Me and my Philippines: Mermaid swimming instructor Arabelle Jimenez

Mermaid swimming has gained a following in Manila, with fans as young as eight, all wanting to be Ariel. Jimenez helps make their Disney mermaid dreams come true

By Irwin Ang
I teach mermaid swimming
, a combination of swimming, diving and dancing.

I’ve always loved the water so it was natural for me to get into this trade. It helps that I'm a professional ballet dancer, too, a scuba diver, a certified rescue diver, and a free diver 

Back in 2013, Normeth Preglo, who founded mermaid swimming in the Philippines, taught me mermaid swimming because she needed someone to teach in Manila. She's based in Boracay and teaches from there. The Philippines is the first country to teach this type of swimming. In 2013, BBC news and Reuters interviewed me and mermaid swimming became sort of world news at that time. 

I teach on weekends and on on-call basis. And since we don’t have a beach in the city, I teach in any swimming pool, booked by the student.

Some learn mermaid swimming for fun; others for mere photo opp. Some like doing it regularly—it's good exercise and since you have to hold your breath underwater for quite some time, it also builds your lungs. 

Underwater action. By Irwin Ang
I teach everything from the basics – how to maneuver the tail and propel oneself underwater – to mermaid tricks like mermaid twirls, handstand, back roll and front roll.
I would hold the student afloat in the water first until they learn to float and propel the tail on their own. Once the student is comfortable, then she can dive on her own. 

People think that you have to know how to swim to be able to do mermaid swimming but actually it’s an alternative way to swim and to fight the fear of the water. I have a personal advocacy to get more people to overcome their fear of the water and learn how to swim. To promote my advocacy I always use #mermaidarabelle on my social media posts.

 Mermaid Arabelle teaching student Angelica Wong. By Wowie Wong
On average, I teach girls usually age eight to 12, what I call the make-my-mermaid-dream-come-true age.
The oldest I’ve taught was a 75-year-old lady who used to be a synchronized swimmer. She’s a big fan of Daryl Hannah who played the lead mermaid role in the movie Splash. The youngest I've taught was five.

The swimmable mermaid tail is a magical tool for both adults and kids. It is wide, with the monofin made out of flexible glass that can break so a swimmer cannot stand on the tail. There’s a trick though – if they carefully put their feet together, side by side, then they can stand. The costume (fish tail) can be made out of different materials like lycra or silicon. Tails are expensive (starts at P9,000 or about US$209) and available for sale online. They’re widely sold in the US. My tails are from Germany.

Mermaid Arabelle with actor Anne Curtis who played Dyesebel
I taught the cast of Philippine fantasy tv drama Dyesebel, a story about a mermaidshown in 2014.
 I played a cameo role as one of the mermaids. Actress Anne Curtis played the lead role. I had TV guestings too, teaching actresses Solenn Heussaff and Isabelle Daza mermaid swimming. I also teach men.

I’ve been diving for 17 years now. Generally, I dive once a month, but during summer, I do it every weekend. 

Mainit dive site in Anilao, Batangas. By Gigi Santos
My favorite dive sites are Anilao in Batangas, Puerto Galera in Mindoro, Moalboal in Cebu, and Balicasag in Bohol.
All of these places have rich reefs with thriving marine life. Coron in Palawan is a go-to place for wreck diving. 

My favorite beaches are Ambil Island in Occidental Mindoro, Marabut Island in Samar and Sangat Island in Coron, Palawan. These are all peaceful and pristine beach destinations. Sangat is your Robinson Crusoe type of island and a good landbase for wreck diving; Marabut is eco-friendly; and Ambil is so pristine and undeveloped you have to camp out if you’d like to stay there.  

Arabelle teaching a six-year-old student at Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort
My favorite dive resort is
Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort in Anilao, Batangas. It has premium rooms and world-class dive facilities.

My travel essentials are a Yamamay swimsuit, Hawaiian Tropic #8 tanning lotion, Sensé night cream, sunglasses, Headware bandana, Tribu sandals, rash guard and board shorts from Voodoo Dolls or Roxy, Samsung android phone, and my wet suit, mask and fins. For dive gear, I go for Scuba Pro.

I want to see the thresher sharks in Malapascua, Cebu. I also want go diving in Tubbataha Reef in Palawan. My only reservation is the fact that I get seasick and diving Tubbataha means going on a liveaboard for five days. 

About Arabelle Jimenez

Arabelle Jimenez is a mermaid swimming instructor on weekends, and on weekdays, works as senior account director of Ardent Communications. She plays for the Philippines’ National Development Team in touch rugby. Jimenez has a Masters Degree in Marketing Communications at De La Salle University, and is fluent in Filipino, English and French.  

Visit Follow Jimenez on Facebook, and Instagram arabellejimenezph.

To learn mermaid swimming, Jimenez holds one hour classes for P1,500 per person per session. The rate includes the use of tail and coach fee. The swimming pool is care of the student. Jimenez also teaches at Aiyanar
Beach and Dive Resort on weekends. Rates are cheaper here at P1,200 per person per session. For inquiries, email [email protected] 

Classes are also offered by the Philippine Mermaid Swimming Academy.

For more about diving in the Philippines, click here

Read about the thresher sharks of Malapascua here, and diving Tubbataha Reef here

By Monica De Leon

Published November 2015