NC Mermania 2017, part 2 - Mermaiding January 31, 2017 00:00
It’s hard to believe, but I haven’t written yet about my mermaid tail! I’ve posted a handful of tail photos here on the “Rescue Sirens” website as well as pictures and video clips on Instagram and Tumblr, but this is the first time I’ve blogged about it, and I don’t know if I can do it justice with mere words. My mermaid tail is a wearable, working piece of art.
Although it’s been around for decades, the sport, performance, or hobby of mermaiding has really taken off in recent years. Today, you can buy an affordable fabric tail that slips over a plastic monofin (a device, as the name suggests, that looks like a pair of fins fused together, designed to contain both feet and keep a swimmer’s legs together to aid in the dolphin kick), or you can spring for a variety of other materials, varying in price up to $4,000 or more. One of the most popular materials is silicone, and there are multiple tailmakers who create truly stunning silicone mermaid tails for swimming. My tail and matching top were handcrafted by Raven and Tyler Sutter of Merbella Studios Inc., based in my home state of Florida.
The story behind the creation of my tail is pretty magical. On our family vacation to Orlando in August of 2015, Chris, his daughter Nicole, and I made a side trip to meet Raven and Tyler at historic Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Florida’s “City of Live Mermaids.” There, I got to view the fabled springs for myself for the first time -- I grew up in Florida and spent a lot of time at Ginnie Springs over the years as well as Silver Springs and Homosassa, but, almost unbelievably, I’d never visited Weeki Wachee… and now here I was in this iconic mermaid mecca, with Mermaid Raven, seeing one of her gorgeous silicone mermaid tails in person! Wow!
I was so impressed with her handiwork’s artistry and flawless construction, and even more impressed with Raven and Tyler themselves: they’re brilliant, beautiful, fun, and phenomenally talented people who I feel very fortunate to call my friends today.
That first meeting. As you can see, we all got caught in a Florida thunderstorm!
Both the tail and the top that went with it were going to be designed as a “realistic” version of Nim’s, the Rescue Siren whose appearance Chris based on mine, and I was curious to find out how Raven would adapt Chris’s drawings into something that had to obey the laws of physics and look like it “belonged” on a real human being (as opposed to a cartoon), while still retaining the spirit of Nim’s design. Over the next eight months, Raven periodically sent work-in-progress photos as she sculpted Nim’s flukes and fins as well as the leafy, kelp-like halter top that Nim wears in her undersea home, Lophelia. Even in humble gray clay, everything looked amazing.
In April of 2016, Chris and I took another trip to Florida, and we made plans with Raven and Tyler to spend some time at Orlando’s YMCA Aquatic Center. The Y features a seventeen-foot-deep dive well, and I was beside myself with excitement at the idea of hanging out with Raven again and even getting to swim together. I knew that she was close to completing my tail and had already finished my top, but I wasn’t expecting to receive them until May, so I figured she’d bring one of her extra tails and I could borrow it for our swim. Imagine the look on my face, then, when Raven unveiled my very own Nim tail in the YMCA’s parking lot! It was so unexpected that I actually didn’t register what I was seeing for several moments, and then I squealed and squeezed Raven half to death.
Raven had taken the images of Nim that Chris had drawn and she had made them real. The delicate curling fronds of Nim's seaweed top, with sparkling green crystals imbedded amongst the gentle floral curves... the sweeping lines of Nim's graceful tail -- "blue as the ocean in the morning," scales glittering with iridescent shine -- from the flawless transition at the blended waist to the lightly ribbed dorsal, adipose, and ventral fins, all the way down to the immense flukes: three feet wide and ingeniously hiding a Finis Competitor monofin within.
Raven still had some finishing touches to put on my tail’s paint job, but I could try it on and go swimming with her!
I didn’t truly understand the phrase “fits like a glove” until I put on my Nim tail. It was made to conform to my body exactly, and, boy, does it do that. Even with Raven’s help, I swear it took me something like an hour and half to wriggle into my tail that first time. I’ve since gotten it down to under ten minutes (again, with my husband Chris’s help), but, if I hadn’t had Raven there to show me what to do at first, I honestly don’t know if I would’ve believed I could get into that tail. Once it’s on, it fits like a second skin, which makes moving through the water effortless. (Loose tails can flap around a person’s waist and legs, catching water as they swim and creating drag.) And once it was finally on that first time, I took off into the dive well… and I felt like I was flying.
When you’re wearing a mermaid tail, you can’t really get a good look at yourself while you’re swimming, so what made me do a double-take was seeing Raven (who can get into her tail in, like, two minutes!) glide past me in her own tail. The illusion is flawless; the blended waist effect that Raven can achieve with her tails is wholly convincing, her tails’ flukes bend and flow realistically, and Raven herself is so fluid and graceful in the water that you would swear she’s a real mermaid.
A #tbt video clip from April 2016 of "Rescue Sirens" creator and co-author Jessica Steele-Sanders' very first time swimming in her Nim tail from @merbellastudios! She's joined by Merbella owner @mermaidraven, whose beauty and grace are matched only by her kindness and her talent for constructing gorgeous mermaid tails and accessories. If you don't believe that mermaids are real, watching Raven in the water will change your mind! Video: @chrissandersart Music: Sade #rescuesirens #merbella #jessicasteelesanders #mermaids #mermaidtail #realmermaid #mermaidlife
Chris and Tyler, watching us, discussed the interesting quirk about mermaid tails: when a Victoria’s Secret model wears angel wings, she can’t fly, but, when someone puts on a mermaid tail, they really can swim. The fiberglass Finis Competitor monofin built into my tail is rated for ocean swimming, and I can cross a pool in only a few dolphin kicks. I went from the dive well’s surface to the bottom at seventeen feet below in the blink of an eye. I felt strong, powerful, and beautiful -- just like I imagine the Rescue Sirens in my stories -- and I can never thank Raven and Tyler enough for that.
My Nim tail has already been on a number of adventures, from Orlando to two Hawaiian islands to Weeki Wachee Springs and back here to Los Angeles, but those tail-tales will have to wait for another day, because today I want to write about mermaiding at NC Mermania!
The main event of NC Mermania was our time at the Greensboro Aquatic Center, affectionately referred to as the GAC (that’s pronounced “gack”). Merfolk took over the facility’s dive well, which, just like Orlando’s YMCA Aquatic Center, is a whopping seventeen feet deep and twenty-five yards wide; vendors (like us) set up on either side of the giant body of water. Chris and I readied our table with books, buttons, and Diving Belle motel key tags, and then I “turned tail”… with the help of Chris (who is an incredible husband for many reasons; this is only one of them) and a whoooole lot of coconut oil.
Although the tail is a challenge to get into, the reward once I’m in is well worth it: I get to go swimming! It’s so refreshing, both physically and mentally. I feel like a little kid again, only I’ve leveled up the way I “play mermaids” in a manner that wee Jess never could have imagined. I've always been a water baby, and swimming in a realistic mermaid tail is a whole new way of interacting with the element I love so dearly.
I recently had rashguards screen-printed with the “Rescue Sirens” logo, and I wore those stretchy lifeguard tops as part of my Nim outfit for both days in the dive well at the GAC. I was so tickled every time someone recognized our property! I loved talking to people, answering their questions about the books and the world, and spreading the word about this series that means so much to me. Because NC Mermania attendees are passionate about many of the same things that I am -- the ocean, marine conservation, water safety, and mythology -- that made everyone easy to talk to, even for an introvert like me!
Besides talking about "Rescue Sirens," conversations involved admiring and discussing one another's tails (Merbella Studios' tails like mine, Finfolk Productions, Mertailor, Mernation, any number of commercially available fabric tails, and even handmade), swapping water-friendly hair and makeup tips, learning new tricks (I was taught how to blow bubble rings!), and simply having fun swimming together. There was an innocence to the event that I found really charming. When was the last time, as an adult, that you really just enjoyed splashing around in the water with friends the way you did as a kid? I didn't realize how much I'd missed that.
While I played in the dive well, Chris was a rockstar and, as usual, a phenomenal husband: he not only sold copies of "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist" at our poolside table, but he also took lots of photos and videos to remember our time at NC Mermania. The only thing that Chris couldn't do was take photos from in the water (since he had to be able to return to our table at a moment's notice), but the wonderful Karsten Shein of Mountain Mermaid Photography had that covered, spending both days suited up in scuba gear at the bottom of the dive well with camera in hand.
Here are some of my favorite candids shot by Karsten (thank you so much!).
Click to enlarge:
In addition to Karsten's underwater photos, I chose some of the best pictures and videos that Chris shot from the pool deck and compiled them into this short video, which follows me around a bit during our time at the GAC on Saturday. Huge thanks also go to Tom Cardwell for graciously sharing the underwater footage that he recorded of me swimming, and to Mermaid Aria for the photo of her, Mermaid Jolene, and yours truly. I'm so grateful for everyone's help!
PART ONE · PART TWO · PART THREE · PART FOUR