“People don’t realize how hard it is to be a mermaid,” Linden Wolbert explains. Sometimes, when a pool’s chlorine levels or pH balance are out of whack, she can’t see well enough to drive home. Other times, she wakes up covered in bruises from hitting the sides of small pools.
But even with cloudy, stinging eyes, Wolbert has no plans to retire to land. Six years ago, hailing from landlocked Amish Country, she plunged into “mermaiding” full-time, spending months molding a tail using fiberglass, clay, and 35 pounds of silicon, which she likens to a newborn child. A 35-pound, 6-foot-long newborn child.
Unlike other mermaids, Wolbert refuses to work bachelor parties or go topless: “I’m not that mermaid.” Quite the contrary: she feels most comfortable teaching children about ocean conservation and working with nonprofits to increase awareness about water safety.
Based in: Los Angeles, Calif.
Grew up in: Amish Country in Lancaster, Penn.
Graduated from: Emerson University, Bachelor’s degree in film and science
Years in the business: 6 years
Describe what you do in a few sentences. I perform in my mermaid tail, which has a real monofin inside, to spread the message about ocean conservation. I’m a geeky, PG-rated mermaid focused on wholesome entertainment and education, an ambassador of the ocean.
Regular gigs: I’m gone 4 to 6 months out of the year doing underwater work. When I am home, my time is split among the following: children’s birthday parties and nonprofit events about ocean education; celebrity clientele parties [for audiences including Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Christian Audigier, and Justin Timberlake]; and photo shoots for film and TV, with or without my tail.
Mermaid ensemble: My 35-pound silicon tail, a beautiful beaded top, and a paua shell necklace from New Zealand. It’s pointless to wear toenail or fingernail polish, and I only wear makeup when I’m performing on camera.
Where does one buy a silicon tail? I worked with special effects artist Allan Holt in Hollywood to create a mermaid tail. It took seven months. We made a mold of my body from the waist down and filled it with fiberglass to create a fake pair of legs. Then we used about 35 pounds of clay to sculpt a tail, which I designed myself. We created a fiberglass mold of it, and the mold was then injected with a high-grade silicone. I’m normally 5’4″, but I’m almost 8 feet tall with my tail on.
Dream job as a college student: An underwater wildlife documentary filmmaker. I started scuba diving right after graduation [from Emerson], and immediately became enveloped in the underwater world. After getting open-water scuba certified, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) hired me as an underwater model to travel around the world and appear in ad campaigns and educational materials about diving.
Did you dress as a mermaid for those ads? When I saw my first monofin, I could barely contain my excitement. It’s a single bladed fin made from powerful fiberglass with two foot pockets next to each other. Freedivers strap them to their feet to get more depth and distance. After I tried one on, I knew I had to be a mermaid. I knew I had to turn it into a career.
How did your friends and family react to your decision? I’m the luckiest mermaid in the world; they are so supportive, and didn’t laugh when I told them. At parties, others will usually introduce me first: This is Linden, she’s a mermaid.
Benefits of a mermaid tail: The tail creates so much thrust and torque that people have a hard time keeping up with me in the ocean. This month has been epic: I just went freediving with wild dolphins and swimming with whale sharks in Mexico. And I can’t walk with my fin, which means that I get to be carried around by strong, gallant men.
Storage space for your tail: On my bedroom floor, swaddled in towels in a cool place. I treat it like a newborn. I call it my baby.
You molded the tail at age 26. Have you grown since then? Yes, proportions shift. I have to maintain a very healthy lifestyle and stay in great physical shape. I’m currently designing a new tail with a couture designer, which is a top-secret project.
Did you always love water? I know every word to The Little Mermaid. I have been on swim team since I was a tiny tot, and my parents were both swimmers. I lived in our community pool during summers in Pennsylvania.
Breath-holding record: Five minutes. That means I can dive 115 feet – and come back up – in a single breath.
Do you prefer land or water? Definitely water. I’m in the water as often as I can, whether in a bathtub, the ocean, or a swimming pool. It makes me happy and balanced. Plus, the abundance of wildlife in the ocean is amazing.
Best part of your job: Children’s response to a mythical creative coming alive in front of their eyes. I’m really a science geek.
Most challenging part of your job: Being a one-woman show. I built an entire company around my job. A lot of critics ridicule or belittle my job, but that goes for any artist. Sometimes, I wake up after an awesome day in the pool or ocean and feel crippled. I’ll have bruises from the boat, my neck will be stiff, and my eyes will be watering and cloudy and stinging.
Would you consider wearing goggles? No.
What would people be surprised to learn about your job? I say no to a lot of requests for – well, shall we say, less savory events. It’s against my ethics. I’d rather teach swimming safety to people in the Bahamas — about 80% of them don’t know how to swim.
In 10 years, you’ll be: right here. I plan to dive until I can’t walk anymore. Actually, as you age, your metabolism slows, which means you can freedive for a long, long time.
LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
A few words for aspiring merpeople.
1. Follow your heart. Don’t listen to the critics if this is truly what you want to do.
2. Stay honest, stick to your morals, and don’t compromise yourself for opportunities.
3. Get proper safety training, like PADI open water certification. Start with scuba diving, and then pursue freediving. Remember that not all mermaids are freedivers.