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Arts and Entertainment

Photos, Videos: Inside The World Of A Professional Merman

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You may have recently seen Jack Laflin sporting a mer-fin in a Jack in the Box commercial and thought he was just an actor, but he's really a professional merman whose whole career is centered around this intriguing world.

Laflin, who also goes by "Merman Jax," is a 32-year-old Los Angeles resident who has been working full-time as a merman for the last two years. That means he goes out in his finned tail and poses and swims underwater at events and parties, sometimes doing a whole choreographed underwater circus act with other mer-folk.

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His crew runs deep. Laflin primarily works for Sheroes Entertainment, which has a whole team of about six to seven tail performers who go out and perform. He tells LAist that while the professional mer-community "is a lot bigger than people think," with it being the most popular in Florida and Los Angeles, the company he works for is one of the most prominent ones.

While Laflin makes swimming with a monofin look effortless, it's not easy to do. His mer-crew has to be able to hold their breath for two minutes. There's also some skill that's needed to swim with a silicon tail, which he says weighs about 40 pounds out of the water. Once you're in the water with the tail, it's a lot more buoyant and you can swim much faster than a human can without one. "If you’re a swimmer, it’s a good, natural stroke," Laflin says. "It’s the same thing as a butterfly with the the dolphin[-like], undulating movement."

Shimmying into the tail is also a feat unto itself. The first time Laflin did it, it took him 45 minutes, but now he can get in and out of it in about five to 10 minutes, by using a lubricant and rolling it down. It can get painful staying in the fin after awhile. "If we’re in water, it’s a lot easier on our joints," Laflin says. "If it’s dry, where you pose and have to set up, it does start to hurt and you get cramps and welts on your legs after. The costumes are skin, skin tight. The fins are made of silicon and things get really tight, and gravity starts pushing, and we’re just much better [with it] in the water. But we can be in it for hours if we need to be. We just try not to eat or drink any time before or during. It’s difficult to get on and off."

Once they're in the fins, they get transported in a variety of different ways, like getting rolled around on a cart, or being carried. He has a male assistant who basically throws the 220-pound Laflin over his shoulder and carries him to wherever he needs to go.

Laflin recently just got his newest fin, a gorgeous blue one with intricate details. He says these fins are all custom-made to fit your measurements, color choices, and body shapes, saying it's a "whole elaborate process" to make them. Since there aren't a ton of people who custom-make these tails, the wait to get them can take over a year.

Being a mer-performer doesn't necessarily mean one has to get into full character and act like a merman. He says he usually performs at grownup parties—the cocktail after-hours sort of events—and that requires less character-performances as say, working at kids' parties, which is what some of his colleagues do. Though, they do try do what their clients specifically ask for in terms of the vibe they want for their events.

It's been a long time coming to be a professional merman for Laflin, who's originally from San Francisco but has been living in Los Angeles for the last 10 years. He's always been a competitive swimmer, and is a big fan of sea folklore. Plus, his grandfather was an abalone diver, so Laflin's been around water all of his life.

"I did see people start to buy these tails for fun, and I thought, 'Well that seems like a missed opportunity. Why not do business out of it?'"

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When someone asks what he does for a living, he tends to tell people at first that he's an aquatic performer. Of course, that always brings about more questions, and he'll let them know he's a professional merman. The response is usually positive.

"It does spark a conversation," Laflin says. "It’s unique. Usually people think it’s great. Kids and adults—everybody loves it."

He doesn't know what the future holds with this merman career. Since it's a relatively new business model, not really becoming a thing until the last few years, he doesn't really know how long people can do it for. Though, in the meantime, he's really enjoy it.

"It's fun, it keeps me in shape [and] I get to be creative and create," Laflin says. "It's a great career, but it's a good career because i enjoy it."

Laflin will be performing at the Labyrinth of Jareth masquerade ball tonight at downtown L.A.'s Millennium Biltmore Hotel. You can also catch him and his other mer-folk at the Tall Ships Festival next month in Dana Point.

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