Mermaid Echo; Origin Story
By Claire Krieger
When you think of mermaids what do you think of? I think of fairy tales and pictures in books. When my friend Claire thinks of mermaids she thinks of herself and the reality of being a professional mermaid. If you are like me you probably didn’t even realize that being a professional mermaid was a thing. They’re mythical creatures that are found in fairy tales not an occupation that you can grow up to pursue.
Claire VanValkenburg has always been around the water. She grew up on the shores of the St. Croix River and her family were avid sailors. She too took up sailing as well as diving in high school. All this combined with her love of mythology and fairy tales inspired her journey of becoming a mermaid.
When she was little she would put on diving fins, tie her legs together and say “Hey mom look! I’m a mermaid!” She would then proceed to swim like this. Once in high school she became a gymnast. She had serious ankle problems and would constantly break and/or dislocate her ankles. When her doctors told her that she couldn’t be an athlete she decided to prove them wrong and took on diving as well.
Eventually her ankles were so ruined that she had to stop gymnastics. By focusing on diving she got extremely into swimming. Overtime she had to give up diving as well but she never stopped swimming. However, she found swimming laps extremely boring. She knew there had to be a better way to swim. She researched and found free diving which is where you dive down as deep as you can go using a monofin. She decided that this was a more fun and interesting way to swim. When she went to get a monofin she found that the store also sold fabric tales. She was fascinated, immediately fell in love, and knew she had to try it. Her childhood dreams of being a mermaid could actually be fulfilled and to her that was incredible. A fabric tail is a piece of spandex that goes over the legs and a monofin to give you a mermaid tail.
Even being an advanced swimmer she still struggled with the tail. She nearly drowned the first time she tried it. It took her lots of practice in order to swim like a fish would. However, under the water she didn’t have to worry about her ankle problems and she feels free and fluid. She is now able to hold her breath for two minutes. She is also able to do many underwater tricks such as a back flip, blowing bubble rings, and swimming in any direction. These took a lot of work to learn because many times you have to learn by watching videos of yourself and getting videos underwater is no easy feat. She also received many tips and tricks from the mermaid community where she is now very active.
The Mermaid community is group of people who have an interest in mermaiding. Most of the community resides online on an online forum called Mernetwork. Mermaiding is still a new hobby and people throughout the community are constantly inventing and sharing tips and tricks in order to help the community grow. This was very beneficial when Claire was still learning how to use her tail and allow her to expand her interest in mermaiding. Art is also a huge part of the community. It creates advertisement and buzz so many in the community take to social media platforms such as Instagram in order to grow interest in the community. Besides the community containing a lot of art mermaiding itself is also an art form. Mermaids are actors as they are a Mermaid and are creating a persona of living in a magical mermaid world. They also train long and hard in order to put on an effortless performance. This, to me, is very similar to dance. They may look like they’re doing nothing but that is their job. They are constantly making the hard stuff look easy and comfortable.
The Mermaid community is mostly made up of people who are hobbyists who really enjoy swimming, mermaiding, or want to help raise awareness for conservation in a new and more interesting way. There are also many “behind the scenes” people who are a part of the community. These include Mertenders who are basically mermaid assistants. They will lift the mermaids, help them when they are on land, and are also characters in the mythical world that the mermaids create. Claire often uses this vast network of people in order to learn more about mermaiding and how to do different tasks such as running a business.
There are also photographers, inventors, tail manufacturers and professionals. Another huge part of the community is the awareness it brings to conservation. Most in the community are very passionate about the conservation of our earth’s water systems. They try to educate children in a more fun and interactive way. Claire informs children about the issues our oceans, rivers, and lakes face and tell them how they can help. The fact that the mermaid community is worldwide also helps spread the conversation on conservation.
Another aspect of the community is the inventions that the community members come up with. They are constantly trying to make tails more realistic or easier to swim in. They are also learning about new ways to make their image more like actual fish and model more off of the environment that they are in. Finally, the community tries to promote people being in charge of their own bodies. In mythology mermaids are portrayed as sexualized icons and the community works hard to take down this stereotype. They try to be very body positive and stray away from being portrayed as over-sexualized. Many find it empowering and use it as a way to reclaim their bodies and show that others are not in charge of them. At the same time they also work hard to preserve the magic behind mermaids. You will not find any videos or pictures of tail being put on and scenes where the magic is ruined for younger audiences. They make swimming seem easy and fun even when it isn’t and become a character for their audience.
Claire, also known as Mermaid Echo, is now working as a professional mermaid. She had been thinking about it almost since she began. Earlier in the year she and her Mertender, Kevin, decided to stop talking about starting a business and decided to do it. She has recently gotten a silicone tail and is ready to share her talents with her community. She has also set up social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. Besides these, people who are interested can visit her website and find out more about what she does and how they can hire her. Since she uploaded her first video she has gotten 1.8 thousand views. She still has a long way to go but she is excited for the future. She has started to accept bookings, is trying to find out what people are interested in, and who might be interested in hiring.