If you find yourself swimming laps at a local pool this summer and see a mermaid glide past you in the water, don't worry, you don't need prescription goggles - she's real.
Every day, New Westminster resident Lori Pappajohn goes for a swim at various pools around town wearing her hand-crafted mermaid tail.
The professional harpist and former reporter for The Record has been "mermaiding" for about a year, and can't seem to get enough of the activity that blends light-hearted dress-up with serious athleticism.
"It's really freeing, the way you can swim," she said. "You become a dolphin. You go from pulling-kicking to just gliding and sliding."
Sometimes Pappajohn just wears a regular bathing suit and a monofin, a single flipper for both feet.
But most days she dons one of her colourful mermaid tails that cover the fin, and enjoys the attention from both kids and adults who can't help but approach her with questions and requests to have a go themselves.
It all started in 2010 when, already an avid swimmer, Pappajohn saw two swimmers doing lengths at Canada Games Pool using monofins.
She got talking with them and asked if she could try the fin, which she immediately appreciated for its ability to help propel her swiftly through the water. Experienced monofin swimmers can move at speeds up to 11 kilometres per hour, she said.
It wasn't long before she got a fin of her own and started using it regularly.
"I was so into monofinning, and then one evening I came back from the pool and Googled "mermaid" and I was blown away by the stuff that came up. I was like, 'Okay, people are really into this. Like, seriously into it.'"
If swimming like a mermaid was fun, Pappajohn realized looking like one would be that much better.
Through trial and error, she spent about two months creating the perfect mermaid tail out of a custom-designed monofin and colourful dance costume material.
The first time she went into a dive shop she thought the employee behind the counter would think she was crazy when she explained why she wanted a monofin shaped like a fish tail.
But, to her surprise, he said there had been a woman in just a week prior who was looking for supplies to make her own mermaid outfits.
"I went, 'No way,' and he gave me her number and said she lives in Surrey. I couldn't believe it. She makes her own monofins as well, which is really rare."
Being a freelance journalist, Pappajohn thought the story would be an interesting feature, so she interviewed Monika Naumann about her own mermaid experience and wrote the story for the Surrey NOW.
The July 3 article went viral online, with news outlets around the world picking it up, and Naumann began getting emails from as far away as Japan with requests for interviews and custom orders for mermaid tails.
"We were just thinking it was funny and then Good Morning America called, and we were thinking this was really surreal."
Since the media coverage peaked last month, many people have been to Dive and Sea Sports in New Westminster looking for monofins, said employee Dave, who declined to give his last name.
But then the cost usually deters potential mermaids and mermen.
"All of a sudden they find out there's not a dive store in Vancouver that stocks them, so you've got to buy them on the 'net and they're finding out that they're not cheap," he said. While a pair of regular flippers costs about $30, a monofin retails for closer to $300.
The reason for the jump in price?
"Because they're a bit of an oddball," said Dave. "In other words, it's not the norm. You go out to Whytecliff Park on a Sunday - how many people do you think are going to be in a monofin? None."
For the few avid mermaids like Pappajohn and Naumann, however, dropping a few hundred dollars for their favourite hobby/sport is worth it.
They get their customshaped monofins from Bronco Custom Works in New Westminster.
Owner Renzo Carbonel does all kinds of custom plastic fabrication, from business signs to bulletproof windows for a penitentiary. So a request to craft a mermaid tail was not a huge surprise. "I see all kinds of weird things in this line of work; all different people with different ideas," he said.
Carbonel makes the fins from scratch, precision cutting polycarbonate material that holds up well in chlorinated and ocean water.
Pappajohn has five different coloured tails she keeps in her car, ready to be used whenever the aquatic urge strikes.
In winter, she is usually at Canada Games Pool in New Westminster, and in summer either at the outdoor pool at Robert Burnaby Park or Kitsilano.
This fall, she plans to take freediving lessons.
Currently, she can hold her breath for up to 90 seconds at rest, and almost 40 seconds while actively swimming.
Her goal is to be able to swim underwater for a full minute before needing to surface.
Besides her personal swimming goals, Pappajohn said she most enjoys the pleasure her mermaiding brings others.
Once, while swimming lengths at the pool in Kitsilano, an older man stopped to stare as she breached the surface, and she said to him, "Have you ever seen a mermaid before?" With a faraway look in his eyes he softly replied, "No ... not in a long time."
Kids especially love to watch Pappajohn in the water.
"They come running," she said. "I take them to the shallow end and I show them how to swim in the dolphin style."
She calls it her mermaid school.
Though it's not an official program, Pappajohn brings kids sized mermaid (and mermen) tails with her to the pool.
For those especially keen to learn to be a mermaid, Pappajohn can be contacted through her website, www.mermaids international.com.
"It makes peoples' day, bringing smiles," she said. "It's just fun. ... Once you watch it, you go, 'Oh, I've got to try it,' 'cause it's just so great."
For a full gallery of photos, see The Record online at www.royalcityrec ord.com.