On the F-train going to Coney Island with some sea creatures!

A rainy Saturday afternoon on June 24th and I’m on my way to Coney Island way down on the Southern most tip of Brooklyn, NY to catch the 2006 Mermaid Parade. The parade takes place every year and celebrates the official start of Summer although this weekend there was little sun to indicate anything of the sort!

A group of creatures washed up on the tarmac.

Now in it’s 24th year, it is the celebration where droves of people dress up in what has become something of a statement towards the freedom and artistic self-expression that the event has come to represent. The Parade is characterized by participants dressed in hand-made costumes where “anything goes”. I was going to say that the only criteria would be that it has to be “sea related”, but looking around this Saturday basically confirms there is little criteria. It is however a competition and during the parade a committee of judges award prizes for the best costumes and people often go to great lengths to impress. Mermaids, Neptunes, giant crabs, various sea monsters, fish people, the occasional squid person or simply people in their swimming costumes all crave the attention of the judges, crowds and camera lenses!

A pink sea diva!

Once the parade has marched down the Boardwalk and down Neptune avenue past the judging panel, the participants congregate and offer up any “wanna be” photographer the opportunity to shoot them at will. There’s almost as many people taking pictures as there are people dressing up, but it’s a great opportunity to capture up close some of New York’s most extroverted characters and what has become a New York institution.

A guy clearly not caring about the “sea” theme but he gets 100% for effort!

The next step of the whole event is often what separates the men from the boys as people descend down towards the beach area where they promptly run into the freezing and ominously murky looking Atlantic Ocean complete with their costumes. This year however looming clouds eventually closed in and torrential rain and thunder sent most of the sea creatures and people carrying expensive cameras diving for cover, including myself!

Part of the parade in which contestants use any means of transportation they can find.

The Coney Island Mermaid Parade unlike many other parades I’ve seen in the city retains an air of independence which sets it apart. It goes back to the comment of it being for many a statement of self-expression, and one that is all too often hampered at other events by a number of contributing factors; the authorities, lack of available space in the city, public safety concerns, overly rigorous crowd control, transportation and other logistical factors. No such hampering was evident at Coney Island during the parade as the participants clearly revel in the chance to dress up and offer themselves to the crowds of fascinated onlookers and eventually the freezing cold Atlantic Ocean, until it rains!

Text and photos: Garry Waller

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