By Karen Matthews
Coney Island nearly went the way of Atlantis when Superstorm Sandy swept up the East Coast last fall, but even that couldn't stop Brooklyn's strutting mermaids from hitting the boardwalk on the first weekend of summer.
Hundreds of thousands of people mobbed the seaside amusement district Saturday for the spectacle of outlandish floats, wacky costumes and bare skin that is Coney Island's annual Mermaid Parade.
Billed as the world's largest art parade, the nautical-themed procession along the boardwalk and nearby Surf Avenue almost didn't happen this year.
Coney Island was hit hard by Sandy. Hundreds of homes and businesses flooded. One major attraction, the state aquarium, was badly damaged. The offices of Coney Island USA, the organization that hosts the parade, were inundated, too.
But the beach's famous boardwalk was one of the few on the coast that was spared. Most of the carnival rides, including the historic Cyclone roller coaster, have reopened. Parade founder Dick Zigun turned to Kickstarter and raised more than $100,000 so the show would go on.
Renae Johnson, a 31-year-old art therapist from Manhattan who arrived wearing a seashell bikini top, fishtail skirt and white makeup, said she wouldn't have missed this year's parade for the world.
"I'm not a religious person, so this tends to be my Christmas," she said.
For Seena Ghaznavi, it felt like the storm never happened.
"From the energy, you would not be able to tell that Sandy came through here," said Ghaznavi, 29, who came as a genie in a turban and harem pants.
The parade, which began in 1983 and takes place on the Saturday closest to the first day of summer, is a mix of seedy, raunchy and family fun. This year's version featured dancers, bands, square politicians, people costumed as pirates, octopuses and sailors, and many women wearing fake fish tails on their bottoms and nothing but sequined pasties — or less — on top.
Each year the parade is presided over by a ceremonial "King Neptune" and "Queen Mermaid." This year's king was 30 Rock actor Judah Friedlander. The Queen Mermaid was journalist and "Real Housewives of New York City" star Carole Radziwill.
Ernest Mitchell, who works at a hardware store a block from the parade route, said the parade is a much needed morale booster after a tough year.
"Everybody is looking forward to the weather being nice and people coming back to Coney Island," he said. "It's not like it used to be, but we're happy the parade's still going on and people may come back for the summer and visit the rides."