By Suzanne Pestana
I'm sure by now you have taken notice of my slight obsession with all things tiki and Hawaiian by my many thrift related purchases. It truly runs in the blood. My great great grandparents emigrated from the Madera Islands (near Portugal) to Hawaii to work and live on the sugar plantations located in Maui. They later moved to California by way of Hawaii becoming a U.S. Territory on July 7th, 1898. Hawaii later became a U.S. state on August 21, 1959. I recall as a child that many of our family get togethers were Hawaiian themed and I still have many cousins in Hawaii, so it has been a common theme in my life. Most recently I have started learning to play the Ukulele, which was gifted to me by my parents as a birthday gift. I will be the third known generation to play the instrument. Below is a picture of my family circa 1984 at a family reunion. I think I remember they even hired hula dancers for this event. I'm the rugrat in the blue dress. Dave wore the shirt my dad is wearing in this picture the day he proposed to me at the Bali Hai.
Two years ago I was doing a random search on Google for "Tiki" in San Diego, and came across the Tiki Oasis website advertising their annual event held right here in San Diego. I was so excited and am so happy I went as I ended up meeting several amazing new friends that share the same love of all things tiki. I was also introduced to some of the staple "stars" of the event. One which truly stood out for me was MeduSirena the Fire Eating Mermaid.
I believe it was a 20/20 or Night News special that first introduced me to the aquatic sport of swimming and performing like a mermaid. I was taken aback and was in awe of these women and their love of what was considered to be a dying art. I was anxious to learn more about the history of this sport and thought a conversation with Marina Anderson, aka MeduSirena, would do me some good.
Suz - What is your first memory of being introduced to the aquatic art performance act of performing as a mermaid?
Marina - My Father was an avid diver and sailed a lot in the Caribbean. He taught me to free dive at age three. That, combined with my Mother's love for "Old Hollywood" spectacles led to what would evolve to become my aquatic performances later on.
Suz - Where do you currently perform?
Marina - I perform all over the globe; where ever there is a workable body of water to perform in. My primary location is at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel's 'Wreck Bar', which is designed like a sunken Spanish Galleon, complete with portholes that look into the Hotel Pool's interior. My work at the Wreck Bar began with a pursuit of preserving these now rare underwater attraction establishments which were so very popular once during the Golden Age of Tourism.
Suz - Do you have any personal inspirations for your love of the sport?
Marina - Certainly! Annette Kellerman, Esther Williams, Freddy Mercury, Eartha Kitt, Newt Perry, Ricou Browning, Ginger Stanley, Diane Webber, Gene Kelly, Iris Chacon, Jacques Cousteau--Oh man, this could take a while...
Suz - What training did you acquire for your performances? What and where was your very first performance?
I have been an ongoing freediver for quite some time now. That combined with my background in Polynesian and Oriental dance has been the platform for my ongoing training. The MeduSirena Swim-style resulted as its own.
Long distance runs,core training, breath hold lap swimming, and a general sense of what flows in an underwater environment are certainly helpful in learning to navigate the liquid space stage medium.
Suz - What has been your very favorite performance to date? Do you have a favorite costume of choice? Perhaps a favorite song to perform to?
Marina - The performances are quite diverse. I certainly LOVED working with Falcon's Treehouse performing for the Virtual Aquarium in Macau. To create such a memorable image that continues to be projected years after is very fulfilling (and besides, I'm a bit of a tech geek).
Any unique situation is terrific! My swim debut at Tiki Oasis was amazing; the entire pool was surrounded, including all the guests crowding on the hotel room porches, watching me swim as a spotlight followed me in the pool. It was a total Esther Williams moment.
Swimming in Kaua'i made my heart sing, Atlantis in the Bahamas, Palm Springs... Las Vegas... Gosh, really... I just love the adventure that every venue offers. (as long as the water is not freezing!)
My favorite costume was the body paint. It really allowed me to not think about drag and just swim. As for songs; anything with a "mood". Love retro Exotica but also like some 80's tunes.
Suz - When did you start performing at Tiki Oasis and how did you become involved?
Marina - I've had the pleasure of knowing Otto since my Mai-Kai dancing days back in 2000. I had been performing for some time by then, and was honored to be invited to Tiki Oasis X as a headliner. So that was the start of the TO adventure. It has made me a happy bi-coastal performer. I LOVE performing for the TO crowds!
Suz - Do you have any personal or professional goals with your performance acts?
Marina - To meet and thank the Japanese Ama and Korean Haenyo who are the "real deal". To continue to refine the MeduSirena Style of swimming (it will always be evolving), and offer it to more aspiring swim performers. To see those few Porthole pool bars survive and thrive to the point of expansion... a revival of aquatic performances. To give Ricou Browning a HUGE hug and thank him for all his amazing underwater work in film & television. To hold Esther Williams' hand and tearfully thank her (happy tears of course).
Suz - Do you have any suggestions for someone that might want to pursue this sport? Do you offer lessons or provide training for interested parties?
Marina - Physically make yourself the best you possibly can. That means, eat well, exercise, take care of that bod (its a rental- ya gotta return it at the end of it all) and train, train, train.
Yes, I do offer training in the MeduSirena "Aquaticat" Style of swimming, and offer workshops wherever I'm called to do them in the U.S and all over the globe. I also help to train models in underwater work and serve as a stunt swimmer and consultant for underwater scenes in film.
Suz - I'd like to thank Marina for letting me interview her about her fascinating body of work. It's truly inspiring to see how she is keeping the art alive! If you would like to know more about Marina, please check out the links below to both her Facebook and website pages.