Kimi Werner: Happiness is having your own sense of belonging

…I had to bite its brain, since my hands were tied in its tentacles, to kill it and by the time I did I was topless and covered in squid ink. That was pretty weird.

Kimi Werner
Kimi Werner

I first watched Kimi’s Ted talk and fall in love. That was a couple of years ago. Then I had to wait for many months to get a hold of her because she was all over the world but rarely in front of a desktop. Kimi Werner earns her living by holding her breath for a very long time whilst hunting sea creatures. She can stay underwater for more than 4 minutes and dives as deep as 150 ft (≈50 meters). For those of you who don’t know how fascinating that is – it is very fascinating. Kimi is a US national champion in her field, an extraordinary women, and has a philosophy of living that we all need to encounter and embrace. All the rest is below. And she swam with a great white shark once. How about that?

Hello, Kimi! Where is this list of questions finding you and what are you doing there?
I just returned from a worldwide trip to the Arctic Circle as well as Indonesia and I am sitting on my porch, looking out at a sunny, beautiful day in Hawaii, knowing I’ll only be home for a few day before leaving again, and appreciating every moment.

How did you get into diving and spear fishing?
My dad used to spearfish to put food on the table to feed his family. When I was a little girl around the age of five he started taking me with him. He’d put me on his back and hike down these steep cliffs and we’d go on these crazy drift dives, where I would watch him bring up my favourite dinners from the bottom of the ocean.

Are you still competing, and if not – why?
I‘m not competing anymore. My first time ever diving outside of Hawaii was at the United States National Championships, which I won, and I went on to compete in many more tournaments after that and succeeded. But soon, I realised that was never the passion of what diving meant to me. Diving was a way to explore the beauty of nature and also a way to get sustainable food for the people I love. Competing had just turned into a way of chasing trophies and recognition, and it started to feel empty, so I walked away.

Kimi is also an artist. You can actually buy her paintings and this one happens to be her favourite.

On one of your trips, you ended up swimming with a great white shark? How did that happen and what was it like for you?
I had slipped into the water and had my head out because I was trying to fix my mask. My friend warned me and started shaking my arm as I had my head out of the water. When I turned around I saw the head of a great white shark, about seventeen feet, coming in hot. I didn’t have time to think, but my instincts reacted and I started swimming towards her. When I did, she backed away and it made me realise that my body language communicated to her that I wasn’t prey. After that, every time she swam up toward me, I used my body language to repeat that fact: I am not a prey. If she swam up towards me, I swam right down to her, knowing that prey wouldn’t do that. Then it actually became fun, where every time she swam to me I met her half way and I would film her. But at one point we got so close that I just reached out and touched her to let her know I was there, and we both went for a swim together.

What started as one of the scariest moments of my life became one of the most beautiful.

Your top three pieces of advice for beginners?

My top three pieces of advice for beginners chasing their dreams would be to do it for the love because that’s what’s going to keep you going. If it’s only recognition or image that you’re after, I don’t think you’ll ever get fulfilled. But if you’re out there, having fun and constantly learning, that stimulation is going to give you the endurance you need to reach your dreams.

My second piece of advice would be to know that life is always evolving and that your goals might change and that’s good. Sometimes it’s hard to walk away from goals we set because we feel like a failure. But it’s good to embrace the changing tides of life and to know that you can always walk away to make a decision that’s more authentic to you.

And lastly, I would just say, enjoy the whole process. Enjoy the good times, but enjoy the hard times too, and know that every bit of it is helping you grow.

What is fear for you and how do you cope with it?
There are different kinds of fear and I learn to cope with them all differently. Some fear is healthy fear and it’s when you really need to face what makes you vulnerable and embrace it completely. A lot of times before I try something new I will look my fear in the face, coming up with plans for every single concern, or just accepting where I’m vulnerable and what I can’t change. But the type of fear, that I know has no place in my life, is panic. Reacting to fear by panicking will never make anything better. I have learned now that in times where I feel like panicking is the best indicator that it is the time I should stay calm.

I guess what I have learned most is where to take fear and turn it into courage.

Where do you see yourself in the food chain and what is your relationship with food?
I see myself as a harmonious part of the food chain, I don’t remove myself from it completely, but I like to hunt and forage in the wild. My connection to food is knowing that you can have respect for your prey, you don’t have to have a disconnect. Buying food to eat is killing too. We are all a part of it, but it’s just paying somebody else to do the dirty work for you and having no say or control on how it’s done. I like to think of my part of the food chain as being honest and accountable, and knowing where every meal comes from, from start to finish, and appreciating every step it took to get to my plate.

How do you feel about the trophy hunting and the people who practice it?
Trophy hunting isn’t really something I can relate to. For me, if you’re not going to eat or use a plant or animal resourcefully, I just don’t see the point of killing it.

What is your definition of happiness?
Happiness to me is having your own sense of belonging. If you can have that you can be happy anywhere. I think so many times today’s society puts such expectations on us that it’s hard to be happy because we’re always chasing something that we don’t have. When happiness is dependent on circumstance, situation or status it will never last and it’s never real. But when happiness is something that comes from within, when it comes from knowing who you are and what you believe in, you can take that wherever you go and you can always be happy.

20150702-kimi_AboutmeHow deep was your deepest dive?
159 ft (45,7 meters)

How long can you hold your breath for?
4 min and 45 seconds.

How big was the biggest fish you’ve caught so far?
165lb (75.3 kg) yellowfin tuna.

What was the scariest thing you’ve encountered in the water?
Currents that I can’t swim against. You feel so powerless and realise how vulnerable you are.

The weirdest way you’ve caught a sea creature?
I caught this huge octopus one day to eat and tickled it out of its hole, but I wasn’t wearing a wet-suit and as I brought it up to the surface and was struggling with it, it wrapped all of its legs around me and took off my bikini completely. I had to bite its brain since my hands were tied in its tentacles to kill it and by the time I did I was topless and covered in squid ink. That was pretty weird.

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