Meet America's first professional male mermaid

Merman christianCourtesy Hannah BurgessMerman Christian in his natural habitat.

The INSIDER Summary:

• Professional mermaids are a real (and hugely popular) group of performers. 
• Chris O’Brocki broke the mould by becoming America’s first professional merman.
• He wasn’t taken seriously at first, but now he’s a legend in the community.

As a kid, Chris O’Brocki was the first to run into the ocean and dive into the pool. He begged to take trips to the aquarium. His parents bought him a new pair of flippers every summer because he wore them out so quickly. 

Now, at 32, he’s channeled that aquatic inclination into a career as a merman — seashell crown, scaly tail, and all. 

In fact, Maryland-based O’Brocki (or Merman Christian, as he’s more officially known), is generally credited as America’s first professional merman — a mantle he’s held since early 2013. 

“About five years ago I was randomly looking at things on Youtube, and I typed in the word mermaid,” O’Brocki told INSIDER. “And I saw this video of a professional mermaid. I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s a thing?'”

Merman christianCourtesy J.Berendt PhotographyHe’s like an underwater trailblazer.

It is, in fact, a thing: Pro merfolk primarily work as performers. They’re hired for parties or events, most often at pools, during which they don elaborate costumes, execute elegant swims, and educate guests on ocean conservation.

And mermaid culture is insanely popular right now: Google trends show that searches for “mermaid tail” have risen sharply over the past five years. Celebrities are throwing mermaid-themed bashes for their kids. People are even signing up for mermaid workout classes

O’Brocki was enthralled by the pro mermaid lifestyle. There was just one problem. 

“There were no mermen,” he recalled. “There were a couple pictures of guys in a tail and everything, but there weren’t any mermen going out there and making a career out of it.”

 So he decided he’d be the first to do it. It seemed like a natural move, since O’Brocki had spent most of his adult life as an actor. Becoming a merman would be just like becoming a new character. 

“I was like, I think the window of opportunity is kind of opening up right now,” he said. “I think this is my calling.”

So he purchased a mermaid tail (yep, you can really just buy them) and got to work creating a mer-persona. He launched a Facebook page and a website and Merman Christian was born. 

At first, O’Brocki had to fight to be taken seriously. 

Merman christianCourtesy Hannah BurgessMerman Christian glides over a coral reef.

Various closed-minded spectators have heckled him over the years, calling him “gay,” or “a pedophile.” One person even suggested jokingly — but distastefully — that he should be struck with a harpoon. 

“I really had to develop a very thick skin,” he said. “I’ve been lucky because most people think that it’s awesome. They ask a lot of questions about the tail and they want to to know what ocean animals I’ve swam with. But there’s a few bad eggs. I just grin and bear it.”

But he’s had a huge impact on other men in the profession. 

Thanks in part to O’Brocki, there are now around 100 working mermen in the US. In fact, many mermen credit him as their inspiration. 

“I’ve gotten messages from people all over the world — Australia and China and Finland and the Bahamas. They tell me, ‘You’ve inspired me to conquer my fear of people judging me, and it’s because of you that I’m not afraid to put on a tail anymore,'” he said. “I’m not a big crier, but there’s been a couple times I’ve had some tears form up.”

Now, he’s a major personality in the mer scene. 

Today, O’Brocki works either solo or with a team of mermaids (which includes his two twin sisters, believe it or not), entertaining at both public and private pools, aquariums, and even beaches for a rate of about $30 — $50 an hour. Since the business is so seasonal — summer is disproportionately busy  —  O’Brocki keeps a steady day job, too. And during each mer gig, he does his best to create an impression on audiences, especially kids.

“I like to show them that, hey, mermen are cool, too,” he said. “I’ll do handstands and hold my tail up and flap it back and forth while doing a handstand. They love it.”

He also imparts lessons about protecting ocean wildlife — for example, teaching his audience that sea turtles often mistakenly ingest the plastic bags we toss in the trash.

Merman christianCourtesy J. Berendt PhotographyHe swims extra slow to hold his breath longer underwater.

And he’s plotting a dramatic, Madonna-esque reinvention for 2017. 

After nearly four years as the glitzy, glamorous Merman Christian, O’Brocki is ready for an image overhaul. Starting next year, he’s launching a new, more serious campaign called the Movement. His ocean conservation lessons will take a more serious turn, focusing on the poaching of endangered species and cruel captivity of ocean animals.

“Now with all the other mermen, I feel like people have gotten used to me looking a certain way,” he said. “I kind of want to be the male Madonna. You know how she’s always changing her image with each album she puts out? That’s what I want to do. Keep people on their toes.” 

Follow all of Merman Christian’s underwater pursuits on Facebook and Instagram

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