TAMPA — Swimming in the pool, the mermaids almost look real. Their metallic-colored fins splash back and forth. Their seashell bras glitter in the sun.
Even inside, as they pose on faux rocks, it's possible to suspend reality for a moment longer. Silicone scales, flawless skin and long, flowing hair bring the mermaids of childhood fantasies to life.
It's the in between that tends to disrupt the magic.
Getting in and out of the suits can be tough — think sliding into a pair of leather leggings on a hot day. Plus, mermaids can't walk. Instead, they are hoisted into the arms of land dwellers and carried. Depending on the man, it can be a bit awkward.
About 400 people attended MerPalooza International Mermaid Convention and Party Saturday at the Bay Harbor Hotel in Tampa. Some came to model the custom-made costumes, others came to sell their mermaid-related products and a few came just to look.
"We say that mermaids are the new vampires," said MerPalooza director Stephanie Sims. "Fangs are out, fins are in."
This is the convention's third year after previously being held in Las Vegas and then in Orlando. Sims expected about 800 people to attend Saturday night's mermaid pageant and pool party outside the neighboring Hogan's Beach.
Ashlynn Dumelle, 34, of Tarpon Springs models mermaid wear for maker Eric Ducharme, whose Homosassa-based company, Mertailor, has crafted silicone tails for Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. She's been obsessed with mermaids for as long as she can remember. "I used to have my dad tie my ankles together with rope and chuck me over the side of the boat to see how well I could swim," she said. It's a lot easier with a tail, she found. "It feels like an extension of your body."
Becoming a mermaid helped Jennifer O'Bremski battle diabetes. "Two years ago I weighed 220 pounds," the 33-year-old from Georgia said. "Now I weigh 180."
She came to the convention to sell her artwork and handcrafted mermaid tops. "I make custom tops for busty mermaids," she said. She quickly learned that most shells are not one-size-fits-all.
As she waited for customers, O'Bremski painted. With a nod to the event's location, her latest work featured a merman version of Hulk Hogan, trident in hand as he struck his signature pose.
Out by the pool, Donna and Dan Freeman, both 68, watched in wonder as mermaids flocked to the water. On their first trip to Florida, the Green Bay, Wis., residents found the whole thing "interesting."
"He had to admit they were pretty," Donna Freeman said of her husband. "I wonder what kind of bait you use to catch them," he said, mostly to himself.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.