Chris Chandler didn’t set out to be a merman. He just planned to get re-certified in scuba diving.
But the path to becoming Merman ChristoMer and a member of the N.C. Merfolk – the hosts of this weekend’s Merfest – ends up making sense, once you hear him explain it.
First, while exploring the scuba certification, he learned about freediving, an extreme sport that requires swimmers to hold their breath for a long time while plunging deeper and deeper into the water.
Those who attempt such a thing wear a monofin, which is essentially two flippers bonded together.
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“I kept seeing those tails,” said Chandler of Cary. “My daughter at the time was 5, and she said, ‘Oh look, Daddy, mermaid tails.’ I go, ‘Hey, this looks kind of fun.’ ”
One thing led to another, Chandler said, and soon the avid swimmer and underwater photographer was wearing colorful monofins of his own.
“I’m an imaginative soul,” said Chandler, who is an IT architect on dry land.
The N.C. Merfolk, comprised locally of about eight to 10 people, is part of a larger network of thousands of professional mermaids. Locally, they seek to entertain and raise awareness of North Carolina sea turtle conservation and other environmental causes.
They visit festivals that focus on pirates and mermaids and can attend mermaid-themed birthday parties in costume. At the parties, Chandler will put his underwater photography to use.
“Anything that’s got an ocean theme or a pirate theme, we’ll go and entertain,” he said.
They make sure that “mertenders” are on hand, folks who can carry the mermaids from the water to her next destination.
“So you can keep the illusion of the mermaid,” he says. “She doesn’t have any legs.”
On Sundays, they can be found swimming in their full regalia at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary, often drawing curious looks and even more curiosity from children fascinated by their tails.
Chandler’s daughter, Casidy, is now 8 years old. For her sixth birthday, he surprised her with her own mermaid tail.
“I enjoy being able to bring my daughter’s imagination to life,” he said.
For more on the N.C. Merfolk, go to ncmerfolk.com.