By Jillian Risberg
She feels obligated to protect the world’s oceans. As far back as Sandra Walder, aka ‘Sandy the Mermaid,’ can remember the water has been her second home.
“I’ll talk about jellyfish (Cnidarians/soft-bodied animals with saclike digestive cavities and tentacles) and their stages of life and I’ll talk about dolphins,” Walder says she shares her knowledge of the ocean and its inhabitants, and loves to incorporate underwater education into her performances.
She also does craft activities, teaching kids the ocean zones and they get to glue the animals that live there.
Often she hands out a gift like a reusable straw.
“I always explain to the kids it actually saves our sea creatures,” says the ocean advocate, who reduces plastic as a green diver. “I go scuba diving and pick plastic out of the ocean — I’m very passionate about our marine life.”
She was only 7-years-old when she realized the power and pull of the ocean while at Three Sisters Springs on Crystal River (National Wildlife Refuge), in Florida with her parents.
“I went snorkeling with Manatees and they were so sweet,” says the mermaid, who is doing her part to save the endangered species. “They come up to you — these big, giant, friendly, adorable creatures and the poor things had boat propeller marks on their backs. That broke my heart.”
The water is her muse.
“I’ve been on swim teams since I was five, got my basic (diver) certification when I was 10, from there I started scuba diving the ocean,” Walder says. “I’ve seen huge sea turtles, sting rays, sharks, many majestic creatures; I have a real appreciation for them. And I was a commercial diver for a bit, so I’ve always loved the water.”
She also has her American Heart Association Heartsaver First Aid and CPR Certification, as well as National Health & Safety Association Bloodborne Pathogens Certification.
According to Walder, mermaids are strong and believe in themselves.
“When the kids first see me their eyes light up, ‘you’re a real mermaid,’” she says they often say. “They totally freak out and you can tell it makes their day. It melts my heart that I can do that for them. I try my best to make every little girl feel magical at those parties.”
When they learn how to swim in their tails (the girls who have their own) get very excited.
“For parties, I don’t bring any tails with me. For lessons, I have rental tails but there’s no guarantee my rental tails will fit. Online I’m a Brand Ambassador for The2Tails. I think they’re the best quality fabric tails you can buy and they have a measuring guide,” says Walder, adding they are not that expensive and use code (SANDYSEA) to save 15% off.
Weekend parties and lessons weekday afternoons are devoted to being a mermaid. She tries to spend two hours everyday in the pool.
“The (silicone) tail’s really fun,” says the mermaid, adding she currently has two. One weighs 30 pounds and the other 35. “They’re big and heavy. It takes me 20-25 minutes to get them on so I have to arrive at parties early ‘cause they’re hard to wiggle into.”
She says despite the weight, these swimmable mermaid tails with monofins provide a magnificent mermaid
“I spend so much time swimming in them and feel completely comfortable,” says Walder.
In college (Coastal Carolina University) she caught the mermaid show at Ripley’s (Aquarium of Myrtle Beach) and was officially obsessed.
“I knew that was what I wanted to do,” Walder says she had her NAUI Master Diver certification and from that day on she trained hard and got her breath holds and tricks down.
At tryouts, there were so many girls she didn’t expect to be picked.
“But somehow I got hired and was happy… my dream job. Unfortunately, COVID shut me down.”
That was June 2020, shortly before the mermaid was supposed to have her first show.
“I was excited to be performing for them,” she says, finally accepting they weren’t re-opening and she came home to New Jersey.
She needed an alternate plan.
“I have a tail, all my training; wonder if I can start doing birthday parties,” Walder recalls thinking. Her first party was for a friend, then one of her mom’s friends’ kids.
“Kids from that party called back this year and asked if I was doing it again. Some of the moms suggested I start advertising. Now I have a business going.”
She went back to college in the fall.
“Mermaiding is more of a summer thing,” Walder says, looking ahead to senior year and beyond. “I hope to continue doing it through grad school; this is the next five-year thing.”
She is pursuing a degree in psychology.
“I really love kids and feel like they’re innocent and should all get a full, happy childhood experience,” she says. “I want to make that possible. As a mermaid I give them a magical character they can have fun with and as a school psychologist (would) make their home lives better and help them do better in school.”
Starting young can make a difference.
“My parents were a big influence, my dad really encouraging my diving in the ocean — and my mom encouraging my swim team,” says Walder.
For all those who have their own mermaid aspirations, it isn’t as simple as buying a tail.
“A lot of people start doing it and they can’t swim,” Walder says. “Make sure you have a strong swimming foundation; that’s the most important thing. Go to the pool and swim everyday with your tail, swimming with weights is one of the best prep things you can do in the tail.”
And she says you don’t do this for the money.
“Between all my tail expenses and certifications I will probably just about break even at the end of the summer,” says the mermaid. “Plus all the time I put into training I don’t get paid for. That’s always something to be aware of.”
Sandy is a sight to see in action.
“I can come to any pool, community pool, backyard pool, lake, any body of water,” she says. “I can do boat swim-ups, even swimming in the ocean.”
You can approach her with various scenarios.
“I’m pretty much equipped and ready to do anything — whatever their vision is and make it happen,” says Walder.