A new Maui activity product is offering visitors a chance to explore waters off the destination's southern coast like mermaids.
Launched last month, Hawaii Mermaid Adventures provides two-hour tours allowing clients a chance to not only learn to swim in a mermaid tail but then use it to discover the coral reef ecosystem near Maui's Makena Beach.
According to Timothy Lara, the company's owner, the activity is the only one in Hawaii where visitors can actually swim with the increasingly popular mermaid tails.
"We took this idea of mermaid tails, which for everybody else is just a photo shoot, and said the photos are free," explained Lara, who also owns Hawaiian Paddle Sports on Maui. "We're doing a swim lesson, and we're doing a snorkel tour. We're making it an activity, because that's what people come here for."
All of the company's mermaid instructors are certified lifeguards and marine naturalists, and Lara said they've decided not to put a limit on participating children's ages.
"Some 3-year-olds or 5-year-olds are more comfortable in the ocean than 12-year-olds," he said. "So we leave that up to the parents to decide how comfortable their child is in the ocean."
The activity begins with time on the beach, discussing safety and learning how to put the mermaid tail on, and then clients move in to shallow water over a sandy bottom, getting comfortable with their new tails. From there, folks head out to explore the reef, practice swimming skills and play games.
"We actually have hula hoops that we'll submerge underwater as part of the swim skills," explained mermaid instructor and marine biologist Lila Jones. "Originally it was something we thought of to keep the kids occupied, but I love the hoops. There are a lot of different games you can play with them and a lot of different maneuvers that are fun to try out on them."
The tours also feature an ocean conservation focus, aimed at educating tour participants about ways to protect underwater ecosystems and the impacts of marine plastic and debris as well as the harm certain types of sunscreen can cause to coral reefs.
"You don't need a tail to be a mermaid," Jones said. "Anyone who wants to love and take care of the ocean is already a mermaid."
Lara added that they hope the tours will help interest children early about ways to protect the world's underwater ecosystems.
"Jacques Cousteau said, 'People protect what they love,' so we want to introduce these kids to the ocean and get them to love the ocean at an early age and introduce the conservation element," Lara said.
Lara noted, meanwhile, that about 85% to 90% of the company's clients thus far have been women and girls, but he said husbands and boyfriends, who originally intended to only watch from the shore, have shown interest and participated when encouraged.
"To be completely honest, guys want to swim in a mermaid tail too; they just don't want to be found out," he said with a laugh. "It's one of those things where once guys actually get into the tail and see how fun it is, they're super into it."
Commissionable to agents, pricing starts at $199 for one mermaid. Two or more run $139 each. Visit www.hawaiimermaidadventures.com