By KEVIN BRADY
A FishHawk Ranch woman who dons a mermaid costume when swimming is making a splash across the world after she was banned from public pools in FishHawk Ranch.
Jenna Conti, Eden Sirene the FishHawk Mermaid, was told her fins were not appropriate for shared swimming pools in FishHawk ranch, one of Brandon’s ritziest communities.
Conti was told by the local Community Development District (CDD), the board that set rules for the wealthy community, that her tail is not appropriate for the community’s pools.
With a rule against fins and kickboards in the pool for safety reasons, Conti was told the only avenue for her to swim at the pools would be adding her to an events calendar. That calendar is already full for the rest of the year.
“I just want to bring a little magic to the neighborhood,” said Conti who has been wearing her mermaid costume for more than a year.
While her tail comes in at a hefty 33 pounds outside the pool, it’s weightless in the water and does not pose a hazard to anyone, Conti said.
“It’s made of dragon silicone and very flexible and is harmless to the body.”
Now a petition drive is underway to allow Conti access to public pools in the exclusive gated community. Others have posted messages of support to a Facebook page, Eden Sirene – The FishHawk Mermaid, created after she was banned from swimming at the pools July 15.
“Mrs. Conti has asked for nothing other than to entertain the residents and children of FishHawk, which she does on her own time and at her own expense,” according to the petition. “She has stated that she would not impede others’ ability to enjoy the pool. Her costume is no way profane or obscene and she is not requesting any special treatment when she is in the pool, only that she be allowed to share her craft and skills with residents of the community.”
“It was suggested that she make her swimming a special event and charge people but that is not what this young lady is interested in,” said Tony Brochu, a FishHawk resident who helped draft the petition supporting Conti and attended the meeting where she was told she could only swim sans her fin. “She just wants to swim and entertain kids. There’s no way her costume could hurt anyone.”
Brochu believes the vast majority of Fishhawk residents are behind Conti.
“You have a small few against it, maybe 10 people. A lot just seem to be middle-aged women who seem to have a cattiness going on or others who say ‘if she can wear her fins, why can’t my kid bring his giant inner tube to the pool?’”
While Brochu understands the CDD is nervous about opening Pandora’s Box if they allow Conti to swim with her costume, “there should be some common sense. They should be enjoying having someone like this in the community promoting FishHawk.”
Conti’s story caught fire online after a video of her swimming went viral and news organizations in the U.K. and Australia picked up the story. MSNBC also broadcast the story nationwide.
“I cannot thank everyone enough for the continuing support I have received,” said Conti.
Riverview’s Mark Kalish contacted Conti after seeing a TV news report, one of several that have featured Conti.
“I support what she’s doing. Children go nuts over mermaids.”
Other mermaids, a subculture of women who spend up to $500 for mermaid fins, are also backing Conti.
“As a fellow mermaid, I am so glad you spoke up,” said Rose Lanai, an Orlando woman who regularly dons fins for the pool. “It seems these days there are quite a few places which are banning mermaid tails. Keep strong.”
Naiad Rose, a Connecticut woman who favors fins over feet in the water, feels FishHawk needs to drop its ban.
“It’s so ridiculous for people to be such jerks about rule specifics,” Rose said. “You should absolutely be able to swim in your own community. I hope you can get them to get some sense, eventually.”
Not everyone is so sure large fins and public swimming pools are a good idea.
“My jury is still out but I think I’m leaning in agreement with the current ruling,” said one longtime FishHawk resident who said the issue has been dominating dinner-table talk in the neighborhood. “There’s a reason the rules are in place about bringing items into the pools. With this size population, the pools would just get overwhelmed. I couldn’t imagine if 20 people showed up with their ‘mer-fins’ then another 5 or 10 with their inflatable rafts, and so on. The pools just can’t handle that kind of traffic. Where do you draw the line?
“I suppose I could see an amendment to restricted times when the pool could allow it and not, but I’d still be concerned about safety and visibility for the little ones.”