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
NC Mermania 2017, part 1 - Introduction January 30, 2017 00:00From Jess:
It's been a week since Chris and I returned home to Los Angeles from the second annual NC Mermania -- a convention for all things mermaid and merman -- held in Greensboro, North Carolina, and we have so much to talk about! We had an absolutely amazing time.
Chris and I were first contacted in the summer of 2016 by Raina, owner of Halifax Mermaids and one of the organizers of NC Mermania, asking if we’d be interested in appearing at the event as special guests and vendors. We’d wanted to attend 2016’s Mermania, but the timing hadn’t worked out, so we were determined to be there in 2017! In addition to promoting and selling signed copies of our first novel, “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist,” Chris and I would be appearing on Sunday afternoon’s Expert Panel to discuss co-writing and self-publishing alongside other professionals with experience relevant to the mermaid community.
Getting to Greensboro, North Carolina, however, was going to take some planning. Although we have a booth at San Diego Comic-Con every year and are no strangers to vending at conventions, Chris and I had never exhibited at an event that wasn’t within driving distance, so we needed to figure out how to get ourselves and our merchandise across the country successfully. We also needed to adapt our promotional displays (we made the cutest little travel-friendly stand-up banners!) as well as pack my mermaid tail (more about that later). Without a direct flight from Los Angeles to Greensboro, we made the decision to fly from LAX to Raleigh-Durham, rent a car, and then drive the hour-and-change from Raleigh to Greensboro; that way, we didn’t have to worry about our checked luggage getting lost while making a connection between airports. We didn’t want to show up to NC Mermania without our books or my tail!
On Friday, January 20th, Chris and I woke up at four AM in California, dragged ourselves to the airport to board our flight to North Carolina, and arrived in Raleigh at around 4:30 PM EST. After some unexpected delays (are there any other kind?), we had all of our precious cargo, our rental car, and our destination: the Sheraton Greensboro at Four Seasons.
The weekend was pleasantly crammed with activities, beginning with Friday night’s mixer and after-hours swim, then continuing with Saturday morning’s Mers of Color panel on diversity, swimming and vending time at the nearby Greensboro Aquatic Center until five PM, and Saturday night’s dinner and ball followed by even more swimming in the hotel pool. (Are we spotting a theme, here?) Sunday would see another day in the dive well at the GAC, and then it was back to the Sheraton for the Expert Panel and closing ceremonies.
On top of all that, sprinkled throughout both days at the GAC were classes and workshops for the attendees (underwater posing, “merwrangling” for mermaid assistants, and water safety), in-water photo slots with professional photographers, and even children’s story times and swimming with mermaids for the local little guppies. Whew! Considering Chris and I usually spend our time at SDCC either in our booth or fast asleep back at our hotel, having the option to actually participate in panels and social events was something new and different for us. It was a lot to take in!
From the first moment that Raina greeted us at Friday night’s mixer, Chris and I felt really well taken care of by NC Mermania’s staff of dedicated volunteers. We primarily interacted with Raina; her partner and Merwrangler, Sean; Venessa; and Dan, and each person was always ready with answers to our questions and a smile, even though I know they were all exhausted after putting so much time and energy into planning the convention. Chris and I really appreciated their attention to detail and their ability to roll with the hiccups and sudden changes that accompany any large event. This was only NC Mermania’s second year, but everything went really smoothly, and they quadrupled their attendance numbers from 2016. Wow! We’re looking forward to seeing the event continue to grow and evolve, and we hope to be an even bigger part of it in the future.
Throughout the week, I’ll be posting a series of several in-depth blogs about our experiences at the world’s largest convention for merfolk, including photos and video clips. I can’t wait to share our adventures with you!
PART ONE · PART TWO · PART THREE · PART FOUR
"Rescue Sirens" at NC Mermania 2017 January 16, 2017 00:00From Jess:
The "Rescue Sirens" team is starting 2017 off with a bang! Chris and I were invited to be special guests at NC Mermania 2017, the second annual convention revolving around all things merfolk taking place in Greensboro, North Carolina. Hundreds of mermaid fans from around the globe converge on the Greensboro Aquatic Center to spend time with their mer-friends, buy mermaid merchandise (merchandise!), and get their tails wet in the facility's seventeen-foot-deep dive well. You might've seen last year's convention featured on CNN! When we were approached by NC Mermania's coordinators about appearing at this year's event, Chris and I jumped at the chance.
In addition to selling signed paperback copies of "Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist," we'll also be participating in Sunday afternoon's Expert Panel: a diverse assembly of professionals with experience that's relevant to the mermaid community. Chris and I will be answering questions about our co-writing and self-publishing process for "Rescue Sirens," and we're joined by Marla Spellenberg from Weeki Wachee, Florida's "City of Live Mermaids"; Chris O'Brocki, representing mermen in the community; author Joseph McGarry, who will discuss finances and taxes in the mermaid business; talented tailmaking twins Abby and Bryn Roberts from Finfolk Productions; and Philo Barnhart, an animator on Disney's "The Little Mermaid." The lovely Raina of Halifax Mermaids (and one of NC Mermania's coordinators) will be moderating.
There's a lot going on at NC Mermania, including more panels, story time and swimming for kids, workshops and classes, and even a ball. Whew! Want to know what's happening when? Here's the weekend's schedule (also available in printable form):
For ticket information, please visit NC Mermania's website. We hope to "sea" you in North Carolina later this week!