Ashley Rastad, Dive Bar mermaid
If you've gotten a drink at Dive Bar, you're likely aware of a fishy presence in the water tank above the bar. Something that looks human, but less dry, and also with a scaly tail instead of legs. On some nights, that mystical mermaid just might be Ashley Rastad, children’s entertainer and new addition to Dive Bar’s roster of mermaids. The job is just part of her plan for growing up: “When I was a kid, I wanted to be everything when I grew up. A firefighter. A fairy. A mermaid. All at the same time.” She graciously helped us understand how that tail feels, what it’s like to swim for a living and whether she can actually see you watching her inside that tank.
How do you go about performing up there?
You have to move really slow-motion to articulate. It’s a very different kind of stage. It’s underwater, your audience isn’t particularly—well, I mean, there’s so much going on in the bar. … So it’s better to slow all the actions down so that everyone can sort of catch up with what you’re doing. It’s difficult, but it makes the swims go by much faster if I move in slow-motion, which I think is interesting.
Did it take a lot of training?
It takes about four to six weeks. They want to make sure that you’re comfortable in the tank. You do training in the water, usually once or twice a week. The bar opens at 4 p.m., so we’re usually in there swimming at, like, 9 a.m.
Tell me about the tail.
It’s amazing. They are manufactured by this company called Mertailor out of Florida. The type of tail that we use is—I want tosay it’s partial silicone. It’s on a neoprene backing so it’s a little bit warmer. It’s got really awesome, intricate scaling and a beautiful paint job. … They weigh about 35 pounds or so. They’re fairly hefty. And they’re a tight squeeze.
Do you have your own tail, or do you have to share?
Sometimes, we have to share. … It kind of depends on your size. And how tall you are. Right now I have a tail that I don’t share with anyone else. It’s named Falkor [after the dragon from The Neverending Story]. They all have names.
What’s Falkor like?
It’s sort of like a frosty white-pinkish-purple. Sort of like Falkor’s colors. Every time I put it on, I go, “I’m a luckdragon.”
Do you have nonaquatic passions?
I’ve started doing a little bit of canvas painting. I write a little bit. Eventually, though, I will be a farmer. I mean a self-sustained organic homestead type of farmer. That’s what I really want to do.
OK, back to the tank. How do you get in there?
We have direct access to the tank right there [in the dressing room]. So we suit up and get right in. … Downstairs, they have a really great, big, fancy armchair on rollers with a handle attached to the back so someone can push you around.
How long do you stay in the tank?
We swim for 25 minutes out of an hour. And then, we swim again for 25 minutes out of a separate hour. … You have to have a break in between to warm up.
Warm up? How cold is it in there?
I don’t know exactly. They definitely cater to the fish, not to the mermaids, and the fish are much happier in cooler water.
Gotta be good to the fish.
They are curious, and super-used-to having mermaids in the tank. They get out of your way, and we take care not to touch them. Or mess with them. Or flap them. Or poke them. Or anything. We don’t want to hurt them at all. It’s sort of like we’re visiting their house every time we swim.
How long can you hold your breath?
I don’t know. We don’t time ourselves. But I can hold it longer and longer the more I practice.
How’s the people-watching in there?
I can definitely make out when people are doing a Snapchat or a photo—anything with an electronic light. I’ve had friends bring glow sticks so I can pick out where the glow sticks are and stuff. … I wear contact lenses, so I actually can’t see super-well in the tank anyways.
Do you get recognized outside the tank?
Yeah. Last night, I went downstairs really quick, and it was probably really easy to recognize me since I was the only one in the bar with sopping wet hair and a shiny bra on. I got a couple high-fives.
Would you trade your voice for legs?