They’re called Merb’ys — as in b’ys that live in the ocean — and if you haven’t seen their glorious, bearded, bare-chested, fin-tailed selves, where have you been?
The two dozen or so local men have been getting international attention over the past week, landing themselves on Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post and a ton of other websites for their charity project — a project that has seen them strip down and don a merman tail for photo shoots.
“We were hoping The Telegram would do a story and maybe we’d get on the radio, and if we were lucky it might go national,” says Hasan Hai, founder of the Newfoundland and Labrador Beard and Mustache Club.
He is also the founder of Project Kindness, a collective that undertakes various charitable projects throughout the year.
Known for his volunteer work, Hai got the idea for the Merb’ys when a friend posted a picture of a burly merman on his Facebook wall, saying he should find a reason to do something similar.
“It was something hilarious, vulnerable and fun, which I’m apparently all about,” Hai says, laughing.
He had been looking for a creative new project, something that could support Spirit Horse NL, an organization he had recently discovered and wanted to help. Based in Portugal Cove, Spirit Horse offers therapeutic programs with mental-health benefits through interaction with horses.
Hai came up with the idea of a merman calendar, shot in locations around the St. John’s area, with proceeds going to Spirit Horse. He posted a quick message on social media — “Here’s a weird question: who wants to be a merman with me?” — and got about 40 Merb’y applicants, along with a slew of volunteer photographers and costume designers (the main tail designer, Hai says, was artist Clare Fowler).
The photo shoots, which wrapped up about two weeks ago, happened everywhere Merb’ys might be expected to gather: Quidi Vidi, frolicking on Middle Cove Beach, at Manuel’s River, even Erin’s Pub (where a couple of the more musically inclined among them picked up guitars).
Will Whelan joined the Merb’ys through an acquaintance at the Beard and Mustache Club. He liked the charitable aspect of the calendar project, he says, as well as the freedom and the general hilarity.
“I don’t mind taking off my shirt, it doesn’t bother me, but when you put on the tail, there’s something vulnerable about it. I’m not one who’s overly self-conscious, but this was right at the edge of my comfort zone,” says Whalen, a plumber when he’s not lounging by the ocean’s edge.
Hai agrees with the vulnerability of the tail, saying it goes beyond not being able to physically move, but also speaks of the whimsy involved in donning fins.
“There’s literally joy in the world around you when you dress as a merman,” Hai says. “When you have three or four big, burly guys putting on tails, it’s joyful. People would stop and watch us and they’d be laughing without even knowing what we were doing. They loved it.”
Since international media outlets have caught on to the Merb’ys, orders for the calendar have exploded, coming in from Japan, Australia, Norway, and pretty much everywhere else, Hai says. He declines to talk sales numbers, preferring to wait and do a big reveal when things are officially tallied.
The 2018 calendar will be launched with an event at Rocket Bakery in St. John’s Nov. 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Merb’ys will be on hand, in costume, should you want to snap your own photo).
Plans are already underway for a 2019 calendar, to benefit a different charity.
Hai and Whelan have already signed on.
“If I can make other dudes have a laugh and maybe feel a bit less self-conscious, I’m all for it,” Whelan says. “If you’re going to have a laugh at my expense, pay a $25 donation for it and you can have at it.”
To purchase a Merb'ys calendar, visit www.nlbeardandmoustacheclub.com