Saturday, May 26, 2018
Events

Mermaid convention and trade show arrives in Tampa

It took three years for an international mermaid and pirate convention to land in Tampa.

Bewildering, when you think of how deep the ties to mermaids and nautical lore run through this part of the world.

"My grandmother was among the first of the Weeki Wachee mermaids," said Stephanie Sims, organizer of this weekend's MerPalooza International Mermaid Convention and Party. "I have a certain affection for all things mermaid."

Now she's offering her hometown a chance to experience and stock up on everything mermaid with a three-day convention at the Best Western Bay Harbor Hotel.

Along with the pool parties, there will be a pageant, trade show, panel discussions on tail art and mer-culture, mermaid fiction author signings, a trip to Weeki Wachee to see pro mermaids in action, and a chance to be photographed underwater in a tail in Crystal River.

"When people come to something like a mermaid convention and stay, they are pretty committed to visiting every booth and hearing every discussion," Sims said. "They are a pretty dedicated group."

But casual fans, cosplayers, pirates, fairies and Renaissance fans may become a big part of the future of MerPalooza, which hopes to remain in Tampa for the next few years.

"There will be 30 to 50 vendors of mermaid and pirate related products from tails to accessories to jewelry and even fiction," said Eric Ducharme, 23, owner of Mertailor, a local company that has crafted silicone tails for the likes of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, among many others. "By including pirates, fairies and Renaissance we hope to turn this into a sort of Comic Con for mermaids."

Ducharme's connection to mermaids runs deep as well. He started swimming with the Weeki Wachee mermaids when he was young and even participated in the show before he began his business of creating custom mermaid tails at age 16.

"I really feel like for the mermaid community this gives us, people with the same passion, the ability to come together in one location to celebrate what we enjoy doing and this other part of our lives, ­Ducharme said.

The event was first held in Las Vegas, another convention created to drum up tourism in non-peak season in Sin City. More than 400, people from around the world attended.

When logistics troubles arose, organizers called on Sims of Tampa's Gasparilla Media to bring the event to life.

"We had our challenges," Sims said. "The first year was obviously very adult-themed because it was in Vegas."

Take two happened last year in Orlando, and because of the proximity to Disney World, Sims was able to reach out to the corporation and have them host a job fair for mermaids for the new Ariel's Grotto attraction in Fantasyland.

Mertailor was a presenting sponsor at Orlando's convention, and wanted to return when the company found out it would be held in Tampa.

"We always either go big or go home," Ducharme said. "At the entrance of last year's convention, we put up a giant rock display for people to pose on."

It was hit with the almost 800 conventioneers, which included more children in its second iteration.

"It's very family-friendly now," Sims said.

Sims said she has no doubt the convention will continue to grow and change because mermaids are having a resurgence in popular culture.

Ducharme was recently featured on TLC's My Crazy Obsession showing off his work on silicone mermaid tails (the kind you have to oil up to get in and out of but look really real) and in May ­Animal Planet aired Mermaids: The New Evidence that caused a flap big enough to get an official denial of their existence from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"I just think it's time for the mermaid," Sims said. "I tell people, 'Fangs are out. Fins are in.' "

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