail! I explored the drop-off and it’s underwater inhabitants until the icy water began to turn my lips blue and it was time to call it a day.

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I was happy with my experience and despite my struggles, I loved swimming with a tail. Once the photos came back after the swim, I fell in love with it even more!

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

By: Mitzell Maldonado