Fin-tastic! Growing 'mermaiding' subculture makes a splash

  • Queen Pangke Tabora swims in her mermaid suit as she conducts a mermaiding class in front of the Ocean Camp in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022. For the transgender Filipina woman approaching middle age, seeing her legs encased in vibrant, scaly-looking neoprene three years ago was the realization of a childhood dream.

    Queen Pangke Tabora swims in her mermaid suit as she conducts a mermaiding class in front of the Ocean Camp in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022. For the transgender Filipina woman approaching middle age, seeing her legs encased in vibrant, scaly-looking neoprene three years ago was the realization of a childhood dream. Associated Press

  • Queen Pangke Tabora swims in her mermaid suit while she conducts a mermaiding class in front of the Ocean Camp in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022. 'úThe world outside is really noisy and you will find peace under water. '¶ It's a good skill in the real world, especially during the pandemic.'Ě

    Queen Pangke Tabora swims in her mermaid suit while she conducts a mermaiding class in front of the Ocean Camp in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022. 'úThe world outside is really noisy and you will find peace under water. '¶ It's a good skill in the real world, especially during the pandemic.'Ě Associated Press

  • The mermaid tail of Queen Pangke Tabora rests as a freediving class is conducted at the Ocean Camp in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022. Across the world, there are thousands more merfolk like her _ at its simplest, humans of all shapes, genders and backgrounds who enjoy dressing up as mermaids.

    The mermaid tail of Queen Pangke Tabora rests as a freediving class is conducted at the Ocean Camp in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022. Across the world, there are thousands more merfolk like her _ at its simplest, humans of all shapes, genders and backgrounds who enjoy dressing up as mermaids. Associated Press

  • Queen Pangke Tabora conducts a freediving classs at the Ocean Camp in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Saturday, May 21, 2022. There was a pivotal moment in her life that eclipsed all others: It was the moment, she says, when she first slid her legs into a mermaid tail.

    Queen Pangke Tabora conducts a freediving classs at the Ocean Camp in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Saturday, May 21, 2022. There was a pivotal moment in her life that eclipsed all others: It was the moment, she says, when she first slid her legs into a mermaid tail. Associated Press

  • Queen Pangke Tabora, right, conducts a mermaiding class in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Saturday, May 21, 2022. Across the world, people are increasingly embracing the subculture of 'úmermaiding.'Ě

    Queen Pangke Tabora, right, conducts a mermaiding class in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Saturday, May 21, 2022. Across the world, people are increasingly embracing the subculture of 'úmermaiding.'Ě Associated Press

  • Filipina Jennica Secuya swims in her mermaid suit during a mermaiding class in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022.

    Filipina Jennica Secuya swims in her mermaid suit during a mermaiding class in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022. Associated Press

  • Filipina Jennica Secuya, left, swims with other students during a mermaiding class in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022. Away from the critics and chaos of life on land, mer-world is the kinder, gentler and more joyful alternative to the real world. It is also a world, merfolk say, where you can be whoever and whatever you want.

    Filipina Jennica Secuya, left, swims with other students during a mermaiding class in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022. Away from the critics and chaos of life on land, mer-world is the kinder, gentler and more joyful alternative to the real world. It is also a world, merfolk say, where you can be whoever and whatever you want. Associated Press

  • Queen Pangke Tabora, right, swims with her students, from left, Shelah Candado, Jennica Secuya and Meryll Louise Reque, during a mermaiding class in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022.

    Queen Pangke Tabora, right, swims with her students, from left, Shelah Candado, Jennica Secuya and Meryll Louise Reque, during a mermaiding class in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022. Associated Press

  • Queen Pangke Tabora, right, and her students prepare for a mermaiding class at the Ocean Camp in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022.

    Queen Pangke Tabora, right, and her students prepare for a mermaiding class at the Ocean Camp in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Sunday, May 22, 2022. Associated Press

  • Queen Pangke Tabora lies in bed with her dog "Choknut" inside their room at the Ocean Camp where she conducts freediving and mermaiding classes in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Saturday, May 21, 2022.

    Queen Pangke Tabora lies in bed with her dog "Choknut" inside their room at the Ocean Camp where she conducts freediving and mermaiding classes in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Saturday, May 21, 2022. Associated Press

  • Queen Pangke Tabora kisses her dog "Choknut" before teaching freediving and mermaiding classes at the Ocean Camp in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Saturday, May 21, 2022.

    Queen Pangke Tabora kisses her dog "Choknut" before teaching freediving and mermaiding classes at the Ocean Camp in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Saturday, May 21, 2022. Associated Press

  • Queen Pangke Tabora swims in her monofin as she demonstrates techniques to her mermaiding class in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Saturday, May 21, 2022. The former insurance company worker described the experience of gliding under water, half-human and half-fish, as 'úmeditation in motion.'Ě

    Queen Pangke Tabora swims in her monofin as she demonstrates techniques to her mermaiding class in Mabini, Batangas province, Philippines on Saturday, May 21, 2022. The former insurance company worker described the experience of gliding under water, half-human and half-fish, as 'úmeditation in motion.'Ě Associated Press

  • Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, prepares for a swim at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022. There is a strong need, especially after COVID-related lockdowns, to simply play and enjoy creativity, Metzler says.

    Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, prepares for a swim at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022. There is a strong need, especially after COVID-related lockdowns, to simply play and enjoy creativity, Metzler says. Associated Press

  • Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, prepares for a swim at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022. 'úThe more we open up our imagination and accept everyone for how they are, it makes it more of a beautiful experience,'Ě she says. 'úThe sky _ or ocean floor _ is the limit of what you can do with mermaiding.'Ě

    Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, prepares for a swim at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022. 'úThe more we open up our imagination and accept everyone for how they are, it makes it more of a beautiful experience,'Ě she says. 'úThe sky _ or ocean floor _ is the limit of what you can do with mermaiding.'Ě Associated Press

  • Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, prepares for a swim at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022. Metzler received her advanced mermaid certification this month with a goal of teaching rookie merfolk how to avoid sinking to the seabed.

    Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, prepares for a swim at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022. Metzler received her advanced mermaid certification this month with a goal of teaching rookie merfolk how to avoid sinking to the seabed. Associated Press

  • Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, swims at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022. "Some people have a coffee in the morning to wake up, some people have a mermaid swim," Metzler says with a laugh as she glides through the water, her skin adorned with sparkly sequins. "This tail is so fun to swim in!"

    Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, swims at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022. "Some people have a coffee in the morning to wake up, some people have a mermaid swim," Metzler says with a laugh as she glides through the water, her skin adorned with sparkly sequins. "This tail is so fun to swim in!" Associated Press

  • Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, walks from the water at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022.

    Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, walks from the water at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022. Associated Press

  • Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, washes her tail after a swim at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022. Across the world, people are increasingly embracing the subculture of 'úmermaiding.'Ě At its simplest, these are humans of all genders, shapes and backgrounds who enjoy dressing up as mermaids.

    Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, washes her tail after a swim at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022. Across the world, people are increasingly embracing the subculture of 'úmermaiding.'Ě At its simplest, these are humans of all genders, shapes and backgrounds who enjoy dressing up as mermaids. Associated Press

  • The tail of Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, lies on the sand as she prepares for an early morning swim at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022. "Some people have a coffee in the morning to wake up, some people have a mermaid swim," Metzler says with a laugh as she glides through the water, her skin adorned with sparkly sequins. "This tail is so fun to swim in!"

    The tail of Lauren Metzler, founder of Sydney Mermaids, lies on the sand as she prepares for an early morning swim at Manly Cove Beach in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, May 26, 2022. "Some people have a coffee in the morning to wake up, some people have a mermaid swim," Metzler says with a laugh as she glides through the water, her skin adorned with sparkly sequins. "This tail is so fun to swim in!" Associated Press

 
 
Posted6/23/2022 7:00 AM

SYDNEY -- There was a pivotal moment in Queen Pangke Tabora's life that eclipsed all others: It was the moment, she says, when she first slid her legs into a mermaid tail.

For the transgender Filipina woman approaching middle age, seeing her legs encased in vibrant, scaly-looking neoprene three years ago was the realization of a childhood dream. And it marked the beginning of her immersion into a watery world where she would find acceptance. The former insurance company worker described the experience of gliding under water, half-human and half-fish, as 'úmeditation in motion.'Ě

 

'úThe feeling was mermai-zing,'Ě Tabora said one recent morning while lounging in a fiery red tail on a rocky beach south of Manila, where she now teaches mermaiding and freediving full-time. 'úThe world outside is really noisy and you will find peace under water. 'Ľ It's a good skill in the real world, especially during the pandemic.'Ě

Across the world, there are thousands more merfolk like her - at its simplest, humans of all shapes, genders and backgrounds who enjoy dressing up as mermaids. In recent years, a growing number have gleefully flocked to mermaid conventions and competitions, formed local groups called 'úpods,'Ě and poured their savings into a multimillion-dollar mermaid tail industry.

On a planet plagued by war, disease and social upheaval, many merfolk have found life in the water a refuge. Perhaps Sebastian, the ornery crab in the 1989 film 'úThe Little Mermaid,'Ě said it best in his warning to land-loving mermaid Ariel: 'úThe human world, it's a mess. Life under the sea is better than anything they got up there!'Ě

Away from the critics and chaos of life on land, mer-world is the kinder, gentler and more joyful alternative to the real world. It is also a world, merfolk say, where you can be whoever and whatever you want.

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That openness attracts some transgender people who empathize with Ariel's agony of being trapped in a body that feels wrong. It is also inspiring to merfolk like Che Monique, the Washington, D.C.-based founder of the Society of Fat Mermaids, which promotes body-positive mermaiding.

'úI'm a 300-pound Black mermaid in America over 35, and hopefully that tells somebody they can do whatever they want to do,'Ě says Monique, whose group sells shirts that read 'ėFat mermaids make waves' and 'ėGender is fluid under the sea.' 'úSure, on the one hand it is really silly, but I've watched it change people's lives.'Ě

After all, the ocean is vast, she notes, and most of the planet is covered in water. So why not dive in?

'úI think there's room under the sea for all of us,'Ě Monique says.

The lure of mermaiding is clear from the Montreal home of Marielle Henault, which is stuffed to the gills with mermaid tails. The AquaMermaid CEO sells them to 'úmers'Ě the world over.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

'úWhen you put your mermaid tail on at the beach or pool, you become a superstar,'Ě says Henault, whose company runs mermaiding schools across Canada and the United States. 'úKids and adults, everybody's happy to see a mermaid!'Ě

When mermaiding first started to catch on, most tails for sale were custom-made silicone creations that weigh up to 23 kilograms (50 pounds), cost upwards of $6,000 and take a surprising amount of time and lubricant to wrestle into. But over the past few years, the increasing availability of cheaper, lighter fabric options opened up mermaiding to the wider public.

As mermaiding went mainstream, glamorous photos of mermaids resplendent in glitzy tails began gaining traction on social media, further fuelling mer-mania. An obsession with 'úThe Little Mermaid'Ě is common among merfolk, and there is anticipation of a fresh wave of mermaiding interest when a live action reboot of the film is released next year.

Still, merfolk acknowledge their almost-utopia is occasionally rocked by stormy seas. As mermaiding's popularity has risen, so too has the prevalence of creeps known as 'úmerverts'Ě and scammers who sell non-existent tails, says Kelly Hygema, creator of the Facebook group 'úMermaids Beware: Scammers, Merverts, & More.'Ě

'úBeing mermaids, it's a predominantly women-dominated hobby and profession... so of course that does attract attention from strangers on the Internet,'Ě says Hygema, who lives on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas.

'úMost of the time it's just creepy comments, like they want to see you without the tail on or hold your breath underwater.'Ě

Hygema advises merfolk to always have a trusted companion, or 'úmertender,'Ě while performing in a tail.

'úWith your legs bound, you can't really run away, so it's important to have that set of legs there to make sure you're OK,'Ě she says.

Swimming in the tails takes practice. A mermaid's mastery of the dolphin kick is key, along with equalization techniques to alleviate ear pressure under water.

PADI, SSI and NAUI, the world's major scuba diving certification organizations, now offer mermaid courses. There's even a World Mermaid Championship, last held in China in 2019, which featured 70 mermaids flipping and posing in a giant glass tank before a panel of pensive judges.

Mermaid conventions ('úMercons'Ě) are now held globally. Last month, more than 300 merfolk from across the U.S. and Canada attended the California Mermaid Convention, which was, as convention co-founder Rachel Smith described it, 'úa three-day 'ėshell-ebration' of everything mermaid.'Ě (Note: the mermaid community is awash in puns.)

For most merfolk, it's all a little tongue-in-cheek. But it's also meaningful. Floating in the Sacramento pool where fellow attendees of the California convention had gathered, Merman Maui summed up the importance of the community this way: 'úI have a new family with all these people.'Ě

'úLife is so much better when you learn to have just a little bit of fun, or a lot bit of fun, because we all believe in magic at some point,'Ě Maui says. 'úA lot of times, life can get pretty dull and boring. So why not just enjoy every aspect of it that you can?'Ě

___

Associated Press journalist Serginho Roosblad in Sacramento, Calif., contributed to this report.

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