BRADENTON BEACH – The mythical merman has returned to Bradenton Beach.
Last year, the mysterious male mermaid was photographed near the BeachHouse restaurant, and his picture ran in The Sun, but it was not known who he was or where he came from.
On Friday, July 20, the merman contacted The Sun and shared his tale. Merman Storm, aka Bart Hibbs, is an aeronautical engineer from California who vacations in Bradenton Beach with his non-mermaid wife.
“I swam all the way here. If you hide under the ships, they can’t see you when you swim through the Panama Canal,” he joked.
Hibbs enjoys Florida’s thunderstorms and sunsets.
“That’s why Storm is my merman name,” he said.
His appearances here are often at sunset, when he hopes to see the optical phenomenon known as the green flash.
“I’ve been doing this for about three years now. I got into it when I saw a Mertailor video on TV,” Hibbs said.
Mertailor is the Crystal River-based company that makes tails for adults and kids. The list of clients at TheMertailor.com includes Lady Gaga, Disney and the world-famous mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
Hibbs recently bought a new silicone tail from Mertailor for $1,200. He said more expensive tails start at $3,000 and go as high as $10,000 to $20,000.
“I graduated from Caltech, and I’m interested in flow dynamics. The company I work for, AeroVironment, was founded by Paul MacCready, the father of human-powered flight. I used to talk to him about human-powered things that move through the air and water. I also like to build things like models and pedal-powered boats, and I’m interested in fantasy and science fiction, so those four things converged on me being a merman,” Hibbs explained.
Hibbs was asked about the reactions he gets as a merman.
“A lot of people just ignore the whole thing, they don’t know what to do with it. A lot of kids ask me if I’m a real merman. I say of course I am. Adults normally want to know if they can take a picture of me and where I got the tail.”
His wife has never donned a mermaid’s tail.
“She’s afraid she’ll drown,” Hibbs said.
“I’m not all that great of a swimmer to tell the truth, but it turns out the monofin built into the tails is really powerful when you’re out there swimming around. The silicone tail you’ll see today has a monofin designed mainly for looks. I have a feeling it doesn’t have much propulsion, which is why I’m not going into the choppy water for my first swim in it,” Hibbs said.
In California, Storm sometimes swims at Harbor Cove Beach in Ventura.
“It’s behind the breakwaters and the waves are minor. Then there’s the local community pool. A few days before coming here we had a gathering called ‘Tails and Scales’ at a pool in Southern California – and by the way, many community pools don’t allow tail swimming,” Hibbs said.
“I do it because I enjoy it. If anyone wants to know why a straight, married man would put on a tail and go swimming, the answer is the majority of people who do it are women,” Hibbs said of a hobby that results in time spent with mermaids.
“However, we do have a problem with a group of people known as ‘merverts.’ As soon as you put on one of these tails, some people think you are public property. The only time I’ve been subjected to sexual harassment was when I was wearing the tail. It’s not fun and it really makes you understand what women have to put up with.”
On the beach
Merman Storm was on the beach at the end of Bridge Street Friday evening. Using coconut oil for lubrication, it took him about 10 minutes to squeeze into the tight silicone tail that includes internal ankle straps. Another challenge is covering the short distance between the dry sand and the water.
“You can’t walk, but one way to get there is crab walking: you lift yourself up, support your weight on your heels and arms and move your butt forward as you inch your way to the water,” Hibbs said.
Hibbs received some curious looks when putting on his tail, but once he transformed into Mermaid Storm several women approached him and took his picture – and Staci Santiago, from Kentucky, jokingly straddled him as he laid in the surf.
Merman Storm will swim home on Thursday, July 26, and you can follow his travels on Facebook.