For years, I’d seen pictures of the Coney Island Mermaid Parade and told myself I had to attend. It didn’t happen until this year, though, for the 33rd annual gathering on Saturday, June 20. Most people probably don’t judge their first time, but I was lucky enough to experience the full excitement.
The Mermaid Parade traditionally marks the beginning of summer, but this year’s landed on a drizzly, gray day. It didn’t affect the buzz of attendees and participants, though, who all showed up in their finest and brightest. All judges sit in bleachers and take notes as every group of mermaids, pirates, and Neptunes passes, listening to commentary from the hosts. A head judge in robe and wig asks participants questions, and a designated “bailiff” keeps the peace, moving photographers out of the way and ushering the groups along the route.
It’s a beautiful spectacle, true to Coney Island’s bawdy, burlesque aesthetic, and a celebration of diverse bodies. I hadn’t realized how fitting it is to have a parade of mermaids welcome us all back to the boardwalk after spending the cooler months inside, but it is a perfect way to march back to the beach.
After the parade and judging were through, the throngs of people who had lined Surf Avenue moved to the boardwalk to pack Coney Island stalwarts Ruby’s and Nathan’s for beer and food, ride the Cyclone, and in general break out of their shells, guided by glittery women, giant octopus puppets, and their newly crowned Queen Mermaid and King Neptune.
Contributing writer & photographer: Alicia Kennedy