Christina Bao training underwater as a mermaid.

Sports

Mermaid diving is making a splash in China

"I think in a past life I was a fish," said Wang Xiao Xue, a mermaid-in-training. Mermaid diving is a fast-growing trend in China, with 60 mermaid diving training centers — more than in any other country. 

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Christina Bao training underwater as a mermaid. 

Credit:

Courtesy of Rachel Wang/Unique Diving Club

On a recent afternoon at Unique Diving Club in Shanghai, Christina Bao, a music teacher, was taking her first mermaid lesson. The instructor gave her tips on how to move her body through the water. 

Bao said the appeal is simple. It’s beautiful and sexy, she said. 

Mermaid diving is a fast-growing trend in China, where the Professional Association for Diving Instruction (PADI) has opened 60 mermaid training centers — more than in any other country. 

“No one can resist a bikini top and a long fishtail. The first time I saw it, I thought to myself, 'I must become a mermaid.'”

Christina Bao, music teacher and mermaid-in-training, Shanghai, China

“No one can resist a bikini top and a long fishtail. The first time I saw it, I thought to myself, 'I must become a mermaid.'”

Related: Ice cream is becoming popular in China, with a variety of flavors

That was on a vacation she took in Indonesia several years ago.   

“I was so envious,” she said. “Everyone was diving, and all I could do was wear a life vest. I wanted to be like them and feel comfortable in the water, not just watch others.”

Christina Bao training underwater as a mermaid.

Christina Bao training underwater as a mermaid. 

Credit:

Courtesy of Rachel Wang/Unique Diving Club

China hosted the World Mermaid Championships in 2019 and earlier this year, 100 mermaid divers gathered at a resort in Sanya in southern China to break the world record for largest underwater mermaid show.

In Chinese, "mermaid" translates to "human fish" and the term can be used for all genders. 

Bao’s instructor at the diving center, Rachel Wang, said so far, her students have mostly been women who want to post mermaid photos onto their social media feeds. The classes include a photo shoot with a wide range of mermaid tails to try on.

“Learning mermaid diving is really about looking beautiful and taking glamour shots. ... It’s about toning your body and showing off your curves.”

Rachel Wang, instructor, Unique Diving Club, Shanghai, China

“Learning mermaid diving is really about looking beautiful and taking glamour shots,” she said. “It’s about toning your body and showing off your curves.”

But there’s more to it than the novelty, said diving instructor Lulu Yang. There are health benefits too, she said, especially for postpartum recovery and for people who work long hours in front of a computer.  

Related: TV show turns anxiety over college exams in China into entertainment

“[I]t's very good for recovering muscles, body shape, and keeping thin. When you’re under the water the buoyancy will flow [through your] muscles, it’s very good for relaxation.”

Lulu Yang, mermaid diving instructor

“Actually, the whole body has to get into the movement,” she said. “So it's very good for recovering muscles, body shape, and keeping thin. When you’re under the water the buoyancy will flow [through your] muscles, it’s very good for relaxation.”

As an accomplished diver, she said learning to be a mermaid required a whole different skill set — and it was hard, at first.

“I start to slow myself down and get to know how to use my body muscles to control the movement to make it very elegant, very slow and very joyful,” she said.

Instructor Rachel Wang takes photos of student Christina Bao under water.

Instructor Rachel Wang takes photos of student Christina Bao under the water. 

Credit:

Rebecca Kanthor/The World

Related: Many couples say they can't afford China's new three children policy

Chen Menke, who has waist-length bubble gum pink hair and wears a pink two-piece suit, also attends classes at the diving school. She said when she started, she was afraid of the water. 

“At first I was a bit worried about my feet being stuck together in the monofin but then I realized that since I still don’t know how to swim it’s actually not so strange for me not to be able to kick my legs.”

Chen Menke, mermaid-in-training

“At first, I was a bit worried about my feet being stuck together in the monofin, but then I realized that since I still don’t know how to swim, it’s actually not so strange for me not to be able to kick my legs,” she said.

Chen Menke taking a rest from training to be a mermaid instructor.

Chen Menke taking a rest from training to be a mermaid instructor.

Credit:

Rebecca Kanthor/The World 

Now, she’s training for her PADI mermaid diving instructor certification so she can help others overcome their fears.  

“It’s not just about beauty,” she said. “People who get into mermaiding are athletic and like to challenge themselves.”

Chen Menke is training to become a mermaid diving instructor.

Chen Menke is training to become a mermaid diving instructor. 

Credit:

Courtesy of Rachel Wang/Unique Diving Club 

Diving instructor Lulu Yang said the pandemic and the related travel restrictions have only increased interest in the sport. Without being able to travel to exotic locations to scuba dive, for example, people are turning to diving activities closer to home.

One student at the diving center, Wang Xiao Xue, had different motivation to learn how to be a mermaid.

“I think in a past life I was a fish, and I want to return to the ocean and be a fish again. That’s why I keep training.”

Wang Xiao Xue, mermaid-in-training

“I love ocean animals and I want to follow them,” she said. “I think in a past life, I was a fish, and I want to return to the ocean and be a fish again. That’s why I keep training.”

The instructors said their main hope is that the new mermaids will walk away from the course with the concept of human respect for underwater animals and their environment.

Related Stories

close

We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience. To learn more, review our Cookie Policy. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies and Privacy Policy.

Ok, I understand. Close
close

The story you just read is freely available and accessible to everyone because readers like you support The World financially. 

Thank you all for helping us reach our goal of 1,000 donors. We couldn’t have done it without your support. Your donation directly supported the critical reporting you rely on, the consistent reporting you believe in, and the deep reporting you want to ensure survives. 

DONATE TODAY > No thanks