A New York tradition since 1983, Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade unabashedly ushered in summer in the outrageous way only it can — just the way we love it. (Photo by Jason Gross)
Though the annual Halloween Parade has a slight edge on it in terms of freakiness, the summer tradition of the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, which was held Saturday, June 20, remains a close second, full of the lively costumes that remind us how fun, weird and wild NYC can still be. A Gotham tradition since 1983, it never really feels like summer’s here until the parade happens, no matter what the calendar says.
All photos by Jason Gross.
For any of us who make the pilgrimage there, some things remain the same: Get there early before the parade starts (1 p.m.) to get a good view on Surf Avenue. You must pop in to the original Nathan’s Famous to get a hot dog and the crinkle-cut fries and snap lotsa photos of your favorite costumes. Afterwards, hit the boardwalk to stroll around, and then get on some of the rides such as the Wonder Wheel (my fave) and the Cyclone roller coaster (my girlfriend’s fave). Even though the water’s freezing, sprawling on the beach on a blanket helps you feel like the warm weather’s really here. Also when you’re out there, just after the parade, if you go to the west side of the pier, you’ll see parade founder — and unofficial Coney Island mayor — Dick Zigun open the beach for the season.
One thing was different about this year’s Mermaid Parade, though: the weather. The forecast didn’t look good — rain was supposed to start up just before the parade and last through the whole afternoon. Would they still have the parade? Its website and Twitter feed said that all systems were go for the day, so we headed down there, armed with ponchos and umbrellas, ready for whatever Mama Nature was gonna throw at us.
Remarkably, despite the doom/gloom predictions, the weather actually held up. Just before the start of the parade, the rain made a cameo appearance, and then the waterworks shut off just before the parade began, as if on some kind of karmic schedule. The sun took a rest, and the cloud cover stayed for the rest of the day, but the rain was gone. We wondered if Zigun cast a spell to make it so?
So, how was the 2015 Mermaid Parade? Every year, you can count on freaky costumes, and they didn’t disappoint this year. I might even argue that participants stepped up their game a little compared to last year — you can even judge for yourself with the coverage that we had of the 2014 parade. You can also count on a bunch of ghouls, pasties (those small tassels covering breasts on both genders), floats, incredible homemade outfits that must have taken months to create and some costumes that you can barely describe. Oh, and, of course, there’s also piles and piles of nautical puns — it is the Mermaid Parade being held just off the beach, right? Some faves from this year: The Bluefish Brothers (modeled after the Blues Brothers), a giant My Little Pony float, a ten-foot Uncle Sam, body art performers in a matching car, the Yacht-Rock karaoke mini-float (doing the Doobie Brothers), elegantly dressed Spanish dancers, a human “Love Roller Coaster,” a giant wooden octopus puppet and futuristic weapon-totting sci-fi warriors. Not your average parade, eh?
Love Roller Coaster
Yacht Rock karaoke covering the Doobie Brothers
A few hours later as the parade wound down and the performers made their way through the boardwalk, beach and elsewhere, they were only too glad to pose for photos on request — they were there to be seen after all. As part of the tradition, Zigun and a bunch of friends made their way to the beach to unofficially open it for the season. They marched through and cut ribbons for “Winter,” “Fall” and “Spring” before coming to the climatic end at “Summer,” where they were joined by humorous anti-capitalist artist Reverend Billy to give a blessing to the proceedings before they waded into the chilly water.
Above and below, Coney Island Mermaid Parade founder Dick Zigun, in top hat, opens the beach.
Even without the sun, the Mermaid Parade provided great entertainment and marked a wonderful ongoing NYC tradition. In these times of soaring rents, gentrification and invasions of chain stores, it’s a nice reminder that Gotham can still fly its freak flag when it wants to. If you want it to keep the Parade happening, there’s even something you can do about it: Support the proceedings by becoming a “Citizen of Coney Island” on its website and ensuring freaky fun for years to come for yourself and others.