Video by Paloma Giustizieri and John Mkhize. Pictures by Marco Longari and Phill Magakoe
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”.
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.”
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.
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.
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.