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August 6, 2013 > Modern mermaids inspire and delight

Modern mermaids inspire and delight

By Julie Grabowski
Photos By Julie Grabowski

If you see fish tails flicking through the water on your beach day, it's generally cause for some alarm. But the colorful and unexpected fins at Quarry Lakes on July 17 belonged to a friendly and interesting collection of modern day mermaids.

Dubbed the Norcal Narwhal Mer Pod, the 15-member group is comprised of professional mermaids, hobbyists, a few mermen and one shark who get together for monthly swims, check out sea-related events, share the artwork of their handmade tails and their passion for those magical sirens of the sea. Swims are always on weekdays (as mermaids perform on weekends) and locations are changed every month so mermaids from all over the Bay Area can take part. This was the pod's first swim in Fremont; other events have been held in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Sacramento, and Berkeley.

Luma Gallegos (AKA Mermaid Atlantis) is a professional mermaid, free diver, and fashion designer based in San Francisco who had longed for years to make a functional mermaid tail so she could glide through the water like the beautiful, mythical creatures that she loved. Having no sewing skills to make her dream a reality, she enrolled at the Fashion Institute in San Francisco, got a degree in Fashion Design and started creating.

Mermaid tails range from simple encasements of fabric to detailed and arresting creations. Basic tails are made of spandex or neoprene and can be painted, covered in fabric, sequins, or even silicone. Latex and silicone tails are considered more realistic but are pricey purchases, ranging from $500 to $5,500. Gallegos's beautiful tails were featured in a recent fashion show at RAW: San Francisco, and she offers basic tails and other sea-inspired "walkable" fashions on her Etsy site, http://www.etsy.com/shop/MythandMagic?ref=pr_shop_more.

"Once I got into 'mermaiding' as we call it, many of my friends wanted to try out tails for themselves. I started informal one-on-one swims, but this quickly grew into a larger public, monthly, free event," says Gallegos. She started posting invites on Facebook around January and attendees have thus far remained friends and friends of friends who enjoy the thrill of playing mermaid with mono fins.

"Since I have branched out to open events, I have had some very special moments with first time mers. It is not uncommon to see tears of joy after the first swim of a woman who has just realized her childhood dream of becoming a mermaid! I feel like it is my goal in life to make this dream a reality for people who might not get the chance otherwise," says Gallegos.

Model, aerialist, and owner of the Oakland-based Vespertine Circus, Bunny Zlotnik has always loved mermaids. Her mom helped her make her first swimable tail when she was 12. She finds mermaids a "very interesting mixture of femininity and different cultures" and is drawn to their mythology, the old female power, magic, and otherness of them. The realm of water also has its appeals. "I really appreciate the weightlessness of underwater," says Zlotnik, "how freeing the movement space of the water is."

Mermaiding offers diverse outlets for expression and involvement, including land and underwater modeling, free diving, swimming in pools at events, children's entertainment, character work, fitness classes with mono fins, and also serves as an educational platform for environmental causes. It is neither a new activity nor limited in its reach. Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida has been offering live mermaid shows since 1947; Sacramento's Dive Bar features mermaids and mermen gliding through a 7,500-gallon aquarium above the bar, and the city also hosts the Sacramento Promenade of Mermaids. Coney Island has an annual Mermaid Parade, and the Silverton Casino Hotel in Las Vegas showcases mermaids in their reef aquarium.

When out for a swim, the Norcal Narwhal Mer Pod says they and their unusual swim gear are well received by a diverse group of people. "Beachgoers are positive responders," says Zlotnik, citing the fact of simple curiosity. "Pretty universally their response is 'That's excellent!'"

Some might think it odd, but the mermaid life has its own share of joys and payoffs. "It is an outlet for my creativity, an amazing workout, a space to use my skills as a fashion designer, and a way to connect very deeply with people by embodying a myth," says Gallegos. She makes it a point to do volunteer performances as much as possible, and her favorite thing is to get wheeled around the Children's Hospital and read to sick kids.

The City of Fremont brings mermaid fantasies to life through their "Mystical Mermaids and Underwater Pirates" aquatic camp August 12 through 16. A mermaid or pirate instructor will teach swimming techniques to budding mers aged 6 and a half to 10, and by week's end kids will be showing off their new skills in a water circus (www.RegeReg.com or (510) 494-4344). While Gallegos hasn't heard of mermaid classes before, she is glad they are available. "These classes help a child's imagination grow, and teach them that they really can become anything they want to be, even a myth."

Gallegos's own imagination and possibilities are growing with interests in becoming a certified free diving instructor, hosting classes of her own, and making mermaid gigs more of a show than simply ambient entertainment. She's also considering starting a blog in which she could share such things as underwater modeling techniques, breath holding techniques, creative projects, and her own mermaiding journey. Gallegos says it would be nice to offer a single place to find information and tips about the lifestyle. "Mermaiding is more complicated than it seems."

To learn more about the life of a mermaid, upcoming swims, or to book Atlantis for a children's party, visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Mermaid-Atlantis/345372802194689.

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