This article originally appeared on VICE France.
At the end of June of this year, as France sweated through record high temperatures, a group of men took a moment to escape the heatwave and compete in the inaugural Mr Triton France competition.
Organised by Merman Ludo, the event – which organisers believe might be the first of its kind in the world – saw ten competitors from all over the country face off in a battle to be the best merman France has ever seen.
For amateur mermen only, the contest consisted of four parts: an aquatic photoshoot, a swimming portion – where they had to swim below the water for a minimum of 25 metres – and two fashion shows, one in swimsuits, one in costume. The candidates were evaluated by a four-person jury, which including Ingrid la Sirène – a former Miss Mermaid international champion and the current director of the Miss Mermaid France competition.
In the end, merman Kewin was crowned the inaugural Mr Triton France champion. I spoke to him, the third and fourth placed competitors, and my favourite merman, Chris, about their passion for mermaiding and why they feel so comfortable in their own fin.
Aurélien, Third Place
Aurélien is from a rural area in central France, where he lives with his partner. He works in a pet and gardening store, managing the fish section. Passionate about all things underwater since an early age, Aurélien used to be a very active swimmer. He quit because "it lacked imagination", he told me. Then he discovered mermaiding on YouTube, and he has felt empowered ever since.
"I've always had a bit of a hard time with my body," he confessed. "Mermaiding allows me to become someone else, to get past how people look at me and accept myself as I am. When I'm underwater, nobody bothers me anymore and I can finally be myself." What he also loves about mermaiding is the fantasy aspect of it, how it allows him to live temporarily "in a reality parallel to the human world" and "forget all of its brutality".
Finding a place to practice in his full get-up hasn't been easy – most swimming pools don't allow him to use his fin. When he can, he goes swimming in a nearby river and sometimes in the sea in south-western France, attracting "curious and amazed" looks. After reading the comments left by strangers on an article written about him, he has decided not to care what people think anymore. "What people find normal today isn't necessarily what they thought was normal when mermaiding started. In the meantime, I don't waste time on this kind of people and I just live my life."
Alexandre, Second Place
Alexandre, 22, discovered mermaiding through his girlfriend, Laurianne, also known in the biz as Miss Kawaii.
"At first I thought it was weird, but I've been swimming for five years and I love being underwater," he explained. "If I could, I'd stay below the surface all the time. But in terms of physical performance, swimming with fins is not at all the same thing for the legs." The aeroplane painter has been practising this hobby with his girlfriend for five years, but only publicly admitted to doing it last year.
Since he opened up, he's made a conscious effort to ignore the mockery he's received. "Guys don't see the masculine aspect of it," he said. He takes his inspiration from Norse mythology and flavours his persona with a Viking flair: "It makes me think of Poseidon and his son – there is a combative element to this."
Alexandre is as combative as ever, especially when confronting his haters at work: "My colleagues make fun of me," he admitted. "But it just motivates me to be better."
Kewin, Mister Triton 2019
The 2019 Mister Triton France champion only discovered mermaiding a year ago. "I've been swimming for a long time, and this has been an opportunity to take it up again," Kewin told me. He now trains once a week in the swimming pool with a simple monofin. Occasionally, when the weather is nice, he'll go swimming on the coast, sometimes accompanied by his little girl – although she isn't into mermaiding yet.
"When I found Ludo’s profile and saw he was organising a competition, I thought long and hard about whether I should participate," he said. "First, I bought the triton fin at the end of last year and then I made up my mind and entered the contest."
In the end, it was clearly the right decision. To start his reign on the right fin, he was invited to the La Mer XXL fair – one of the biggest marine expos in the country – to swim in a giant water tank, with his golden Mr Triton crown proudly shining atop his head.
Chris, My Favourite
Chris – who turned 30 on the day of the competition – has been a cosplayer for eight years, but only found out about mermaiding three years ago, during a photo shoot organised by a friend. "I've always been a fan of mythological creatures and of mermaids in particular," he told me. "After the first photo shoot, my eyes were all sparkles."
Day-to-day, he works as the head cashier at a supermarket chain, but in his spare time he launched a company dedicated to creating fins and accessories for mermaids. He practices mermaiding in a pond next to his home in Orléans, and appreciates the sport for the feeling of freedom it gives him. "Once I’m in the water, all is silent and nothing else exists around me."
Chris believes that more men would take part if society didn't see mermaids as being female creatures. "Men are under a lot of expectations when it comes to their masculinity," he explained. "My parents kicked me out when I was 20 because I was gay. When you've already lived through that, it becomes easier by default."
Thanks to his long, dark red hair, Chris is used to getting judgmental looks, particularly at work: "It's part of everyday life for me that people stare," he told me. "There was a time when I was very involved in the fight against homophobia, but I've realised that it was exhausting."
This article originally appeared on VICE FR.