Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve dreamed of turning into a mermaid. It sounded like the adventure of a lifetime–spending all day playing in the waves, hiding among the reef and being swept away by the ocean currents. My childhood fantasy turned into reality through Hawaii Mermaid Adventures, an ocean activity company based in South Maui that provides mermaid lessons with an environmental twist.
“We are thrilled to offer this incredibly memorable experience, especially to anyone who has dreamt of becoming a mermaid,” said owner Timothy Lara in a press release. “With Hawaii Mermaid Adventures, guests can explore the ocean, coral reefs and underwater wildlife in a fun and unique way.”
Before slipping on a mermaid tail and diving into the water, instructors give a land lesson about ocean conservation and reef protection. Lila Jones, a marine biologist who helped start the company and became its first instructor, was my guide when I had the opportunity to be a mermaid for the day. She spoke about the importance of reducing the utilization of single-use plastics, which pollute our oceans and can easily be replaced with a reusable alternative. She also encouraged me to only apply reef-safe sunscreens that don’t contain oxybenzone, which is toxic to our reefs and fish, but also the main ingredient in most sunscreens. Jones said to pay attention to labels and only buy sunscreens containing non-nano zinc oxide.
We also went over how to identify native fish we might encounter and how to behave properly around particular sea creatures, such as turtles, which are often spotted in the area. Instructors also lead a small beach clean-up to show how we can do our part to keep the ocean clean. This is all apart of their vision to create a “pod of sustainably-minded mermaids who use their voice to cultivate a sense of kuleana globally” by helping people strengthen their understanding of and relationship with the ocean.
“I like to encourage guests to become responsible ocean stewards,” Jones said. “I also like to offer easy suggestions that people can do to help minimize their impact on the environment. Kids are really responsive to the educational and environmental aspect and their parents love that we have an educational component as well.”
Picking from their variety of sparkling, colorful mermaid tails was one of my favorite parts because I felt like I could express my personality through the one I chose. I decided on a fiery red so that I would stand out against the endless expanse of blue when I was underwater, and to signify my confidence in being able to swim like a mermaid. They have plenty of other colors to choose from, so I can guarantee you’ll find the right one for you! Jones said the most popular colors with guests are sparkly purple, hot pink and teal.
As an instructor, she switches colors every six months due to how often she uses her tail. She also has a personal silicone tail that is light blue and features a monarch butterfly design on the tail.
“It’s to represent the connection between protecting the land and sea, as you can’t focus solely on saving one and not the other,” Jones said. “The land and sea are so interlinked and I think people forget that even if they’re back in a land-locked part of the world, their choices can still affect the ocean.”
We took our tails down to the shore and had a little photoshoot on the beach with the GoPro that instructors bring along on each lesson. The photo documentation is provided for free, or Hawaii Mermaid Adventure can arrange for a professional photographer to capture your experience if you’d prefer. With the sun glistening off my newly acquired tail, I was eager to start swimming. We scooted into the ocean with our tails on and immediately began gliding through the water with the help of our fins.
Since I had no problem with the kicking motion required to stay afloat while wearing the tail, I didn’t need a full swimming lesson and instead got to spend the day bonding with Jones over our love of Maui and the sea life surrounding the island. It felt like we were friends spending a day at the beach together, which made me feel comfortable being myself (and finally in my true form, as a mermaid).
I followed Jones in her sparkly black tail as she guided me to a small floating platform that held all the toys we could play with including hula hoops, pool noodles, snorkels and more. She weighed the hula hoops down to the ocean floor so that we could swim through them and the game was to try not to touch them. It was honestly a lot harder than it sounds, but I had a blast trying to get better at the trick throughout the day.
As other people entered our cove doing other water activities such as paddle boarding, snorkeling and scuba diving, we made friends with everyone who came our way–and they were all certainly ecstatic to have a mermaid sighting. The humans weren’t the only ones interested, we also had an amazing encounter with a massive green sea turtle. While staying a safe distance, Jones snapped a few photos of me swimming with the beautiful aquatic creature. Not wanting to miss a moment, I quickly put on a snorkel and followed the turtle through the reef until it eventually went onto the beach for a sun bath.
For Jones, having these close encounters with turtles has led to some of her most memorable lessons. “There was an instance where a guest and I were taking a break away from the reef. We were in fairly deep water (about 20 feet deep) and had lots of space around us,” Jones said in a statement. “I had started talking about the turtles in the area when one decided to surprise us by swimming in between the two of us. We were only a couple of feet apart and had no idea the turtle was around until it was right between us.”
These mermaid adventures aren’t just for experienced swimmers, keiki are welcome and the instructors are trained to keep them safe during their excursion. Tails vary in size, which means mermen are able to join in on the fun, too. Every party gets a private two hour session starting at 7:30am, which is undeniably worth that early morning alarm. If that just isn’t enough time for you to fully enjoy your mermaid fluke, there are also select colors available for purchase online so your adventures can continue whenever you please.
“Often times, little kids are wishing so much that they’ll grow a real tail when the tail isn’t what makes a mermaid special at all,” Jones said. “What makes a mermaid real is people’s ability to love the ocean in such a way that you choose to take care of it in any way you can. For some that means refusing plastic, for others it’s buying natural fiber clothing to reduce microfiber pollution, some even decide to only eat sustainably caught local fish as their way of helping the environment and reducing the impact of overfishing or illegal fishing. All of these actions that help protect the sea is what makes a mermaid and to do these things, you don’t need a tail.”
Jones is one of two instructors who are marine experts trained as lifeguards and certified in first aid and CPR to safely guide guests through their personal mermaid experiences. They also go through a rough water safety and rescue course as well as Hawaiian cultural trainings every year.
“With instructors the biggest thing we look for is passion. Passion can’t be taught,” Lara said in a statement. “We want instructors who are passionate about the marine world, protecting it and sharing that passion with our visitors.”
Outside of their individual classes, Hawaii Mermaid Adventure has also been working to spread environmental awareness by participating in community involvement events and working on projects with other local companies. Every month, Hawaii Mermaid Adventures teams up with Hawaiian Paddle Sports for their Malama Maui campaign to complete a service project with a local nonprofit organization.
You can also meet Jones at Summer Splash Days at the Maui Mall’s Paradise Fountains. She’ll be there to talk about ocean conservation and how to become an ocean steward on every Thursday in June, from 11am to noon.
HAWAII MERMAID ADVENTURES
$139 for a mermaid swimming lesson for a group of 2 or more, or $139 for a private lesson. Reservations required.
Lessons held daily from 7:30 – 9:30am.
27-D Halekuai St., Kihei
Photo courtesy Hawaii Mermaid Adventures
For more of Maui’s top activities in our annual Summer Guide visit https://mauitime.com/tag/mauitime-summer-guide-2017/