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Every summer for the past six years or so, I have had one tiny sigh of regret while setting off on whatever my current adventure is — missing the Coney Island Mermaid Parade again.

Since the first moment I heard of this offbeat celebration of everything exotic and erotic underwater, I have been dying to take part. Unfortunately, June always seems to be a busy month for me — which the Mermaid Parade is smack in the middle of, taking place on the Saturday closest to the official first calendar day of the summer season.

MermaidParade
MermaidParade

Mermaid Parade 2013

The parade dates back to 1983, when it first started bringing creative costumes, passionate merrymakers, vintage cars, elaborate floats and general revelry down Neptune Avenue and across the boardwalk. According to Coney Island USA, this event is “The largest art parade in the nation. A celebration of ancient mythology and honky-tonk rituals of the seaside. A showcase for over 1,500 creative individuals from all over the five boroughs and beyond, opening the summer with incredible art, entrepreneurial spirit and community pride.”

Thirty years later, despite Hurricane Sandy threatening to cancel the event, the stars aligned for my visit home and I was finally able to participate! Spoiler alert: I loved every minute.

MermaidParade
MermaidParade

Zoe and I along with this years’ King Neptune and the Mermaid Queen

While most of my friends couldn’t fathom braving the heat and crowds, my partner in crime Zoe agrees with my life philosophy to never says no to a chance to dress up ridiculously and dance like a fool in public. She even threw together last minute costumes for us after poor planning found me in Brooklyn and my mermaid Halloween costume stuck up in Albany.

Our late night supply run to Ricky’s on the eve of the parade ended in laughter when we listened to the sales girl explain the lack of face paint selection to a clueless patron: “Don’t you understand? The Mermaid Parade is tomorrow. Everybody in Brooklyn done come in here already!”

Mermaid Parade 2013

Mermaid Parade 2013

The air was thick with excitement and spray-on glitter when we got off the subway and headed towards Surf Avenue (I love the street names around here!) We managed to slip into the line up easily, though we were stopped regularly by street photographers going shutter crazy behind the barriers. I felt slightly awkward posing at first but figured it was payback time for the amount of portrait photography I’ve wrangled subjects into in my travels. The amount of cameras in the crowd is astounding — don’t come in costume unless you’re ready for hundreds of lenses aimed your way.

We arrived early for once in our short lives, and were treated to plenty of time to gawk at the vintage muscle cars, elaborate floats and themed vehicles. It had been less than an hour when I turned to Zoe and shouted over the party music coming from one of the floats, “this is SO Brooklyn!” It’s the Brooklyn that inspires so much pride and fierce protection — weird, wacky, loud and proud Brooklyn that spans ages, races, and economic classes.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Mermaid Parade 2013

Mermaid Parade 2013

Despite the amount of bare flesh on display, I was not surprised to see people of all ages, from kidlets to grandparents. The Mermaid Parade manages to strike a rare balance between flirtatious sensuality and wholesome family fun.

Mermaid Parade 2013

MermaidParade
MermaidParade
MermaidParade
MermaidParade

Mermaid Parade 2013

Groups ranged from rowdy bands of frat boys dressed as Neptunes to floats of little girls as Arial mermaids to couples sharing a fun day and tender moments in elaborate theme costumes.

MermaidParade
MermaidParade

The amount of time, effort, and artistry that went into some of the costumes I saw was astounding! I had thought Zoe and I to be quiet clever when we left the house after a frenzied hour with some scissors, Fabric District found materials, and glue gun — but we were put to shame! Body paint was an obvious popular choice.

MermaidParade
MermaidParade

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

MermaidParade
MermaidParade

Some mermaids really wowed me with their creative use of materials. Two of my favorites from the day were the straw mermaid and the duct tape mermaid — both of whom were kind enough to pose for me.

MermaidParade
MermaidParade
MermaidParade
MermaidParade

Others turned themselves into elaborate living sculptures, from sushi to seahorses. I laughed out loud when I saw these sea anemonies crafted from pool floats — what amazing creativity!

MermaidParade
MermaidParade
MermaidParade
MermaidParade

I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun behind the camera. There were just endless amounts of people having a blast and looking fabulous, and you can’t ask for better subjects than that (though you can ask for better lighting than midday harsh sunlight!) Unlike many parades, the Mermaid Parade has no religious significance, no ethnic background, and no commercial cause. It’s just a celebration of all things sea and summer at the hands of artistic New Yorkers.

Mermaid Parade 2013

MermaidParade
MermaidParade

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

MermaidParade
MermaidParade

Mermaid Parade 2013

MermaidParade
MermaidParade

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

MermaidParade
MermaidParade

Mermaid Parade 2013

Mermaid Parade 2013

MermaidParade
MermaidParade

My favorite part of the day was when we walked past the judging stands and entered the home stretch towards the boardwalk. We found a fantastic band and a great group of dancers and marched/danced with them the rest of the way. The energy could only be described as epic — it was such a high!

Mermaid Parade 2013

Mermaid Parade 2013

Please forgive me for the offensive font in this video. My final change didn’t save and I was lucky enough to have one successful upload on Indonesian wifi.

As we approached the U-turn onto the boardwalk portion of the parade, we started to pass all the iconic Coney Island hotspots– Nathan’s Hot Dogs, The Cyclone roller coaster, and Luna Park.

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Mermaid Parade 2013

Mermaid Parade 2013

All along Surf Avenue I had been thinking that really, the crowds weren’t that bad. Then we reached the boardwalk. Holy wow! So that’s where the masses were hiding. While the boardwalk definitely made a more attractive backdrop for photos than the street had, I couldn’t take the crush and Zoe and I ducked out and into one of the boardwalk restaurants for some frozen drinks and other beachside treats.

Mermaid Parade 2013

By the time we ventured back out, things had turned into a full blown street party with bands on the boardwalk, towel-to-towel throngs on the beach and humans literally in every direction imaginable. I got a major kick out of this faux-camera wielding partier, who had clearly been to the Mermaid Parade and seen it’s deluge of photographers before.

Mermaid Parade 2013

Before heading to a party in Rockaway for the evening, Zoe and I kicked off my inaugural Mermaid Parade with a spin on the Wonder Wheel, one of Coney Islands’ most quintessential experiences.

Mermaid Parade 2013

MermaidParade
MermaidParade

I can’t say more about what a fun day this was. I enjoyed it as a spectator, a participant and a photographer. It was the perfect kick-off for summer in one of my favorite areas in Brooklyn. Now that I see the love poured into the costumes parading down the boardwalk, I’m doubly inspired to prepare something fabulous for next time. Let’s just say I’m already enthusiastically working the 2014 Mermaid Parade into my plans for next year!

Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Mermaid Parade 2013

Which was your favorite costume? I think I have to go with the straw mermaid, or the pool float sea anemones!

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42 Comments...
  • Chelsea
    July 24 2013

    I like the use of body paint on the old folks! So brave and so free.

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      Clearly, age is not a factor when it comes to the Mermaid Parade. I love that about it!

  • Ashley Hufford
    July 24 2013

    If your around for June you should also try to make it to Figment….its like an interactive Mermaid Parade and absolutely amazing.

    http://newyork.figmentproject.org/
    Ashley Hufford recently posted..Oh Hey Remember Me!

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      You know, I’ve still never been to Governer’s Island! Pretty crazy after so much time in the city. Maybe I can correct that next summer!

  • Zoe
    July 24 2013

    YAY photos! I remember literally each and EVERY one of those fools. It was surprisingly not that hot, right?

    skin skin skin skin!!!!! glitter glitter glitter!

    OK next year—-PRIDE PARADE!!!! Its the following weekend, you can’t miss it

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      Ah! Okay, sounds like next summer needs to be NYC-based! I see no other option 🙂

  • Jolene
    July 24 2013

    I love the Mermaid Parade and have been in over a dozen since the first one!

    Your photos and essay are excellent! I’m so glad you had fun!

    See you next year!
    Jolene

    From the very first Coney Island Mermaid Parade:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/78146029@N00/507959644
    Jolene recently posted..Coney Island Mermaid Parade Prep is underway!

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      Thanks Jolene, and I love the link! Thanks for sharing. That’s awesome you’ve been able to participate so many times. I’d love to say the same someday!

  • Jade
    July 24 2013

    I LOVE this! It looks like so so much fun! Glad you finally got around to going so that you could share these awesome pictures
    Jade recently posted..Memory Lane Monday: Market madness in Key Afar

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      Thanks Jade! Blogging definitely makes me a better traveler… it kicks me in the butt to do cool things and go to amazing places so I can write about them!

  • steve mckee
    July 24 2013

    DID SOMEONE SAY MERMAID??
    Here is a SPECTACULAR article from the NYTimes mag about a mermaid show at a fabulously cheesy 1950s-era roadside attraction in (of course) Flor–eee-da.
    Here, the mermaids actually SWIM.
    Alex, you need to go there and get yourself into the water. Seriously. This was made for you to write about.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/magazine/the-last-mermaid-show.html?ref=magazine
    Stv

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      Amazing article! I actually just read a story about these mermaids in Scuba Diving magazine, and added it to my mental bucket list. I would LOVE to get a mermaid lesson from one of them!

  • Jolene
    July 24 2013

    The Mermaids of Weeki Wachee are legendary! I saw them as a kid a LOOOOOONG time ago!

  • Holy mermaids! This would be such a cool parade to attend. Everybody just looks so into it! I feel like I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite. But this would be so cool to experience! Excellent mermaid costume. 🙂
    Amanda @ Adventure Year recently posted..Blog School > Regular School

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      Thanks Amanda, but you are being too kind 🙂 Mine was amateur hour compared to the Olympic level costumery going on at this parade!

  • John Bourke
    July 24 2013

    Dear Alex,Did you see special on National Geographic that said there really are such things as mermaids? Look for one when “in the deep”;for sure you’re not just a multi-talented adventurer,but an absolutely beautiful mermaid !Stay safe.

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      That was actually on Animal Planet, and while I did see and love it, I was very sad to read that it was a hoax 🙂 But I still believe!

  • I love the street photography you did in this post… just gorgeous!
    Ashley of Ashley Abroad recently posted..The 9 Most Delicious Lunches in Paris

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      Thank you so much Ashley! I was a little exasperated at the parade because the lighting was SO harsh and there were so many other photographers to compete with and I just wasted really in the mood to throw elbows. So I took it easy and just shot tons and tons, but I’m happy to say that after hours of editing I am pleased with the results!

  • Steve McKee
    July 24 2013

    Alex: A little networking. I recently came to a blog called’The World and Back’ by a Michelle K. Wu. We both once worked at The Wall Street Journal 9though I don’t think atr the same time and we ‘LinkedIn.’ I signed on to her blog because it is so amazingly similar to yours. Check out her most recent post about… Gili Trawangan http://theworldandback.com/2013/07/24/falling-in-love-with-gili-air/
    I suppose in some ways you two are ‘competitors,’ but I suppose in other ways you’re co-conspirators in the blog-based Internet travel industry. In fact, maybe you two already know each other in that 21st century Facebook-y sort of way. If you don’t, I’m thinking it might benefit you both if you did.
    Best, StvMcK

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      Thanks for the connection… I just lost myself in that blog for a bit! Great stuff and I’m following her on Instagram now 🙂 Always wonderful to find another kindred spirit on the road and on the web.

      • Michelle Wu
        June 10 2014

        Hi Alex, I just came across this post. I’m a big fan of your blog, I haven’t nearly been able to keep mine up as much as I’d like to — I admire your productivity and work ethic! Cheers!

        • Alex
          June 11 2014

          Thanks Michelle! I spend a lot of time on content around here and I love hearing positive feedback about it 🙂 Thank you!

  • Nautilus! Sushi! Nautilus! Sushi!!! Can’t decide. I’m in love with everything about this. Definite bucket list material.
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..10 things to do in Vancouver, BC if you’re kind of broke but really awesome.

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      As a diver and lover of all things underwater you simply have to go! I’m sure you could get an amazing mer-scuba costume going 🙂

  • So awesome that they didn’t cancel it, looks like a brilliant time!
    Pete @ HeckticTravels.com recently posted..The Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      Stronger than the storm — oh wait, that’s New Jersey’s tagline 🙂

  • OMG this looks like the most fun parade EVER!!!! I want to be a mermaid!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Ask Andi Anything + Giveaway (Part 4)

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      I definitely think this would be perfect for you my dear 🙂 Would love to see you as a mermaid!

  • Dad
    July 26 2013

    I LOVE A PARADE!!…sounds like a song. The Mermaid Parade is as wacky as the Mummers Parade but with more skin, less organization and better weather. I also read and recommend the mermaid story in the NYT magazine referred to by Steve McKee. Great human interest story

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      I definitely need to get to both the Mummer’s Parade and that mermaid state park. It’s only an hour from Tampa! How did we not know about it before…

  • Kristen Noelle
    July 26 2013

    How naughty and nautical…This looks like the funkiest thing ever, maybe I can try to check it out next year.

    That straw costume has to be my favorite! Great shots.

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      That was Zoe and I’s favorite as well 🙂 You should definitely go next year!

  • Camels & Chocolate
    July 26 2013

    I’m mighty scurrred a few of those mermaids are about to lose their shells…
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Photo Friday: Charleston, South Carolina

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      Bhaha. Best comment. It reminds me a bit of the Neptune Day you do on SAS!

  • This would’ve have been AWESOME to attend!
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..Black Sands & Blow Holes (and just how do you pronounce Wai’anapanapa anyway?)

  • Erica
    July 29 2013

    SUPER CUTE. I’ve already had ideas going through my head of what kind of mermaid costume I would make. I’m a bit obsessed with costume making.
    Erica recently posted..Friday Food Trucks: The Mighty Cone

    • Alex
      July 31 2013

      I can definitely picture this parade featured on Over Yonderlust 🙂

  • Abby
    August 1 2013

    I used to go to this ever year. So fun! I had a friend I met backpacking (of course) who got so into it, so I used to cheer her on!
    Abby recently posted..Salute! Trinchero Napa Valley is Rich in Italian History

    • Alex
      August 3 2013

      I can’t believe you didn’t participate as well! You’d be an awesome mermaid 🙂

  • TammyOnTheMove
    August 2 2013

    I love whacky events like this. Looks like you had a lot of fun!
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Flashback Friday: How not to haggle at Otavalo Market

  • Federico
    August 6 2013

    What a great party, how colorful!
    Federico recently posted..Discover Morocco: What to See and Things to Do in Marrakech

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