Uncover the Mermaid Parade's secrets before it hits Coney Island on Saturday, June 16, 2018. (Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama) http://www.amny.com/secrets-of-new-york/secrets-of-the-coney-island-mermaid-parade-1.11835094 A foolproof way to win the costume contest and more. https://cdn.newsday.com/polopoly_fs/1.18657384.1526923511!/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/display_600/image.jpg culture Secrets of the Coney Island Mermaid Parade W. 21st Street and Surf Avenue, New York, 11224 By Meghan Giannotta email@example.com Updated June 15, 2018 7:38 PM Thousands of mermaids walk down Surf Avenue in Coney Island each June like it’s completely normal — even though the mythical creatures don’t even have legs. Coney Island USA kicked off the inaugural Mermaid Parade in 1983 with 300 costumed participants and 10,000 spectators. The annual event, which has been bringing mythology to life in Brooklyn for the past 36 years, now attracts as many as 800,000 people per celebration. Wondering why the parade is even centered around mermaids? The street signs explain it all. The march takes place right near Mermaid and Neptune avenues. It’s as simple as that. Or is it? The event’s founder Dick Zigun filled amNewYork in on some secrets behind the nautical-themed art parade, which hits Coney Island this year on Saturday, June 16. Credit: Getty Images / Stephanie Keith It's about mythology of the sea but emphasizes self-expression The parade was founded with three goals in mind. Not only does it bring mythology to life for local residents who live on Mermaid and Neptune streets, but it is meant to boost pride for the district, which is often disregarded as "entertainment." Finally, it's all about giving artistic New Yorkers a place to express themselves fully in public. Credit: Getty Images / Timothy Clary It was almost a Fourth of July parade instead In the early 1980s, Coney Island USA decided to put together an annual parade to showcase art in a way the entire community could enjoy. The organization had first attempted to coin a Fourth of July parade and was denied by Coney Island's Community Board. "We were told, 'It's too busy that day, pick any other day in the summer,'" Zigun said. "Which is ironic, because now [the Mermaid Parade] rivals with the Fourth of July as the busiest day of the year for Coney Island." Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama The parade isn't all about being topless In fact, going topless isn't even encouraged at the parade. This may come as a surprise to anyone who has seen photos of the mermaids who choose to bare their midriffs (or more) while in costume. "The parade isn't as 'nudey' as people say it is," Zigun said. "I'd rather it be known as an art parade than encourage nudity." Nudity is accepted, but isn't the focus of the event. The art is. Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt It was almost canceled in 2013 because of superstorm Sandy Much of Coney Island was hit hard by superstorm Sandy and because of mounting debt from rebuilding, the parade was almost nixed. But Zigun launched a Kickstarter campaign for the parade, seeking $100,000 to help with repairs. The goal was met and the parade went on as planned. Coney Island USA held another Kickstarter campaign in 2017 because the parade had grown difficult to manage and become increasingly expensive. Zigun said the public and a couple of generous donors raised the $50,000 needed to cover the bills. Credit: Getty Images It’s the largest art parade in the nation The Mermaid Parade doesn't have ties to any ethnic, religious or commercial groups, as many popular parades in New York City do. Instead, the main focus is to showcase art through self-expression while boosting community morale. According to Zigun, it's the largest parade of its kind in the United States. Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama There are Mermaid Parade copycats around the globe Coney Island USA has to send at least five cease-and-desist letters to Mermaid Parade copycats around the world each year, Zigun said. The organization most recently noticed parades in Portland, Oregon and Chicago, attempting to replicate the Brooklyn-born event. "We don't mind nautical parade themes, but don't steal our name, idea or ceremonial traditions," Zigun warns future imitators. Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama Cars used to drive on the boardwalk during the parade Cars have been banned from the Coney Island boardwalk by the NYC Parks Department since the 1990s. But before that, the cars included in the Mermaid Parade used to be allowed to drive down and soak in the ocean view. Fifty cars are still part of the event each year, but when the parade reaches West 10th Street, they're forced to continue down Surf Avenue while the marchers head toward the boardwalk, Zigun said. Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama You can’t ask participants to pose for photos If you want to get a good shot of the mer-creatures participating, you'll have to break out your wallet. The only spot where you're allowed to take posed photos is in the staging area, Zigun said -- and it'll cost you $20. If you do try to interfere with the march once it begins, the NYPD won't hesitate to ask you to leave. "It's a huge free party for 800,000 people," Zigun said, so regulations like this have to be set in stone to keep everyone safe. Credit: Getty Images / Stephen Chernin Some well-known merpeople have become 'king' and 'queen' Each year a merman and mermaid king and queen are selected, and there have been some famous faces among the colorful crowd. This year's king and queen are author Neil Gaiman and singer Amanda Palmer. Previous kings and queens include Adam Savage, Lou Reed, Adam Richman, Curtis Sliwa, Queen Latifah and Moby. In 2017, Blondie's Debbie Harry and Chris Stein had the honors. Credit: Getty Images / Yana Paskova Want to win the costume contest? You can bribe the judges Bribing the parade's judges is not only allowed, it's encouraged. Trophies are given out to those who have the most creative costume and to those who give the panel free food, alcohol, money or art, Zigun said. "Our ideal judges are inebriated, inept and corrupt," he added. "That's the way we like it." Credit: YouTube / Manolo Gamboa An elephant once walked among the mermaids In a parade full of fictional sea creatures, some real-life animals have made appearances as well. In 2010, an elephant with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus walked Surf Avenue during the event. Horses and dogs also have marched, but Zigun says he isn't fond of animals participating due to the crowded streets and high temperatures. "We don't forbid animals, but we want people to be humane and realize the ramifications which could be detrimental to their health," he said. Credit: JoeGalloPhotography.com Couples have tied the knot in the middle of the parade Five couples have decided to hold their wedding ceremonies right in the middle of Surf Avenue during the Mermaid Parade, Zigun said. This couple said "I do" on June 24, 2006, photographer Joe Gallo said. Gallo volunteered his photography services for their special occasion. Those who register to walk in the parade have to provide a description of what they intend to wear and do, but it's often very vague, Zigun said. That leaves room for an element of surprise, such as a wedding, to take place each year. Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama Most people miss out on the ‘best part’ of the parade After their march down Surf Avenue and across the Coney Island boardwalk, Zigun joins King and Queen Neptune in a ceremony on the pier to officially "open the ocean" for the season. Few people even realize that this opening ceremony takes place. "What I think of as the best part of the parade, most people miss," Zigun said. He explained that the Mermaid Parade is actually a prelude to a West African ceremony for the summer solstice. Drummers leading the march carry baskets of fruit to be offered to the water gods. When the parade ends, the king and queen cut through four ribbons, representing the changing seasons. Zigun holds up the "key to Coney Island" and "opens up the ocean" for the summer. Previous Secret Next Secret Comments We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.