Flip(per) Out at Caribbean Mermaid School in Anguilla

  • 01 of 05

    Channel Your Inner Ariel on Anguilla

    Mermaids at dusk
    ••• Mermaids at dusk. © Mermaid School International

    I’m no young, skinny guppy, so when I heard about the new Mermaid School at the Zemi Beach House on Anguilla, I wondered how difficult it would be to squeeze my Buddha-belly shape into a tight, plastic-molded tail. I was also concerned they would make me wear one of those itsy-bitsy seashell bikini tops. And what about the weight of the tail? Would I sink like a stone trying to attempt mermaid maneuvers?  

    Turns out, all of my fears were unfloundered — umm, I mean, unfounded.

    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    A Tale of Two Fins

    Mermaids underwater
    ••• a school of mermaids. © Mermaid School International

    Estelle Arlaud, my mermaid school instructor, chose the Zemi's infinity pool for our first lesson: with a peek-a-boo glass wall cresting Shoal Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet, it was an obvious choice.

    Estelle wasted no time in getting to work on my transformation. I felt a little foolish as she hovered over me like a hummingbird to glitter up my face and body, but she has that charming, coquettish manner that only women from France seem to pull off (sure enough, Estelle is from Lyon). 

    Then it was tail-choosing time. I told Estelle I’d prefer to wear my one-piece swimsuit, so she simply chose the perfect black tail to match it. I was pleasantly surprised at how light the tail was: it’s made of easy-stretch nylon that slips on like a glove, and the monofin within is far more comfortable than regular rubber flippers. Estelle added some flowers to my hair, and voila! Just like that, I was a mermaid.

    Continue to 3 of 5 below.
  • 03 of 05

    Sink or Swim Time

    Sue Campbell, Mermaid
    ••• The author transformed into a mermaid. © Sue Campbell

     Unfortunately, there was little time for photos on the beach as we noticed a huge storm suddenly heading our way. (I tend to attract bad weather; it’s a thing.) So off we went into the pool so I could at least get a little water time before the approaching deluge. Estelle instructed me on the movements required to swim like a mermaid, and it really wasn’t that difficult to move around the pool without drowning. It was hysterical to watch the faces of passersby when they noticed a real, live mermaid in the pool!

    (Here is a video of what a swimming mermaid is supposed to look like, as opposed to my brief flail in the pool.)

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  • 04 of 05

    The Original Mermaid

    Estelle, the queen mermaid
    ••• Estelle, the queen mermaid. © Mermaid School International

    Later, I had a chance to dive into Estelle’s interesting history. She comes by her mermaid skills honestly: raised on the coast of St. Tropez, she was swimming solo by age three, bought her first snorkel with her own money at age 10, and in her 20s had already become an accomplished free diver, scuba instructor, and underwater model.

    Modeling took Estelle all over the world, and eventually, she settled in St. Maarten, where her mother ran a restaurant. There, she learned to cook and soon joined some luxury charters as a cook, hostess, and snorkel guide. She later ended up in the Hamptons as an executive chef at the exclusive golf club, The Bridge, where she wrote her first book, "The Mermaid Chef - How to Give the Party of Your Dreams."

    In 2014, she decided to focus all of her energy on her lifelong dream of opening a mermaid-based business. By 2015, that dream came true with the establishment of Mermaid School International on Anguilla, the first of its kind in the Caribbean.

    I asked her what some of the challenges have been so far. “Finding good instructors," she says. “I am only one person, and this operation is becoming very popular very quickly. I have found a few dedicated souls, and they’ve had to run the gamut of passing Basic Ariel, Advance Marina, Master Class, and then Instructor, and they must also learn CPR and First Aid. And of course, they must have great personalities.

    "But I need more — and am hoping to find more mermen, too!”

    And the best rewards? “The children,” says Estelle, “Not just for their delight in dressing up as ‘merkids,’ but because our programs seriously help them overcome their fear of the water and help them to learn to swim a lot more quickly. When learning is fun, they pick it up faster. And learning to ‘mermaid’ properly is also great exercise for all ages.”

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  • 05 of 05

    Mermaid School International

    Mermaid School on Anguilla
    ••• Mermaid on the beach. © Mermaid School International

    The mermaid school is not a brick-and-mortar (or is that shell-and-pearl?) affair. The instructors will come to you, or you can attend classes held at different spots and resorts around the island. Mermaids are also available for parties and special occasions.

    Estelle’s team is also on a mission to give back: they often clean up the reefs where they snorkel and dive, for example. Currently in the works are themed mermaid retreats, perhaps on a yacht or a deserted island; the possibilities are endless. The Mermaid School is based on Anguilla most of the year, but in the summer, Estelle and her finny friends travel to the Hamptons and St. Tropez.

    See their website for all updates and information.