Making a Splash: How This Woman Earns $400/Hour Performing as a Mermaid

Marina Anderson turned her fantasy into a money-making career. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Even when she pulls on her tail, Marina Anderson says she relates more to an old-school Hollywood star than to a certain Disney mermaid princess.

“I didn’t want to be Ariel — I wanted to be Esther!” says Anderson, referring to Esther Williams, who swam to fame in aquamusicals during the 1940s and 1950s.

Don’t feel too badly for this underwater siren — she nets $400 an hour performing as a mermaid in events across the country.

Anderson’s career has evolved from accepting random jobs to being the boss of her own mermaid business. She shares how she flipped her career from a part-time swimmer to a full-time aquatic performer and businesswoman.

How to Start a Mermaid Business

First, Anderson makes one thing clear: “I don’t teach mermaiding.” She prefers the term “aquatic dancing.”

She heads up a troupe who appear every weekend at The Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Her team offers mermaid burlesque and Aquaman shows; family-friendly shows are also available.

Anderson recognized the potential when she visited the nautical-themed hotel bar, which features windows that offer underwater views into the pool — ideal for a mermaid show.

She pitched the idea in 2006 and gave a demo performance. The hotel turned her down but offered to let her practice in the pool.

She considered it an opportunity to prove the doubters wrong.

“Every Thursday at 5:30, I’d be here. I started advertising it (on social media)… ‘Come watch a mermaid swim through the portholes,’” Anderson says. “Within two months, the bar was full… and then the hotel reconsidered.”

The hotel hired her, and she’s performed in the bar’s weekend aquatic show ever since.

On the day of one performance, Anderson is coordinating costume delivery, ordering promotional T-shirts and dealing with a guy she only refers to as “Crazy Al.”

“I went from being the solo artist to a person who runs a show, and now it’s changed to a business,” Anderson says. “I have to worry about payroll and taxes. It’s changed to the point where I have to accept that in order to keep the art alive or to keep it evolving, I’m going to have to do this other stuff that may not be as pleasant.”

A mermaid swims in a pool.
Anderson swims during a reunion with two other friends who perform as professional mermaids on March 12, 2018. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Making a Career Out of What You Love

Anderson’s tail… er tale, is a bit twisted by her own design. She lists a long line of jobs she’s held over the years, including pilot, drummer, EMT, zookeeper and fire-eater — she even gobbled flames as part of her mermaid act for a brief period.

She tours the country, getting paid to perform as a mermaid for events, lead workshops on aquatic dancing and sometimes… just sit by the side of a pool.

Anderson recalls one gig when she was hired by a hotel in Hawaii to appear in her mermaid costume and greet guests at a poolside event. But the hotel was not prepared for Anderson’s more grown-up — and voluptuous — version of a mermaid.

“They sent me away to sit on a lava rock way on the other side of the pool and just wave,” Anderson says, mimicking the guests squinting to see her from a distance.

Because the pay and consistency of the solo gigs are unpredictable, Anderson notes it’s been a long swim upstream for her to be successful enough to quit her other jobs and perform full time.

“It took me 10 years to finally be able to say that I can pay my rent,” Anderson says. “My husband would remind me every week, ‘You know, you’re spending more than you’re earning,’ and he was right.

“Where people would spend their money on bowling or movies, I’m spending my money on making this work.”

Swimming not your thing? Here are 45 other unusual ways to make money (no fins required).

‘Yeah, But How Long Can You Hold Your Breath?’

Even though Anderson is passionate about figure swimming and performance art, she gets why her career might still elicit a few chuckles.

“I don’t take myself seriously because, c’mon, I hold my breath for a living,” Anderson says.

So how long can she hold her breath?

“Long enough to get paid,” Anderson says with a laugh. “Long enough for you to worry.”

She's not the only ocean enchantresses making clams — here’s a tale of Florida’s Weeki Wachee mermaids.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is deputy editor at The Penny Hoarder. This post was originally published in November 2018.