Mermaiding was his idea, I promise
Two newlyweds, two tails and one San Marcos staycation to check off the only thing on my husband's bucket list.
Frank has always wanted to go to Weeki Wachee Springs to learn how to become a mermaid.
Since 1947, underwater performers have been dazzling visitors to this park in Florida who are enchanted with the idea of mermaids.
He grew up before the mermaid craze of the 1990s, when every young girl (and boy) in America dreamed of being Ariel or King Titan or one of extended mer-family from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
Mermaids, of course, have enchanted sailors (and everyday people) for millennia. In Denmark, the famous statue inspired by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s “Den lille Havfrue” has been used as a political talking piece since its unveiling in 1937, a hundred years after Andersen’s fairy tale published to global acclaim.
In America, our mermaid obsession can be traced to the 1989 film where we all longed to be “Part of Your World,” but in reverse. Nobody wanted to walk on land. We all wanted to swim under the sea.
“MerPeople,” a new four-part Netflix series, attempts to unpack this mer-mania through the people who attend festivals, pageants and conferences and attempt to turn their love of “mermaiding” into full-time jobs.
Although I’ve never wanted to join this subculture of people who cosplay as mermaids, setting up elaborate photo shoots and forming “pods” with fellow mermaid aficionados, I have always shared Frank’s desire to at least try on a fin and see what it’s like.
I mean, how many of us grew up pretending to swim like a dolphin or a mermaid in every hotel pool we ever splashed into? But back then, nobody had a monofin. There weren’t Facebook groups to celebrate all things “mermaiding.” You couldn’t buy mermaid tails online for less than the cost of a plane ticket to Fort Lauderdale.
But this is the world that Ariel finds herself in now. No matter how far you are from a coast, you’ll find grown adults who, in their free time, play mermaid. Some of them perform at aquariums or for children’s birthday parties. The top tier mermaids, like Eric Ducharme of Mertailor, who was featured on the Netflix show, have made it their full-time jobs.
You can find inexpensive tails on Amazon, but the high-end silicone tails, like the ones from Mermaid Lucia, have a months-long wait and cost thousands of dollars.
Frank and I fall outside the category of people who dress up for the parade in San Marcos, the self-described “Mermaid Capital of Texas,” but we are certainly the kind of people who have no shame in taking a wild idea to fruition.
After Frank mentioned for the sixth or seventh time that it was his lifelong dream to go to Florida for that mermaid camp, I had started researching a trip there to make it happen. Out of curiosity, I also started looking up options that were closer to home.
That’s how I found Michelle Kraft, who owns the legendary Dive Shop San Marcos, one of the longest-running educational hubs for SCUBA diving in Texas. The shop opened in the 1970s, and Michelle took it over in 2019.
She’s a serious technical diver who has taught and led hundreds of classes and excursions all over the world.
And a few years ago, she got into mermaiding, too.
Kraft is one of only a handful of dive instructors in the state who offers mermaid certifications through NAUI, the National Association of Underwater Instructors. (Both NAUI and PADI, the largest SCUBA certification organizations in the world, offer mermaid certifications now.)
So, for Frank’s birthday this year, I gave him mermaid classes, and the the last weekend in September, we headed to San Marcos for our two-day class with Kraft.
Kraft spends most of her time teaching SCUBA classes, but for the mermaid classes, she brings students to the heated pool at the dive shop just outside of town for the first day. On the second day, they meet at the San Marcos River, just downstream from where the “mermaids” used to perform at Aquarena Springs.
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