At Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade, Thousands Channel Aquatic Weirdness

Crowds decked out as fantastical sea creatures flocked to Brooklyn’s amusement district for the summer kickoff event

A person dressed as a mermaid
The annual parade was founded in Brooklyn's Coney Island in 1983. Adam Gray / Getty Images

More than 200,000 attendees donned glittery scales, intricate crowns and avant-garde tentacles on Saturday at the Mermaid Parade, a whimsical event that channels “mermaidcore” in New York’s Coney Island.

“It’s the day where all the weirdos show up to try to impress all the other weirdos,” Joe Hobaica, who has attended every Mermaid Parade since 1989, tells USA Today’s Claire Thornton.

Every year, the Mermaid Parade takes over the amusement district’s streets to “[pay] tribute to a century of Coney Island ingenuity, revelry and pageantry by celebrating the artistic vision of the masses,” per its website. The summer kickoff event brings together marching bands, dancing groups, mechanized floats and thousands of people decked out as fantastical sea creatures—two of whom are crowned King Neptune and Queen Mermaid.

Two people in costume
Some participants spend months working on their costumes. Liao Pan / China News Service / VCG via Getty Images

“This is our high holy day,” Whitney Ward, this year’s Queen Mermaid, tells USA Today. “Even though the parade just goes on for this one day, it literally consumes our entire year,” she says, adding that months of work go into designing many of the costumes.

New York City was under a heat advisory on Saturday, but that didn’t stop attendees from striding down Surf Avenue in their finest aquatic outfits. The parade kicked off with Ward and her King Neptune, husband Joe Coleman, “riding in an electric tricycle under a canopy trimmed with gold,” writes the New York Times’ Sean Piccoli. “Mermaids, ship captains, pirates and people dressed as various forms of marine life trailed behind,” as well as floats featuring bands and DJs.

Person in mermaid costume
Organizers say the event is "the nation's largest art parade." Kena Betancur / AFP via Getty Images

Brooklyn resident Jenni Bowman watched the parade with friends from a tent, shielded from the heat. “The people of New York City are incredible,” she tells the Times. “This is a representation of their artistry and their love for this community.”

Founded in 1983, the event took inspiration from the Mardi Gras parades that were held on Coney Island in the early 20th century. Today, organizers describe it as “the nation’s largest art parade.” It also borrows from West African water festivals and ancient Greek and Roman street theater.

The event, which takes place every June, also doubles as a Pride parade for many attendees, per Brooklyn Magazine’s Scott Lynch.

Mermaid standing in water
The June event marks the beginning of summer. Adam Gray / Getty Images

“I’m here today, and I couldn’t be happier to help create a queer space,” says Maxim, an attendee and Coney Island resident, to the publication. “It feels gayer here than the actual NYC Pride Parade. It’s amazing.”

According to Marie Suchan, an East Village resident, the Mermaid Parade “welcomes everyone” into its wonderful world of weirdness.

“This is going to sound cheesy,” Suchan tells Brooklyn Magazine, “but we’re all part of the ocean. We’re all part of the community of the ocean world, and all sea monsters, all fish, all merfolk are welcome here.”

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