Diving Into The World Of Mermaiding
How mermaiding encouraged Laura Evans to come out of her shell and kick-start her career
By Rose Stokes
“I just don’t see how a world that makes such beautiful things could be bad,” said Ariel at the beginning of her iconic song ‘Part of Your World’ in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, before describing why exactly she wants to become a human. Although for Laura Evans, a professional mermaid from St Ives, Ariel had got things the wrong way round: things really are better under the sea.
Back in Cornwall after a short but difficult period in London about five years ago, Laura found herself getting back into her childhood habit: swimming in the sea. Raised in St Ives, she has always felt a deep connection with the ocean, and in those months found herself reconnecting with it in a big way as it made her feel more alive. The idea of becoming a mermaid was never in the plan, she says, although she admits to having fantasised about the idea a lot as a child. In this instance though, the idea came to her on a paddleboard. “I was coming back into the harbour with a friend and the sun was setting and it was just so beautiful,” explains Laura. “I’ve always had a fascination with the idea of mermaids and so I suddenly thought: wouldn’t it be amazing if one just swam up to the beach?” It was in that precise moment a lightbulb switched on in her mind. “I just thought that could be me. I could make that happen!” she says excitedly. “Soon I was ordering a custom-made mermaid’s tail.”
Laura began a social media account through which she’d let people know when and where she planned to wash up. Over the years, she has amassed a huge following and has been known to draw crowds of over 300 people. “Kids and tourists love it!” she says. Learning to swim with a huge silicone tail isn’t a small task though, and requires a lot of practice. “The tail is made to fit my body and has little slots for my feet to grab onto by the fin,” she tells me. “It’s quite tight so you do need a bit of lube to roll it up your body!” Once on though, the tail is heavy, weighing in at about 1.5 to two stone, so swimming in it is a great workout, especially for your core. “It definitely uses different muscles from normal swimming,” she explains. “I’m a fit person – I swim and do a lot of Pilates – but there’s nothing like swimming in a tail.” Laura says that people often tell her they’d be worried about having their legs bound together but, conversely, it’s something that she’s found quite empowering. “It gives me an incredible amount of force,” she explains. “I can swim much faster, deeper and further than I would be able to without it.”
It takes some getting used to and Laura mentions a mermaid training camp in Bournemouth that runs courses that anyone can attend. At the camp, you can also learn free-diving techniques; Laura recommends them for anyone who wants to swim with a tail. Apparently the mermaid community here is growing rapidly, especially in the south west region, with 100 or so based in the UK, about 10 of which are at a professional level (and are making money from it).Laura says that in the US, the community is much bigger and more like an industry, which explains why she bought her tail from a supplier on the other side of the pond. “It’s made of silicone and cost about £1,500,” she tells me, as my jaw hits the floor. She is quick to reassure me though that there are cheaper, entry-level ones for curious souls with smaller budgets. “You can get fabric ones which are less expensive.”
People use them for cosplay, too, but you can still swim in them as long as you get a decent one.” Something about the way she mentions cosplay makes me wonder if she’d ever had any contact from mermaid fetishists. “We call them merverts in the community!” she laughs, but reassures me that liberal use of the block function on social media has meant she’s been relatively untroubled by so-called merverts, and assures me most of her fans just love the beauty and theatre of it all. I suppose on some level we all want to believe in fairy tales and that mermaids really exist.
I have to say at this point that the more Laura describes mermaid swimming, the more interested I am. As a swimmer myself, I love finding an excuse to get in the water, especially these days given how much people rave about the mental health benefits of outdoor swimming. But there’s a big problem – I hate the cold. Laura’s response to my concern is compelling. “There’s something really amazing about accepting the cold,” she says, “I’m not someone who likes being cold, in fact I usually hate it […] but when you get in and start swimming, it feels so liberating – you feel like a superhero. It teaches you that you’re stronger than you think.”
For Laura, finding a new love and appreciation for her body has been an unexpected benefit from mermaiding. “I’ve been on a real journey,” she says. “What I didn’t prepare myself for was how many photographs I’d be in once I became the St Ives mermaid. I’m a photographer and take lots of photos of myself underwater, but suddenly I didn’t have any control over the shots people were taking of me and sharing on social media. I instantly went into a mode of criticising my body and quickly realised how insecure I was about it.”
What Laura found really surprising though was how much of her fear was focused on other people’s reactions to her body, rather than how she actually felt about herself as she moved around the ocean. Eventually she came to realise that everyone was so excited to see a mermaid that they didn’t care how her body looked. This was a real turning point. “What mattered is what I was doing, not how I looked,” she says. “It was such an important shift and because of this I want to try to use my platform to encourage other women to celebrate and accept their bodies too.” If her Instagram page is anything to go by, she certainly upholds an ethos of body positivity and self-love, which appears to be embedded in her work rather than something she consciously talks about. It’s a refreshing approach.
In the future, Laura hopes to pass on the title of the St Ives Mermaid to someone else, but she doesn’t feel the pressure to do so any time soon. “I don’t think age should matter,” she explains, “as long as it’s natural and safe for me to do it, I will.” In the meantime, she’s spending as much time as she can in the water and is keen to encourage others to do the same. Laura also shows people the beautiful areas around St Ives and the joy of outdoor swimming through her new business, ‘Wild Body Walks,’ and says, “The ocean and mermaiding have given me so much, I want other people to have these experiences too!”