SAN ANTONIO -- A growing number of people nationwide are living out their fantasy to become mermaids, and several south Texas mermaids are giving a glimpse into their world.
Eyewitness News talked to four mermaids based in Austin and followed them along to Barton Springs. Maria Russo said she has always wanted to be a mermaid. She said growing up in Austin, there were several areas to be near the water and swim. Maria said it can be difficult for other people to understand the mermaid lifestyle.
"We definitely call it a mermaid lifestyle because you really have to commit a lot. It takes a lot of your time and energy to be a mermaid," said Maria. "It's hard to explain. They're like, 'you're a mermaid? What?' No, no, I'm really a mermaid," said Maria.
Another mermaid, Elona Rose, said transforming into mermaids is their way of living out their dreams.
"Especially since we are all in our 30's, our generation of little girls grew up with the Little Mermaid as their Disney movie and the adults feel just as passionately about it as the children do," said Elona.
"I saw mermaids in San Marcos and as a little girl, I said, 'I want to do that. That's what I want to do.' When I wear the mermaid tail, I'm like, dreams do really come true as a child or an adult," said Rose. "Some people you know, have their way of escaping reality, this is our way of escaping reality."
They said the lifestyle encompasses everything they love to do, including the arts and crafts of creating the costumes.
"I can swim, fast, far and deep. It makes that connection with me swimming like an actual mermaid. Having the power of being that powerful, beautiful swimmer," said Jessica Mendola.
"It's this really cool mixture of like burlesque and theater, and extreme sport," said Maria.
Maria also helps other people live out their fantasy. She began making mermaid tails as a hobby and eventually turned it into a business. She's the co-owner of Sirenalia, a mermaid production company. She creates tails and tops for other mermaids nationwide.
She teamed up with Jason Darling who creates the tails. Jason uses a mold and silicone to create the tails. Afterward, he uses spray paint to make the designs. The tails weight about 25 to 30 pounds but are buoyant once they're in the water. One tail costs anywhere between $2000 and $5000. The tops can cost $25 to $300.
"We just recently made one for a girl in Canada. We've made them for people in Europe. We've made them for people all over the place," said Jason. "These girls give us coloring sheets. So, when they get a tail, they tell us exactly what they want their tail to look like."
Maria's company also brings mermaids together nationwide to go on retreats. Last month, 16 mermaids traveled to Belize to swim together and to do underwater photo shoots.
"The time I get an amazing feeling is when I'm with my friends and we're in our mermaid tails in our costumes, in the water and we're swimming and I'm like oh my gosh, this is my life! I'm 33 years old and I'm swimming, in gorgeous blue water with my friends playing mermaid," said Maria.
"That's why we do those retreats. So, a person can have a day as a mermaid. Maybe they don't have access to public swimming spot. Maybe they're in a land-locked state. Maybe they don't have a lake or river nearby. Then they can meet up with us," said Rose.
People can also hire mermaids through Maria's company. They can show up for a variety of events like birthday parties. Maria recently expanded her business to San Antonio and Dallas.
"For me, the most rewarding part is when we show up at a birthday party or in a public appearance or even just to do a photo shoot or video shoot in a public place. Everyone who sees us is excited and that excitement is contagious," said Elona. "It's really rewarding to make something you love and show it to the public. And have them love it, if not even more."
The mer-community is growing and through an online forum called the MerNetwork, it's making it easier to connect hundreds of mermaids across the country.
"I get on there. I've made friends on there. We post pictures on there. Absolutely, the MerNetwork has been a big influence," said Maria. "I have some really sweet mermaid friends out there in the world."
Maria and her friends encourage anyone who's curious about becoming a mermaid to test out the waters.
"Go for it! Reach out. Other mermaids will help you. Just do it," said Maria.