Kimi, Into The Deep

She took up freediving just three years ago, but at the recent nationals in Rhode Island Kimi Werner won two titles, caught the second largest fish and was named rookie of the year

Kimi Werner caught this big mahimahi in Hawaiian waters
Kimi Werner caught this big mahimahi in Hawaiian waters

Just three years after taking up the sport, Kimi Werner wins two national freedive spearfish titles and shocks veteran divers

There is nothing “sunny” or “fishy” about the mola mola, or sunfish, as its name implies, but to 2008 U.S. National Spear Fishing Championship winner Kimi Werner, the odd-looking fish might as well be the most lovable good luck charm to ever swim her way.

While scouting the day before Nationals, which were held Aug. 7 in Newport, R.I., Werner says she came across what she thought might have been a great white shark because of the huge dorsal fin that stuck out of the water.

“It freaked me out, but it got me curious, too,” says Werner - a native of Makawao, Maui, who now resides on Oahu. As she watched, she noticed that the fish wasn’t behaving like a shark, so Werner swam closer in the cold, murky water, curiosity growing.

“I finally realized it was a mola mola,” she says. “I was so stoked! It was something that I’ve only seen on National Geographic and Planet Earth.”

She says that she swam right to the sunfish, which she thought swam in deeper waters, and began petting it. “It was just so strange and weird, and so ugly and cute,” she says.

“It was like seeing a unicorn before your big day. I never thought I would see one, and when I saw it and touched it, I promised it that I would never spear it, even if it was an eligible fish. I just bonded with it and definitely felt lucky after that.”

Whether luck was involved or not, Werner and her partner, Kona’s Andy Tamasese, represented Hawaii and placed first in the mixed team division. Individually, 29-year old Tamasese placed 10th and Werner 19th out of 65 competitors.

These striped bass, including a 33-pounder, helped Werner win two titles
These striped bass, including a 33-pounder, helped Werner win two titles

The murky waters off Newport did not stop the self-proclaimed lucky girl with the sunny personality from placing first in the women’s division by shooting three tautog and two striped bass, one of which was the competition’s second-biggest catch at 33 pounds - only a pound short of the biggest. In addition, Werner won rookie of the year, which was awarded to the first-time national competitor with the highest score.

Besides the competitive nature of spearfishing, there lies a deeper allure, a sense of freedom that allows Werner, who is also an artist and chef - a modern day Renaissance woman - to forget just about everything but the dream that envelopes every inch of her.

For the 28-year-old Werner, who grew up swimming and exploring the waters off Maui with her sister and father, every dive deep into the ocean is like “a sweet, slow and very peaceful dream,“she explains. “It’s one of the most amazing feelings I’ve ever experienced.”

Her descents, she says, begin with slow, deep breaths on the surface. She tries to relax every single muscle, letting the ocean cradle her weight. Then she lets the grip on her gun relax while she imagines the oxygen feeding her entire body. She pikes and follows it with a few strong kicks to begin her descent. “I can’t completely explain the serenity of how this part feels,” she continues, “but it gives me a sense of peace that is beyond anything I’ve ever felt before.”

As she descends, “sometimes I steal glances at how beautiful the surface looks,” she says, her artistic side becoming more apparent. “I can see the sunlight dancing and sparkling from above as I pass 20 feet and continue to drop.At about 50 feet, I feel my body compress and get smaller and my relaxation seems to grow even more. I can now truly feel the fullness of the breath I took, and my lungs feel so content that it almost feels like I’m breathing underwater.” She usually settles at about 70 feet and

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