The first time Mermaid Atlantis tried her tail, she was nervous. She timed it just right so that there wouldn’t be any children at the pool. She didn’t want anyone to see her — what would they think? After all, it’s not every day you see a mermaid in the community pool.
As Atlantis walked out of the pool locker room, an older woman of about 70 trailed behind her. Looking at the homemade fabric tail draped over the younger woman’s shoulder, she asked, with wide-eyes, if she was going to be a mermaid in the water. Atlantis said yes — still a bit nervous — and the older woman became ecstatic.
“What if it didn’t work?” Mermaid Atlantis recalled thinking. “I could see the headlines in my mind: ‘Girl drowns in local pool dressed as mermaid, everyone points and laughs.'”
But she didn’t drown; instead, she swam a lap, eliciting a round of applause and attracting quite the crowd. With tears now streaming down her face, the older woman told her about swimming in a lake as a child, waiting to become a mermaid — a story the aspiring mermaid would never forget.
“I just knew, if I wished it hard enough, I would grow fins and live as a mermaid forever…” the older woman told her. “It never happened in life, but every night it happened in my dreams. Now, here I am, and here you are. You are the mermaid of my childhood. It was worth the wait to meet you … Thank you.”
That’s how Atlantis knew — she knew that she had to try her best to let others meet their mermaid selves and make more dreams come true.
Three years later, Mermaid Atlantis has done just that. Now a professional mermaid, she swims at birthday parties, works as an underwater model and swims in video shoots in the ocean, wowing people around the Bay Area with her signature fiery orange hair and collection of intricately designed tails, including a glittery green tail and a silicone one with a myriad of yellows and oranges.
Like the woman she met at the pool in 2011, Mermaid Atlantis dreamed of transforming into a mermaid as a child.
“When I read stories, or watched films about mermaids and other magical beings, I just felt at home … ” she said. “I just felt soothed and comforted by the fact that there are other options in life, that you can embody a myth. I feel most honest about myself when I soar through the water as a mermaid … Bringing ‘impossible’ things from our collective imagination to this realm is my favorite kind of magic.”
Fortunately, Mermaid Atlantis doesn’t have to make this magic happen on her own. After becoming a professional mermaid, she began a “pod” of mermaids in northern California — the NorCal Narwhals. Atlantis organizes swims once a month all over the Bay Area where mermaids — or “mers,” for short — can swim in their tails and socialize. She also brings a few extra tails so that anyone can join in and live out their childhood dreams.
Atlantis’s mermaid life doesn’t stop when she takes off her tail; with a degree in fashion from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco, she designs and makes tails and mer accessories, and has even produced an underwater fashion show at the Dive Bar, a bar in Sacramento with a giant tank suspended above the bar where customers can watch mermaids swim while they enjoy a beer.
“Creating garments that flow in the water was a wish come true,” Atlantis said.
But “mermaiding” isn’t just about rocking a seashell bra and a tail. In fact, it takes a high level of physical endurance, according to Mermaid Atlantis.
“You have to be able to embody the grace and beauty of a mythical creature while swimming totally blind, with salt water up your nose, in front of a live audience and/or with wildlife,” she said.
And then there’s the worst part: the merverts.
According to Atlantis, ‘merverts’ are the folks who really, really like mermaids. She’s gotten her fair share of creepy comments online, and has been mistaken for an ‘adult performer.’
Today, Mermaid Atlantis continues to help others live out their mer-dreams at her mermaid swims. She also holds a mermaid school, where little kids can take classes on mermaiding. Out of the water, Mermaid Atlantis volunteers at children’s hospitals, where she is wheeled around in her tail to tell stories to children; additionally, she works to bring more attention to the issues facing the ocean.
“For me, mermaiding is many things,” she said. “It’s about bringing magic into the mundane world. It’s about ocean conservation. It’s about my psychical and spiritual health. It’s about my artistic expression through the costumes I build, and the performances themselves. It’s about bringing joy to others and making the fantasy realm accessible to everyone.”
The next time you visit the bay, keep your eye out for a flash of orange hair and the flick of a tail — you might just have your dreams come true.
Want to see a mermaid?
-Upcoming mermaid swim: MLK pool in SF on Oct. 9 at 3 p.m.
-Follow Mermaid Atlantis and the NorCal Narwhals on Facebook for updates on future swims.
-Head to Sacramento to check out the Dive Bar, where mermaids swim every night.
-Visit Mermaid Atlantis’ website to book Mermaid Atlantis for a private event.
-Head over to Mermaid Atlantis’ YouTube channel to see her swim with whale sharks.
Want to try it for yourself?
-Visit Mermaid Atlantis’ Etsy shop (MythandMagic) for mermaid accessories and fashion.
-Check out mermaid classes, such as those offered by Mermaid Atlantis or by Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida.
-Join the NorCal Narwhals’ next swim and try a tail!
-Tutorials are available online to make your own tail and mer-accessories.