Young girls who dream of swimming like Ariel have been told to put those dreams on hold, for now.
Nicole Lambert had been swimming with her shiny ‘Tropical Sunrise’ orange tail at the Cheam Leisure Centre many times, without a problem.
While the 11-year-old certainly caught the intrigue of other young swimmers at the pool, it wasn’t until two weeks ago that Nicole and fellow mermaids were told by lifeguards that the use of mermaid tails is now prohibited, at both of Chilliwack’s Leisure Centres.
The tail, by Fin Fun Mermaid, is made up of two parts. The monofin is a lightweight flipper that the wearer slips both feet into. It fits securely, but will come off easily with a light tug. The colourful mermaid tail skin wraps both legs together and pulls down to extend over the monofin, creating the seamless look of fish tail.
Nicole became enchanted by the mermaid tail when she saw a girl wearing one in town two years ago.
“I thought it was really cool, and that it would be a fun way to swim,” she said with a big smile.
Nicole spent over a year saving $140 by babysitting her brothers, pet-sitting for her extended family, and house-sitting for her neighbours.
Finally, the tail was hers. And it was perfect.
But safety was top of mind for her mom, Sharon.
Before allowing her to wear the tail in the water, “she made me take a swim test,” Nicole explained.
As outlined in the ‘Are you Mermaid Tail Ready?‘ video, Fin Fun Mermaid recommends that swimmers are tested to prove that they’re able to safely and confidently back float, tread water, roll and flip with control, and swim with the signature dolphin kick.
They also recommended that swimmers age five and younger should not use the tails, and that all young users should be supervised by a parent.
Nicole passed her mom’s swim test with ease. Although they don’t have a pool at home, this Garrison family has spent plenty of time in their local public pool.
“It’s really fun, you go really fast,” Nicole enthused of her experiences using the tail at the pool before it was prohibited.
She propelled gracefully around the water with her friends who have tails of their own, and she’s seen several other pool-goers transform into colourful mermaids as well.
When Nicole was told that mermaid tails were no longer allowed at the leisure centres, the lifeguards cited safety concerns.
Leisure Centre staff aren’t alone with their concerns. Some other Canadian public pools, in Edmonton for example, have banned them, referencing the added risk involved when legs are bound together.
If the wearer isn’t’ a strong swimmer, they might have a tough time maneuvering or balancing, which can heighten the risk of drowning. Unpracticed mermaids might also pose a risk for other swimmers in a crowded pool, similar to using other flippers or pool toys.
Nicole went home after hearing the new rule, disheartened and disappointed. “She was ready to give up and try to sell her tail,” Sharon said.
But her mom saw the situation as an opportunity for her daughter to practice her problem-solving.
“You don’t have to get mad. You don’t have to give up. You can just ask questions,” Sharon had explained to Nicole. They spoke to Cheam Leisure Centre staff to discuss it further.
This mother and daughter offered a few suggestions for a plausible solution, rather than an outright ban.
Require mermaid tail users to pass a swim test first, as they do in Toronto pools. Allow mermaid tails only during specific hours or lanes. Require parental supervision. Perhaps, offer mermaid training swim classes at the centre.
The trend of ‘mermaid training’ is growing in Canada and internationally, from the United States to Germany. Classes are available in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, and individual mermaid coaching is available in Vancouver.
In addition to being a fun and exciting way for little girls to live their dream of swimming like a mermaid, it’s also a unique way to stay active.
“I’m pretty sure they’re open to changing things,” Sharon pointed out. Canadian Recreation Excellence Corporation (CREC) staff confirmed that the decision is not yet final.
“[CREC] is in the process of doing our due diligence and completing our own research and assessment on the use of Mermaid Tails in both controlled and uncontrolled environments in our facilities,” GM of Chilliwack Landing and Cheam Leisure Centres Shawn Bourgoin told The Progress in an email.
Their final decision on the tails will be based on safety, industry standards across other facilities, and recommendations from the Lifesaving Society.
In the meantime, Nicole and Sharon have started an online petition for people to express their interest in the topic, hoping to garner at least 100 supporters.