So Jerilyn Winstead is a lovely mermaid from Colorado, with two mermaid children (and two human ones) and a company called AquaTails that might just be becoming a mer-conglomerate. Jerilyn and her team not only makes fabric and neoprene tails but also host mermaid camps, throw mermaid parties and events, and put out e-newsletters and how-to books for aspiring mermaids and mermen (a how-to book is in the works, anyway). They’ll have a strong presence at the first mermaid convention this August in Las Vegas, and were responsible for training the Mystic Mermaids at the Denver Aquarium. That is right, you can go to the aquarium and see mermaids swimming alongside massive sea creatures. Watch this:
I know. You can go check out other mermaid videos at AquaTails’ site.
On top of everything else, Jerilyn also writes plenty about mermaidly topics, like for example her picks for the top ten mermaid movies and how to throw a mermaid party and her thoughts on mermaiding….
But before you become too overwhelmed, here’s our Q and A.
When and how did you get interested in “mermaiding”?
I grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, near the ocean, so the ocean was already in my blood. When I was in my 20s, I was very involved in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), a medieval re-enactment group. While in that group I came up with the idea of making a mermaid costume I could swim in. I spoke of it to two other ladies, and we all decided to make tails. However, right after that, I got pregnant with my first child (I was newly married), so the dream of being a mermaid was put off. I had four kids in quick succession. About thirteen years later, my two girls (my two eldest), discovered mermaids on YouTube, including Hannah Mermaid [read this blog's interview with Hannah here!]. They showed it to me, and I told them about my old dream. They got very excited and encouraged me to make tails for all three of us. So I did. We became mermaids and swam in our summer pool for two years, and were even in our local newspaper.
Is mermaiding a new phenomenon? Have you seen an increase in people interested in mermaiding over the last few years, and or/ in mermaids generally?
Yes, most definitely. However, mermaid swim tails have been around for a couple of decades, but just now it is really taking off. I wonder if it has taken off partly because Finis started selling their monofin, and people realized by adding fabric a swimmer looks like a mermaid, or if it’s more due to the influence of Hannah Mermaid, or a combination of many factors.
Can you tell me about AquaTails?
I started AquaTails in late 2009, and opened my online store in March of 2010. Our shop has been open for almost a year now. My eldest daughter, now fourteen, came up with the name of AquaTails – she’s a creative artist herself.
People saw me mer-swimming (I’ve changed the name to include men), and kept encouraging me to start a business and sell the tails, so that everyone could have one. I thought about it for a while, then decided to go for it. It has been quite an adventure, starting a home business, venturing into a brand new field, and continuing to raise my children, care for our home, etc. My children now range in age from nine to fourteen years old. My girls love merswimming.
What are your mermaid camps like?
Basically we have three levels of mer-swimming technique, and the camp will be like an intensive (we haven’t launched the camps yet). Most likely all swimmers will pass their level by the end of the camp. Also included will be free mer-swimming time, as well as mermaid fun & games. The swimmers will start learning how to choreograph their own unique mermaid moves. We have held a mermaid swim class in north Denver, and hope to continue with classes and expand into camps and birthday parties.
What is the AquaFriends Mermaid Club?
We’ve made it so that everyone can afford a mermaid tail! When you join our mermaid club, you basically pay a low monthly subscription, based on which tail you like, and once a year you get a brand new tail! There are also great benefits to being an AquaFriend: a portion of your monthly subscription goes to supporting ocean charities, and you will get a regular e-newsletter for members only with fun articles and letting you know where your money is being donated. Also, every year with your mermaid tail you get a free accessory, a birthday gift from AquaTails to you! We will be building our own special mermaid pod with our club members, it’s really fun.
Have you always been attracted to mermaids?
I’ve always been attracted to fantasy. I grew up reading Narnia and Lord of the Rings and such. I collected unicorns in high school. Later, after I was married, I missed the ocean of my youth and started identifying with the mermaid, and started collecting figurines, paintings, etc.
How would you explain their allure?
To children, it’s the allure of fantasy and the magical worlds such as Narnia and Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
To adults, there is a sensual nature also added to the allure of the fantasy.
If you read William Bond’s book and blog, “Mermaids are Real,” you will discover the origin of the mermaid in history. It’s quite possible that this, our own sensual sea-maid history, is also calling out to us.
Can you tell me about your work with the Mystic Mermaids at the Denver Aquarium?
When I first started my business and my store wasn’t even online yet, I called the Denver Aquarium out of the blue and proposed to the owner the idea of having mermaids in the aquarium. It turned out that he was already wanting mermaids there! So we came up in February, 2010 and performed a demo, and it was the first time any of our team had mermaided in salt water before! Their tank is so full of salt that I was completely buoyant, I used up all my air just trying to get a few feet underwater, lol! That’s when I learned that some swimmers are natural “floaters” and some are natural “sinkers”. The Sinkers can easily go under no matter what and they can even hover in the water – it is amazing. Unfortunately, I am a Floater, so it is a struggle for me to get myself down, and when I do, I quickly surface again.
But it was an amazing experience and the onlookers, mostly children, just squealed in delight! In this visit we quickly shot our first photo shoot and videos which we used to help launch our website.
Scot Hulgan, the owner called us back in March and wanted to see a second demo. We went up and swam again. This time we used goggles because without them, we were so blind we could not see the people through the window well enough to interact with them. This visit I had our newest team member, Mermaid Nicole, present, who did wonderfully. (She had auditioned for Weeki Wachee, but then moved away after she received a call-back.)
As a business owner, and living an hour away from Denver, I was extremely busy getting my shop up and running. So the aquarium’s dive director, Todd Hall, decided to work in-house. They spent several months training their own employees, working very hard, then they launched their mermaid show in June 2010. They perform three ten-minute shows a day, seven days a week. It is a fun show and well worth a visit!
What will you be doing there? What can people expect in general?
Watch out, I always have unusual ideas up my sleeve. This year at the first mermaid convention, besides having a vendor table, we will be hosting a Mermaid Movie Room (come and see the rare black & white classic, “Mr. Peabody and the Mermai”) as well as the beginnings of a Mermaid Underwater Playland. The Playland is for all mer-people of all ages. We will add to it every year. This year see how many Lava Hoops you can swim through in one breath and search for treasure in the Seaweed Forest. There is also a rumor that AquaTails will be selling a special mermaid drink at their vendor table… Anyone who is a member of the AquaTails Mermaid Club at the convention will receive one or more free prizes as well.
Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Yes, believe in yourself, anything is possible! And come to Vegas and meet other merfolk from around the world! It’s going to be amazing!