Person of Interest: Tristan McDonald, Red River Merman
It’s not every day you see a fish out of water.
Tristan McDonald, 31, is Shreveport-Bossier City’s Red River Merman. With a background in dance and theatre, he’s moved from the stage to the swimming pool for a body positive, water-based workout that’ll have you flipping your fins for more.
Q: You’re a transplant from Florida. What brought you to Louisiana?
A: I worked for Disney World and grew up in Florida. I was a dancer in a touring musical and we played the riverfront in Shreveport. It was a one-off show, Playhouse Disney Live. When I left Disney and I was in a big transition trying to figure out who I was in my 20s, my mother had moved to Louisiana and remarried. They said I should come here and try to cultivate a new experience for myself, and I did.
Q: How did you decide to become a merman?
A: I just stumbled into it. I saw others that were trying it. I bought a fabric tail and I did it for escapism and exercise. It’s a lot cheaper than drugs (McDonald began his road to recovery in 2012 and pursuing mermaiding professionally in 2016). This last year, I started mentoring with a guy who owns a mermaid company in Baltimore and I saw how easy it would be to enter this market, especially one where there’s no one else.
Q: How has the response been from the public?
A: Much better than I expected. I was waiting for the comments, people thinking this was a mental health issue — especially after you see shows on TLC like My Strange Addiction. I get it. I’m a grown man in a fishtail and I try to make it clear that I’m cognizant of reality and fantasy and this is just a great workout. But people love it here in Shreveport.
Q: You’ve gone beyond just swimming, now you teach. What is your fitness camp like?
A: Fin Fitness is a low impact core workout. It combines yoga, a little bit of ballet — it’s a full body workout. I’m getting a lot of people who are all about it who have knee and back injuries. It’s held at Coates Bluff every Sunday through September, but I’m hoping to bring it to other places. I thought I’d have to cater to children, but adults are into it.
Q: What would you say to someone who’s interested in doing Fin Fitness?
A: Mermaiding is a body positive exercise. I meet all shapes, all sizes, all colors — you either get a great exercise out of it or you’re able to work through your own issues through light exercise and escapism.
Q: A part of this journey has been weight loss, as well. How has that been?
A: After leaving Disney, I gained weight — so quickly. This time last year, I was a size 42, about 280 lbs. Now I’m down to 180 lbs. Sometimes the gym can be monotonous, but with this, the adventure is right in front of you.