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Mermaids Next Door

Lauren Murrow | March 26, 2014 | Lifestyle Story City Life

There's more to a mermaid than a pair of seashells and an hourglass tail. “There’s a huge athletic component to mermaiding,” says Portola resident Luma Gallegos, who goes by the name Atlantis. “It’s a huge ab workout.” Atlantis is the founder of the NorCal Narwhals Mer Pod, a group of 17 theatrical women and men who meet once a month to don monofins, adopt pseudonyms like Mermaid Jewel and Christomer Starfish, and swim at Bay Area beaches and pools.

Most discover the pod through word of mouth, though the national merfolk community is larger than one might think: An inaugural conference in January drew 300 mermates to North Carolina, of all places. “It’s life changing, in a bizarre way, to fulfill this childhood fantasy,” says Atlantis. “Invariably, at least one woman who comes to swim with us cries.”

Atlantis, who started out as an underwater model—she can hold her breath for two minutes and 40 seconds—also designs neoprene tails for other merfolk. Though the Narwhals understand the skepticism of outsiders—“You think, ‘It will be really ridiculous if I drown in a public pool while wearing a mermaid tail,’” says one member—they hope to inspire others to embrace their fantasies.

After all, Atlantis says, “If I can make a living by wearing a fish tail, you can pursue whatever crazy dream you have.”

Originally published in the April Issue of San Francisco.

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