The bejeweled mermaid nestling among the rocks was a gorgeously unexpected sight as I was walking the beach at sunset. It was the last day of my trip to Maui, and she almost trumped the manta ray I’d swum with that morning. Maui resident Becky Faulkner had won a mermaid photo shoot in a competition organized by Maui Island Mermaids. So what was it like having her entire lower body inside that long, tight, rubber tail? I couldn’t see much room in there for her legs. “I do feel a bit squashed,” Becky told me. It brought back memories of my mother crammed into her 1970s-era Playtex girdle. Weak-bladdered woman that I am, I wouldn’t have wanted to wear the thing as I would have worried about what to do if I needed to pee. I just wasn’t willing to embrace my inner mermaid.
Carrie Trujillo of Maui Island Mermaids, however, has done just that. She is a professional mermaid and has swum in all kinds of monofins, as those mermaid tails are called. I had once seen a woman in the ocean clad in a blue one that looked like it was made of spandex. Her entire body appeared to undulate as she moved through the water. According to Carrie, the monofins made of fabric are the easiest to swim in. She confessed that she had found the rubber one that Becky was wearing to be a lot harder to use in the water, particularly since it had a wide curved tail. Carrie runs classes for kids who are aspiring mermaids, teaching them how to swim in a fabric monofin. I don’t know how durable those things are, but if I was in the ocean wearing one, aside from any challenges of swimming in it, I would worry about inadvertently scraping the monofin over some rocks and ripping it.
There must be quite a demand for mermaids on Maui, as I found three different companies providing them on the island. Hawaii Mermaid Adventures, Mermaids on Maui and Maui Island Mermaids offer mermaid photo shoots, monofin swimming lessons and professional mermaids for hire to grace your child’s party or special event. It made me think that a mermaid might be a perfect addition to something like a stag night—much classier than a scantily-clad woman jumping out of a cake. At least with a mermaid, only half of the woman would be scantily-clad.
The greatest handicap when you are impersonating a mermaid is that you can’t walk. “I’ve gained a lot of upper body strength,” declared Carrie. “I’ve become very good at crawling out of the water like the creature from the Black Lagoon,” she added, hands clawing at the air to emphasize her point.
The 1984 romantic comedy, Splash, starring Daryl Hannah as a mermaid, avoided this issue by having her grow legs on land. The movie would have been very different if her love interest, played by Tom Hanks, had been obliged to carry her all the time or push her around in a wheelchair. Daryl Hannah’s character could even have become an inspiring role model for disabled people.
Carrie’s photographer husband Jesse Trujillo is used to carrying mermaids about. During Becky’s photo session, he deftly picked her up from one location in the rocks and gently laid her down in another, as he worked on getting the perfect sunset shot. “He’s very supportive of me being a mermaid,” his wife confided. I could see that he had to quite literally be very physically supportive, carting her about all over the place, but I assume she meant he was emotionally supportive too.
I thought that photoshoot prizewinner Becky might have a job connected to water sports or the ocean, given her desire to be a mermaid—she stunningly looked the part. I found out that this was not the case. She worked as veterinary assistant. This brought to mind a question that neither Carrie nor Becky could answer. “Does a mermaid go to a doctor or a vet?” I suppose it would depend on what part of her body needed attention.