Meet Lila the Hawaiian Mermaid! She is a marine biologist, scuba diver, surfer, ocean conservation enthusiast, wrote the NAUI mermaid certification, and so much more! She has such a love for the ocean and our environment. Being a mermaid for her is much more than feeling pretty and wearing tails. She is doing amazing things for our mermaid community down in Hawaii! Keep reading to learn more about her!
Where are you from? What do you enjoy filling your day with?
I currently reside on the island of Maui. I am originally from the San Francisco Bay Area but moved to the islands a little over 8 years ago to pursue my degree in marine biology. Some of my favorite things to do are mermaiding, SCUBA diving, free diving, exploring waterfalls, sailing, surfing, paddle boarding, hanging out at the beach, and enjoying good company. When I can’t do that I like to relax at home with my kitten, Leo.
Mermaid Lila posing on an anchor by Casafras Photography. Tail by Finfolk Productions. Top by Mermaid Wave’s Treasure Trove
Where did you learn your love for the water?
My dad was a big influence in my early childhood. The Little Mermaid was my princess movie, and my dad was a recreational fisherman. He taught me about the animals at the tide pools and would skin dive for abalone. Throughout my life, that love just continued to grow. I’ve always been a water baby.
Why do you love Mermaids so much?
Mermaiding has been a really productive part of therapy for me. After I earned my degree in marine biology I worked in Alaska as an observer. My job was to collect data for fisheries management. While I enjoyed my time up there, my final contract left me worse for wear. I began to experience symptoms of PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression. Transforming into a mermaid allowed me to simply enjoy the magic side of life. The water has always been my happy place and it was a great way to help process those emotions. Since turning it into my profession I’ve been able to teach people about the marine world, conservation, and connect with people on a deeper level to inspire them to be environmental ambassadors.
Mermaid Lila by Casafras Photography
How long have you been using a Mermaid Tail?
I’ve been professionally swimming since 2015. My first tail was by The 2 Tails. The second tail as a neoprene one I hand stitched and painted. My third is a basic silicone tail from Mertailor. I love using the 2 Tails for teaching in. They are quite fast, and the blade is soft so you don’t get worn out quickly. I don’t have a favorite brand though. I love the colors of Merbella, the creativity of Mertailor, and the aesthetic of Fin Folk. I like seeing how all the different tail makers bring something different to the industry. I’m actually hoping to save up for a Whimsy tail by Mertailor because I am super curious how the Fantasea Fin handles in the ocean.
What do you think people can learn from Mermaids?
There’s a lot to learn from mermaids. When I run retreats and workshops I teach about all aspects of mermaids and how they relate to our mind, body, and spirit. I get to share my knowledge of the ocean environment and teach my clients how to be good ambassadors, even when they’re landlocked at home which is the Mind. I am a skin diving instructor and developed an instructor specialty with NAUI specific to mermaid swimming. I teach proper swimming technique, breath hold, safety, and basic self-care for mermaiding and freediving which is the Body. When it comes to the Spirit side of things, I remind people that mermaids are a bridge between land and sea. They don’t just symbolize female sexuality. They symbolize the interconnections of two different worlds. To me, they are a reminder that our actions on land affect the sea, and our actions in the sea affect the land.
Mermaid Lila speaking about ethical interactions with wildlife at the Sandy Fins Merfolk Gathering in 2018
What does the Naui mermaid certificate look like? What inspired you to create it?
It’s an actual diving certification so you get an official plastic card with your name and certification. I was inspired to create it because most mermaid schools only give an hour at a time to teach swimming. Most people who I’ve worked with in this setting end up asking about breath hold, diving, and other techniques that I don’t have time to go into in the hour. So I incorporated all my knowledge as a mermaid, lifeguard, professional diver, and marine biologist, to give new mermaids a course where they can learn the book knowledge and practical skill for mermaiding.
What is your favorite Mermaid or ocean quote?
“My demons tried to drown me, but they didn’t know I could breathe underwater.”
When I heard this quote I was in the darkest parts of my depression. It was a sobering reminder that even when you feel like your drowning there’s still hope. I don’t know how many people can relate to depression, but this quote was one of my motivators to learn how to live with it instead of constantly fighting it all the time.
Mermaid Lila by Andrew K. Photos
What camps or mermaid gatherings have you been to or wish to go to? What was your favorite part?
For camps I’ve been to, my first one was Hannah Fraser’s Remember Atlantis Retreat with Aradia Sunseri. It was CRAZY fun. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but it was exactly what I needed. Hannah and Aradia do a fabulous job of creating a welcoming environment for all. It as also really humbling to meet Hannah. She was the first professional mermaid I had ever heard of and she does a lot to bring attention to conservation issues. When I arrived, my anxiety left me feeling so out of place. The first words out of my mouth were, “I feel so nervous.” and Hannah just said, “We’ll hug it out of you!” and everyone just gave me a big group hug. I had never been around other mermaids before that point so it was really nice to just sit and feel that sense of welcoming.
I did get to go to the Sandy Fins Convention in Florida this past September and teach the NAUI Mermaid Certification course and talk about ethical interactions with wildlife. I felt less shy this time around and made some amazing friends. It was a small gathering but it was such a loving and welcoming environment. They’re doing another one September 2019 and expanding their programming. I’m excited to be able to reunite and see everyone again!
Mermaid Lila (Left) with attendees of her Mermaid Dream Retreat posing for a photo. PC Casafras Photography
I’m looking forward to MerMagic Con in Virginia this February! It’s going to be such an awesome experience to meet some more East coast mermaids. I also hope to go to NC Mermania 2019 but time will tell if that works out or not.
Now for camps I’ve run – We went to La Paz, Mexico this past October and had an absolute blast! For all my retreats I bring a professional photographer and safety staff. We spent the mornings doing pool training or excursions. We got to paddle board through mangroves and learn about the fragile ecosystem the mangroves support and swim with California Sea Lions at San Rafalito. We couldn’t swim with whale sharks this time around because the season opened late, but we did get to see some from the boat and I’m hoping next year we will be able to!
What ocean conservation efforts do you support?
I try my best to support various causes. I really enjoy the work that Haereticus Labs are doing to understand how various chemicals are impacting our environment. Dr. Downs sent me his paper on toxic sunscreens and we’ve been chatting back and forth ever since. He kept us in the loop with efforts to ban Oxybenzone and octinoxate from the State of Hawaii. Both ingredients damage the coral reef in very small concentrations and we’re finding out it’s not great for human health either. I highly encourage people to use zinc-oxide or titanium dioxide based sun protection. If you’re interested Stream2Sea makes titanium-dioxide based sunblock and I’m a brand ambassador for them so you can get a 10% discount when you use the code: MERMAIDLILA.
I do try my hardest to reduce my plastic consumption. It helps a lot when you have a plant-based whole foods diet. Lots of processed foods have plastic containers which end up in landfills and in the ocean. I’m by no means plastic-free, but every little bit helps. Even polyester clothing leaves tiny threads of plastic in the water that can rub off in your washing machine.
I’m also very careful about the source of things like sea shells and sea stars and encourage my friends to get the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch App. It will help you pick sustainable seafood options. A lot of our oceans are overfished and some areas are being heavily impacted by climate change. It’s wise to know where your seafood comes from and how your monetary choices can influence policy.
Mermaid Lila with students after teaching her Mermaid Level 1 course through National Association of Underwater Instructors to Sandy Fins attendees.
What are your favorite Mermaid theme items or clothing?
Almost every shirt I own has mermaid something on it. I don’t have a favorite item or article of clothing though.
Any tips and tricks for fellow Mermaids? (Brands, accessories, tails, swimming, etc)
Being a professional Mermaid takes a lot of money and a lot of work. While I firmly believe the tail doesn’t make the mermaid, other things help distinguish recreational mermaids from professionals. If you do ANY type of performance work make sure you have proper licensing, waivers, and insurance. Do NOT undercut other mermaids in your area (charge less than them to try and get more business). Limit the number of things you do for free for, “exposure.” You can’t pay rent with exposure and I promise it rarely if ever, pays off. You need to have great customer service skills, and be able to do basic admin tasks.
Whether your pro or just having fun you will meet haters. It sometimes can get under your skin to have people mock you for having fun as a mermaid. Try not to let it get to you. As adults, we are taught that it’s not ok to play and enjoy ourselves. The odd thing is, that when you’re deserted in the middle of nowhere and in survival mode, play is the last step to survival. I feel really sad for people who look down their nose at what I do. They’ve lost their ability to play.
Mermaid Lila posing at sunset by Lauren Wylie Photography
What inspired you to do mermaid retreats? What do they consist of?
The Mermaid retreats are another way for me to get more time teaching people about the ocean. I wanted to give people an opportunity to have an amazing vacation where we can really connect to the ocean as mermaids or mermen. Most locations are tropical and I have some type of animal encounter involved. We also incorporate a “give back” where we are in some way helping the area we are visiting. Each retreat is different. La Paz had us meeting sea lions face to face and whale sharks, Grand Cayman will be teaching people how to SCUBA dive and help out with coral reef restoration and meet some friendly stingrays. In Maui, we will be able to meet some of the friendly honu (green sea turtles) and depending on the time of year we may kayak out to observe humpback whales. Retreats all include lodging, dive training, excursion costs, and (if you need it) the use of a 2 Tails Mermaid Tail. Some I’m able to make all-inclusive, others I can not. It just depends on the location and costs. You can learn more about upcoming retreats at www.mermaidlila.com
Where do you see the mermaid industry going in the next 10 years?
It’s clear that it’s expanding. We have mermaid schools and fitness classes popping up all over the world. With this, it’s important to understand that we need to have solid industry standards for safety and consistency. The NAUI cert helps with creating a standard, and I understand some folks just want a quick one and done experience. For those looking to do more, and potentially become a professional, we all need to band together in the effort so that up and coming mermaids know that this is how you go pro and this is how you do it safely, legally, and ethically.
Mermaid Lila swimming with a green sea turtle in Maui. Still shot taken from a video by Aloha World Now.
Thank you so much Lila for what you are doing in the community and for our environment. You are an inspiration to all inspiring mermaids!
Cover photo: Mermaid Lila poses on a Hawaiian Reef in Kona, Hawaii. Photo by Casafras Photography tail by Mertailor