(DiverWire) This past weekend, people from all over the world packed up their monofins and gathered in the middle of the blazing desert in Las Vegas, Nevada. Equipped with silicone, latex, neoprene, glitter, and sequins, these were not your typical divers. Some weren’t even swimmers. Mermaids and mermaid lovers alike were coming together for the first ever World Mermaid Convention and Awards.
The two-day event commenced Friday in the Silverton Casino where convention goers walked among mermaids modeling in tails and various mermaid-related vendors. Booths showcased a wide array of things: authors, artists, tail and accessory makers, underwater photographers, and a demo of an underwater mermaid video game. There was even a mermaid pageant.
The location was a great setting for an aquatic-themed event. Known for its fish-filled 117,000 gallon salt water tank, the Silverton hosts interactive fish feedings and mermaid performances next to a mermaid-themed lounge. Like the famous live mermaid performers at Weeki Wachee springs in Florida, the hotel’s mermaids breathe from long hoses and have to be scuba certified to perform in the 14-foot deep tank. There were both current and former Weeki Wachee mermaids present at the event, such as pageant queen Kylee Troche and veteran mermaid Arlene Brooks.
A “mermaid” can be anyone from the casual enthusiast to the professional performer, artist, or model. Some do mermaiding simply for fun, but many use mermaiding as a way of educating people about the environment and other issues.
Long time mermaid, ocean activist, and guest of honor Hannah Fraser, known as Hannah Mermaid, kicked off the first evening’s pool party and award ceremony. She performed a riveting fire dance before diving into the pool and swimming in one of her hand-made tails. There’s a great deal of pride amongst mermaids over their tails; many design and make their own with everything from fabric and neoprene to mold-poured silicone. As people gathered by the poolside and suited up in their outfits, a commonly heard question was “what type of monofin do you have?” For mermaids who do a lot of underwater work, a good monofin can improve the quality of a tail. Fraser fits professional Finis Competitor monofins into her tails.
Many people who consider themselves mermaids have been water lovers, snorkelers, and avid swimmers from a young age. Some, like Marla Lawrenz, got into mermaiding through scuba diving. Others hope to get scuba certified to help with their mermaid endeavors. Lawrenz started scuba diving five years ago, and through it became enthralled with free diving and monofins. She started researching monofins online and was thrilled when she discovered that people were using them to make mermaid tails. For Lawrenz, “scuba diving is always going to be my first love, mermaiding is just like icing on the cake. It’s a very different feeling.”
Similar to Lawrenz, the consensus among event goers was that swimming in a mermaid tail is completely different from scuba diving and classic free diving. While diving with scuba gear is nice because you have more time and can relax for longer underwater, many agreed that they like free diving and mermaiding in part because of the freedom they feel without the extra gear. To them donning a mermaid tail is a magical, liberating experience that makes them feel more connected to the ocean and the creatures they’re swimming with.
There’s also a fun, playful aspect to having a tail on that draws people to mermaiding. Susan Knight, a biologist, scuba instructor, and mermaid photographer located in Hawaii, shot underwater portraits for convention goers. Knight does all of her underwater photography while free diving because she says it’s easier to connect to the animals she often shoots with. She also feels that dolphins respond well to the playfulness that her models display while wearing a tail.
Swimming around holding your breath with bound legs is hard work and has its dangers. For convention goer Malena Sharkey, safety is one of the most important reasons mermaids should learn about diving. Sharkey is a professional mermaid, model, and scuba instructor who now owns the Chesapeake Bay Diving Center in Portsmouth, Virginia where she first got certified. As well as being a fun and rewarding experience, having both scuba and free diving training has made Sharkey more comfortable, safe, and confident in the water. Malena was profiled in a DiverWire exclusive story earlier this year.
This year’s World Mermaid Convention focused mainly on the experiential, entertainment, and performance aspects of mermaiding, but looking elegant and glamorous in a tail is only one side of being a mermaid. As the convention grows, mermaids might benefit from booths and presentations that encourage a greater awareness of safety issues and participation in the dive community.
For more information on mermaiding and to see some mermaids in action, check out these sites:
http://worldmermaidawards.com/ – official site of the World Mermaid Awards
http://mernetwork.com/ – a community-oriented forum with a broad range of information about mermaiding
http://weekiwachee.com/ – home of the Weeki Wachee mermaids, a Florida attraction that has been around since the 1940’s
http://www.mermaidtails.net/ – a directory of places to buy tails
http://www.iamamermaid.com – convention goer and author Carolyn Turgeon’s mermaid blog