When Eric Ducharme slips into his handmade fin to explore the crystal clear waters of Florida’s natural springs as a merman, he says he’s mentally transported as well.
So is the unique, eye-catching life of this Florida man who says he eats, sleeps and breathes mermaids while physically looking and acting like one as often as time allows.
'It's a lifestyle. It's a path in life that I have chosen,' says the 22-year-old from Crystal River who’s one of the latest characters to appear on TLC's My Crazy Obsession.
Three times a week Ducharme drives more than an hour and a half to swim in one of his shimmering handmade suits at a natural spring.
'I came out here looking for some alligators and saw a tail that I've never seen before in a river,' a confused man sitting on the banks confesses on camera.
Passing before him, the ends of Ducharme's long orange tail flicker above the water's surface like a giant gold fish. It's a sight that keeps him and a few other men fixated.
'When I put on a tail I feel transformed,' Ducharme says while resting on the water's edge. 'I feel like I'm starting to enter into a different world when I hit the water.'
He calls it 'mermaiding,' his own style of costumed free-diving that he says allows him to escape the world up above.
Being under water I feel, I'm just totally away from the world,' he explains while able to hold his breath for up to four minutes at a time.
Though as bizarre of a 'lifestyle' activity as it is, it's one his family and even boyfriend have accepted - it not without initial astonishment.
'When I first met Eric, I was introduced to the subject of mermaids, on our first date,' Ducharme's boyfriend Matthew Quijano opens up on camera. 'Your jaw just kind of drops and you're just like, "wow."
'When we go swimming I don't even see him because he swims off to his own little corner, it's all about getting away from the rest of the world,' he says.
'Eric is obsessed with mermaids,' his mother Candy Ducharme shares on the program. 'We have our own passions. That's Eric's life.'
Since Ducharme was a child he says he's been fascinated with mermaids.
At the age of 16 he put on his first show while swimming as the mermaid prince in Weeki Wachee Springs Little Mermaid show in 2006.
But even before that he says he was hand making his own tails from everything from garbage bags to fabrics before eventually becoming good enough to sell and donate them to the park at the age of 13.
'It's taking me a really long time to kind of understand my place in life,' Ducharme says of his self-admitted obsession.
Today he has transformed his beloved hobby into a business, using silicone, urethanes, and latex rubbers to create shimmering wet suits featuring life-like colors and textures of scales and flowing fins.
'I have tails that are as real as fish you just caught on your boat, which are available to every aspiring mermaid and merman who dreams of life in the sea,' Ducharme's website, The Mertailor, reads.
No matter how you see it, he describes the tails as 'a fun and exciting physical activity.'
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