by Anthony Harrison
The mermaids and mermen sat in the shallows, splishing and splashing water with their hands as well as their agile, colorful tails. They laughed and talked amongst themselves, then slid beneath the clear, blue waters and dove deep into the pool, swimming with the grace of dolphins.
This wasn’t on some far-off Caribbean shore. Nor was it in Neverland.
It was during MerMania at the Greensboro Aquatic Center on Jan. 2 and 3.
Also, I am not insane.
When I go to the beach, you cannot get me out of the water. I love swimming, and ocean swimming in the pull of the tide is the best it gets. I enjoy swimming so much, when I visited San Diego in February 2014, I swam in the Pacific Ocean for 15 minutes, until I thought I’d go into shock.
But the women and men participating in MerMania took that love of the water to a completely different level.
“This started out as a few friends nerding out over pizza in our tails,” event organizer Shannon Rauch told me. “Now, we’ve got mermaids from all over the world sitting in this pool.”
Rauch, a resident of Charlotte, got into mermaiding two years ago while preparing her costume for Halloween.
“I found out you could swim in [the tail], so I took it to the pool,” Rauch said. “You get into the tail, go to the pool and people take pictures, because they’ve never seen anything like it.”
Rauch started driving up to the Greensboro Aquatic Center due to their “mermaid-friendly” attitude.
“I went from lake and pool swimming to doing aquarium shows,” Rauch said. “I can’t believe I wake up in the morning and there’s money in my bank account from being a mermaid. Childhood me would be so jealous of adult me.”
Rauch stressed that it’s not all about the attention, though.
Along with festivals, corporate galas and — of course — kids’ birthday parties, many professional mermaids also use their draw to serve the community.
Nicole Colchiski, also known as Lotus, teaches not only safety and swim skills in her mermaiding class at an Idaho Springs, Colo. pool, but also conservation efforts.
“Sometimes, I’ll take some students out and we pick up trash together at the river,” Colchiski said. “I try to teach kids it’s not just going out and playing in a tail.”
But the fun and artistry of it brings people together.
Professional scuba divers Erin Gallagher and Mike Sistrunk of the Tampa Bay, Fla. Area founded MerNation, Inc., a company that makes mermaid and merman tails, to “help make dreams come true,” according to Gallagher.
“Our tails are made of special effects-grade silicone, all custom-made, custom-fit and airbrushed to any color scheme, whether it’s a favorite color or favorite fish,” Gallagher said.
While the monofins weigh between 35 and 50 pounds, their silicone construction makes them weightless and neutrally buoyant underwater.
Still, getting into them on dry land seems quite a process. The wearer must fold the tail’s torso over the lower portion of the fin, then stick their legs in, stand up and finally fold the torso back up over their own trunk. It’s a two-person job for the uninitiated, but once under the surface, the wearer maneuvers in the fin like… well, a fish in water.
“We’ve never seen an accident — knock on wood — but we stress the need for strong swimming skills and parental guidance,” said Venessa Lewis of Baton Rouge, La., known appropriately enough as the Louisiana Mermaid.
It doesn’t take much training to navigate in the tail: Swimming with a dolphin kick, using legs and core muscles to propel forward, accomplishes the most efficiency and speed in the water.
Anyone can do it; you don’t need to be a professional, and not every mermaid there was a professional.
Ashley Mayumi Wolf of Oklahoma, for example, couldn’t be a professional, considering her “mersona”: She cosplays as Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
“Since I was little, I’d pretend I was a mermaid,” Mayumi Wolf said. “I’ve always been a mermaid in my heart.”
A military brat, she spent the first 14 years of her life in Japan before her family moved to the Sooner State.
“I went from all ocean to no ocean,” she said, laughing.
Owing to her appearance, children and adults surrounded Mayumi Wolf most of the time, asking for pictures. The attention can seem slightly suffocating.
“When I started three years ago, I had to appeal to all aspects: Working with children, animals, doing photo shoots,” said Baltimore, Md. native Chris O’Brocki, mersona Merman Christian, of initial challenges. “And I had to start promoting myself to be the face for guys, merman awareness and acceptance.”
As we talked, a little blonde girl sat down beside me, staring at O’Brocki.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Emma,” she replied shyly.
“I have a friend named Emma, but she’s a human,” O’Brocki said, in the act.
“You’re not pretty like the mermaids,” Emma stated after a beat.
“Well, why should the girls have all the fun?” O’Brocki said.
Emma’s mother hustled her along, and O’Brocki smiled smugly.
“You’ve gotta be ready for anything,” he said, “but I love it. I could never let anything keep me out of the water. It keeps me sane.”