During her TEDxMaui talk in 2014, champion freediver and spearfisher Kimi Werner explained her key to survival in the deep sea–and in life. “When you feel the need to speed up, slow down,” she said. Born and raised on Maui, Werner spoke of how the ocean provided food for her family, how she tagged along as a young girl when her father spearfished and, later, how she longed to be back in that underwater world “where I could fly.” Able to hold her breath for four minutes and 45 seconds, and swim to depths reaching 159 feet, Werner earned top titles in the U.S. National Spearfishing Championships off the murky coast of Rhode Island. An artist, teacher and chef, Werner is now a vocal proponent of marine conservation and sustainable hunting. She’s featured as one of six water lovers in the new documentary Fishpeople.
The documentary is directed by Keith Malloy, one of three brothers whose contributions to professional surfing are world-renowned. A lifetime of wave-riding and global exploration led Malloy to eco-advocacy and his work with Patagonia, a large outdoor clothing company committed to environmental ethics. Presented by Patagonia, Fishpeople tells the stories of how the sea transforms the lives of those who live, play and work within it.
Long before Malloy knew who Werner was, she said she was very influenced by him and his brothers. “It became clear that as much as they ripped and as much as they had built these professions in the surf industry,” said Werner, “their hearts and souls were so core and so much more in love with the ocean, with doing good to this world and being authentic to themselves.”
Werner eventually joined Malloy and Jack Johnson on a sailing voyage to study oceanic micro plastics and learn what they could do to prevent that pollution. “We got to know each other a bit on that trip and our lives just started taking these parallel paths with a lot of the work that we did.” So last year when Malloy contacted her and said he was making this film, and that he wanted her to be a part of it, she said, “It was like hands down, yes, drop everything, my dreams are coming true, I get to create something with a Malloy!”
Malloy then trekked to Hawaii, dove with Werner and her dive buddies, and met her family. “The part that he ended up focusing on was my relationship to the ocean and how it relates to my relationship with my father,” she said. The documentary’s opening sequence, Werner’s story takes place mostly off Oahu, the Big Island and Maui.
Currently calling Oahu’s North Shore her home base, Werner’s travels were featured in a six-episode National Geographic series Living Free, which she said is about “going around the world and meeting people who are living very close to the root of everything they need.” She’s also a sponsored athlete and works with a handful of companies that are truly doing something good for the planet and using their profits to help make positive change in the world.
Most recently the champion spearfisher hosted a “Live Simply” retreat in Indonesia, which gathered a group of people with various levels of experience in the ocean. Some had a lot of anxiety towards the water, others were certified freedivers. Werner then walked them through some exercises and practices that she does to help prepare her mind to get into the ocean, and offered tips on how to redirect fear into courage they didn’t know they had. And because it was a retreat, there were yoga classes and massages, too.
“I’m not really a yogi at all,” Werner said. “That’s a place where I feel very vulnerable, very inadequate, and I tend to compare myself or feel like I don’t fit in. So it was really good to show them we’re all human, we all feel in and out of our comfort zones. Maybe for me, I feel really comfortable in the water, but being here trying to straighten my hamstring, I feel totally not capable. And yet I’m still here, I’m still going to try, I’m still going to give myself that love.”
Werner guided the group from land to pool to ocean, spearfishing their dinner–then together, cleaning, scaling, gutting and filleting the fish, while talking about where food comes from and how today so much of that is censored from us. “People just want to sell you that rectangular piece of meat on styrofoam or plastic with no face, no bones, no nothing, separating the fact that this was a living, breathing animal, to the point where people just eat things and don’t make the connection of what had to happen to get that food to their plate,” she said.
“Let’s look at the source of things–and of ourselves,” said Werner. “And let’s really go back and connect to that source because it’s only going to give us greater meaning in our everyday life.”
Fishpeople screens at the Maui Film Festival at 11pm on Sunday, June 25 at the Celestial Cinema in Wailea.
Cover photo: Perrin James/Lastbreathfilm.com
Cover design: Darris Hurst