I feel like a goddess: meet Benoni's modern-day mermaid

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It’s a little chilly for the pool in winter, so Candice Baker – or Mermaid Storm as she’s known – hangs out in the garden. (PHOTO: Onkgopotse Koloti)
It’s a little chilly for the pool in winter, so Candice Baker – or Mermaid Storm as she’s known – hangs out in the garden. (PHOTO: Onkgopotse Koloti)

Her hometown may be hundreds of kilometres from the ocean but that doesn’t mean she can’t indulge in her favourite pastime: donning her beloved fish tail and swinging from the hoop in her backyard, twisting and turning as the sun glints off hair and illuminates the delight on her face.

“There’s something liberating about wearing a tail,” says an exhilarated Candice, whose alter ego is Mermaid Storm. “Every time I put it on, I feel empowered. I feel beautiful.”

The 48-year-old mom of two from Benoni on Gauteng’s East Rand spends many hours in the summer in the swimming pool but it’s a little chilly for a dip these days – even for mermaids.

So for now she “swims” through air instead of water, suspended on a large hoop hanging to wooden scaffolding. But it’s nothing like the real deal, she admits.

“Swimming with a mermaid tail feels like you’re flying. Your legs are tied together and you’re swimming with a single fin. You rely on your core muscles – it’s a lot like belly dancing.

“I feel like a goddess when I’m swimming with my tail. It feels like you’re swimming in lingerie,” she adds.

Mermaid women
Candice and her merfriends have regular get-togethers where they wear their tails and chill around the pool drinking cocktails. (PHOTO: Facebook)

And it’s not just an unusual hobby, she’s quick to point out – it’s a lifestyle.

“I consider myself a professional mermaid,” says Candice, who’s also a life coach and yoga instructor. “It takes a lot of practice and you must be passionate about it.”

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So how did Candice’s transformation into Mermaid Storm come about?

It all started in 2016 when she saw a video online of an American yoga instructor wearing a mermaid tail while doing yoga poses on a swing.

“I was captivated. I made a tail for myself out of old shirts and did a few poses. I immediately liked the look of it and how it made me feel.”

She loved her first proper mermaid tail, which she had custom-made by a woman in Gqeberha who’s well-known for creating mermaid tails.

Candice says mermaids aren’t that unusual – even on the East Rand. There’s a whole community of them on the internet and there’s a “school of mermaids” in her neck of the woods. “There are five of us who live here in Benoni and in Edenvale,” she explains.

She met most of her mermaid friends on social media and through the yoga classes she teaches.

“I teach other women how to be mermaids too. This is about more than just pulling on a tail – you need to learn the technique of swimming with a large, single fin.

“The women who join also learn to love themselves. It’s much more than looking pretty and wearing a fish tail. I teach women to overcome their fears and develop self-confidence,” Candice says.

She and her merfriends have regular get-togethers when they wear their tails and chill at the pool with cocktails.

“It’s always a big social event for us. We’ll often hang out here in our mermaid tails and swim together in the pool.”

They also go on excursions where they visit waterfalls, take pictures and swim in the icy water. “For some reason, waterfalls are always freezing.”

A favourite destination for the merry mermaid brigade is the Nkwe Pleasure Resort near Pretoria. “After all, legend has it a mermaid lives there and pulls people down into the water,” Candice says.

Last year before the pandemic struck, she took a few women to Ponta Malongane on the Mozambican coast.

“Some brought their mermaid tails, while others just came along for fun. We swam with the dolphins in Mozambique. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life and the other women enjoyed it just as much.”

Mermaid women
Mermaid Storm travelled to Mozambique to swim with dolphins. She’s also done the mermaid thing in Zanzibar. (PHOTO: Facebook)

Candice has also done her mermaid thing in Zanzibar. “People always look at you like you’re crazy,” she says, laughing.

Because of lockdown regulations, Candice couldn’t take Mermaid Storm to the KwaZulu-Natal coast like she’s been doing for several years.

“Before lockdown, I’d take women to the coast at least once a month where we’d be mermaids and do yoga. I always combine the two,” she says.

But Mermaid Storm didn’t go into cold storage during lockdown. “I still swam as a mermaid in my pool here at home.”

Her two daughters, Amber (20) and Tamica (18), joined their mom in the pool wearing their own mermaid tails.

“They don’t do it as often as I do. I’ve taken it to the next level, but they also share my passion.”

Mermaid Storm has five custom-made fabric tails now. And she’s excited about the silicone tail she ordered which cost her a whopping R25 000.

“Like any sport or hobby, you pay for some things,” she says. “You need to have proper equipment to swim in the ocean because anything can happen, and you must be able to swim out of a current with your tail.”

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Mermaid Storm isn’t only a mermaid of pleasure and leisure, though. She also makes appearances at children’s birthday parties and is always a big hit.

“Children are crazy about me. I do parties and the kids always have the cutest questions. They want to know what I eat and I tell them I love sushi and kelp, or that my boyfriend smokes seaweed.”

Mermaid woman
Candice, who’s a life coach and yoga instructor, also teaches other women how to be mermaids. (PHOTO: Onkgopotse Koloti)

Candice’s boyfriend, Neil Cronje (49), who builds and restores 4x4 vehicles, is her assistant at parties.

“When I’m wearing my mermaid tail and have to move around, he carries me. He’s very chuffed with himself to be dating a mermaid,” Candice says.

Being a mermaid is more than a hobby, she stresses. “I use Mermaid Storm to empower other women and I generate an income as a mermaid.”

So what’s next for the sea creature from the East Rand?

“Another mermaid and I will be going to the south coast in August where we’re planning on swimming with the whales. I’m looking forward to it and hopefully I’ll have my silicone tail by then.”

Any advice both Mermaid Storm/Candice care to share? “Don’t live in the box someone else put you in. Live your live to the full. Celebrate your uniqueness.”

Nothing fishy about that.

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