Mermaids are a thing of fantasy – ancient legends, stories, and childhood fairy tales have created different versions of mermaids in our minds. From ancient stories of the murderous Eastern European rusalki that were actually the ghosts of drowned women beckoning men and children towards their own watery deaths to the more modern Disney version of beautiful, graceful men and women with colorful, flashing tails instead of legs, mermaids have a long and rich history.
In recent times, the Disney version of a mermaid has become a reality; both women and men don the long, flowing tails, bedeck themselves in jewels, wear colorful make-up, hold their breath, and plunge into the water, dolphin-kicking their way into the hearts of children and adults. We sat down with Mermaid Odessa Bugarin, a professional mermaid. She is an AIDA and PADI Freediving Instructor, PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor, 5x Philippine freediving national record holder, and a Top 8 finalist in the 2019 World Mermaid Championship in Guangzhou, China who was crowned a Miss Coral Ambassador.
DeeperBlue.com: It’s lovely to meet you, Odessa! So I must ask, when did you realize you wanted to become a mermaid?
Odessa Bugarin: I remember watching “The Little Mermaid” when I was about 8, and that’s when I started playing mermaid with my cousins in swimming pools. When I became a SCUBA instructor at the age of 23 and had access to real-life mermaid tails, that realization came back to me. I became a professional mermaid in 2012!
DB: Your dream came true! So can you tell me what exactly does a professional mermaid do?
OB: As a professional mermaid, I teach adults and kids how to swim like a mermaid with proper safety skills. Where we teach depends on the level of swimming skills of the student. Some want to do it in the ocean, while others want to stay in a pool or shallow waters. When a student wants to go a bit deeper, we provide a buoy where they can rest or put their snorkel, camera, etc. If a student cannot swim, we also offer to take their photo above the water wearing a mermaid tail. I also do underwater modeling as a mermaid, mostly for the purpose of promoting ocean awareness.
DB: That sounds exciting! Since you are also a freediving instructor, how exactly would you say freediving relates to mermaiding?
OB: Freediving and mermaiding for me are ways to discover, explore, and, protect the ocean in the most natural way. Both do not require apparatuses and both require skills and good techniques in breathing/breath-holding and dolphin kicking. Most of all, both are powerful tools to convince people to get involved with the ocean and spread marine life conservation awareness.
DB: What advantages would you say freediving gives you for mermaiding?
OB: Well, when I started mermaiding properly, that’s when I thought of taking proper freediving courses. Almost all the freediving skills I learned made me a better mermaid: breathing, breath-hold techniques, and a smoother duck dive. Dolphin-kicking also helps, however, mermaiding uses a bit of a different technique that starts the motion with the head. Mermaiding inspired me to grow from one sport to another.
DB: Would you say is it better to take a freediving class first, or can you get into freediving from mermaiding?
OB: Honestly, I would say that having freediving skills would make it easier for someone to be a mermaid. Although a lot of real-life mermaids aren’t certified freedivers, I believe having freediving experience will help make you into a better mermaid.
DB: That definitely makes sense. And are there any dangers or concerns that are specific to mermaiding?
OB: Every sport has its own risks and ways of prevention and solutions, so yes there are some risks, but they are definitely avoidable and easily solvable. For example, wearing the tail is not as easy as it looks, so some swimmers (no matter how experienced they are) have a hard time when wearing the tail for the first time. The tail is tight and binds both legs together, and without having the proper technique to use it, it can be at risk at depth.
So, we try in shallow waters first, and once they’re comfortable, we bring them to deeper waters with a buoy so that they can rest and have something to hold on to. Cramps can also occur, so we teach how to calmly deal with them. We make sure the instructor is not wearing a tail, but bifins instead, to make sure proper safety is in place.
DB: It sounds like a proper learning environment with an instructor who puts safety first is very important. So how exactly does a person become a mermaid?
OB: They should search for an organization that offers mermaid courses and have lots of practice, but never practice alone. People should also bear in mind that being a mermaid isn’t just all about fantasy; it is also about being an ambassador of the sea.