Spear Clear: Kimi Werner

One deep sea hunter comes up for air

Spotlight // Neha Gandhi // 02/27/12
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Spearfisher and artist Kimi Werner shows off the catch of the day
Jennifer Binney
Spearfisher and artist Kimi Werner shows off the catch of the day

Artist and spear fisherwoman Kimi Werner wears a lot of insanely badass hats. But for a woman who sinks to the bottom of the ocean without an oxygen tank and faces down sharks on the regular, she’s disconcertingly, well, chill.

How long are you down there, at one time when you free dive?
I’ll try and keep it under two minutes. I have held my breath for longer than that — I think my record was 4:45. But when I hunt, I come up before that, because I found that if the fish doesn’t come in within a minute and half, you’re better off changing your technique.

What’s the most stressful part of the dive for you
It’s funny. People think of spear fishing as being this rugged, hardcore, action-packed badass thing. But for me, it's the exact opposite. It’s very calming and Zen-like, actually. I'm a predator when I enter the ocean, but in order to be successful, I need to detach from any overly aggressive vibe. But there are definitely some high-anxiety moments when I’m out there…

Like what?
There are times where I’ll shoot a fish, and within no time I’m surround by a pack of sharks that will steal it. In the beginning, I used to fear for my safety. But it’s such a common thing that I mostly feel anxiety over protecting my prey rather than protecting myself. It’s more of a fight over the food. The moment you make the move to protect your fish, the sharks usually realize that you’re the alpha predator, and they back down.

Do you feel like you could be totally self-sufficient, if the situation called for it?
Yes! That's definitely the main thing that drew me back to diving. That’s how my dad put food on the table. We were extremely poor growing up, but I never felt like that because we would eat delicious healthy food every day. It was such a beautiful process: to be able to tag along with my dad then to go home to my mom and grandma, who taught me how to clean and cook the fish, and then finally, sit down with the family, and eat this meal. When I got older and moved away, I actually felt like something was missing. That’s when I got into spear-fishing. For me, when I go diving, it’s like I’m going into this magical refrigerator where I can hand-select all the freshest, finest ingredients. And being self-sufficient is what really makes it all worthwhile.

You paint a lot of nature scenes that are clearly informed by your experience out in the water. How does your diving inspire your art?
Being underwater and seeing all that wonderful color is definitely something that I’ve brought to the canvas. It’s neat because as a hunter, I feel it’s so important to see a catch through by preparing the whole thing and not wasting anything. My art has become an extension of that. I like to paint these fish in their natural environments, to immortalize them, so that long after a fish has been eaten and enjoyed, I still get to remember its beauty.

Originally published in April/May 2012

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