The Dive Industry’s first-ever “Mermaid-Owned” Dive Center is in Virginia
(DiverWire) Malena Sharkey’s got a name that is a perfect fit for today’s scuba industry. Despite the tough economic times, this enthusiastic small-business owner is as tough as a shark in today’s retail environment turning Chesapeake Bay Diving Center into a growing force in Portsmouth, Virginia.
A diver since 2002, Sharkey’s the picture of a new generation of scuba professionals who look for new and innovative ways to market their business. In her case, it’s a mermaid tail – aqua blue and custom-made in fact. Together with her partner Bob Minnick, Sharkey has become a highly sought-after underwater model who has been featured in magazines, advertising campaigns and videos both as a diver and frequently wearing her mermaid tail.
Originally “discovered” by well-known underwater photographer Chris Crumley, Sharkey remembers a dive club meeting many years ago where she introduced herself. “He talked about doing mermaid photos, but he didn’t have any in his presentation. When I asked him about it, he suggested I try and it got everything started.”
“I love being underwater,” she explains. “The mermaid thing just kind of happened, but I’m glad it did. But it’s more than just being able to look comfortable. I’ve taken free diving training to become a safer diver who can hold her breath longer.”
So far, Sharkey has modeled in such place as Cozumel Mexico, Roatan Honduras, Curacao and the Florida Keys. But in 2007, her career took a turn in a different direction as she and Minnick took over the struggling Chesapeake Bay Diving Center in Portsmouth, Virginia.
“I guess you could say the mermaid came in to save the day,” she recalls.
Being a professional model and mermaid has certainly helped the dive center, an SSI facility in a small industrial area, along with another business, Way Beyond Productions. Sharkey uses her photos to help motivate apprehensive potential students. “I always hated taking off my mask during a dive, but as a model, it’s part of almost every shoot. When I show people the photos of how comfortable you can be without a mask underwater, they see for themselves how easy it can be with some practice.”
“Malena Sharkey is the closest thing to actual marine life that I’ve ever seen,” said Crumley, who is one of the most popular commercial underwater photographers in the country. “I’ve never seen anyone as comfortable under water – she looks good in SCUBA gear, in a mermaid tail or just underwater.” Crumley said one of his favorite shots of Sharkey had her wearing yellow rain gear at the bottom of a swimming pool.
The daily demands of a dive store owner don’t always allow Sharkey to get wet as much as she would like, but summer is coming. “I certainly don’t have as much time to put on the tail as I used to. But that’s what it takes to be successful.” She is quick to add, “We’re supposed to go to the Florida Keys in a few weeks and I can’t wait.”
She also isn’t shy about modeling for customers and travelers who might join her on a dive trip. “I’m happy to pose for photos if someone asks. In fact, as a woman, I have no problem being in a swimsuit for a photo or campaign if it helps market or sell diving or a product line. As long as it’s professional and tastefully done, it’s fine with me.”
Already well-known in the “mermaid” and modeling communities through several Facebook pages and websites, Sharkey talks about future plans that could include “mermaid” adventures for enthusiastic underwater photographers.
“There’s a lot of possibilities. I always pack a mermaid tail with my dive gear on ever trip and more often than not, I end up wearing it on a dive or two,” she says.
Well one thing is certainly true for this ambitious dive store owner – as Sharkey points out with a smile – “Have tail, will travel!!!”
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