Back to Basics with Kimi Werner


“I don’t really feel that it should be man and the ecosystem because I don’t think that we are separate. I believe that man is part of the ecosystem. And realizing that helps me strive to find my place in it.”

What does your vision for sustainability look like in regards to yourself, your community and the islands as a whole?

“A community that knows how to work with nature and its natural resources responsibly while sharing. Finding balance in that harmony.”

— Kimi Werner


Words: Blake Lefkoe

A few hundred years ago Hawaiians were a completely self-sufficient people, having no choice but to live one hundred percent sustainably. These days, ninety percent of our food is imported, and though we live surrounded by waters once stocked with fish, foreign catch accounts for well over half the seafood that ends up on our plates. The ocean that we love so greatly and derive so much enjoyment from is rapidly seeing its resources depleted. It is estimated that if the boats stopped running, the islands would be out of food in less than two weeks.

But all is not lost. There are groups of people, organizations and individuals who are working to make our islands a more sustainable place to live and are determined to save our ocean from the irrevocable dangers it faces through educating the public, implementing laws and doing their part to help deal with these issues. Kimi Werner is one woman who is committed to creating change. Leading by example, the North Shore resident lives the most sustainable life that she can.

Photo: DJ Struntz

Kimi was born and raised in rural Maui in a shack that was falling apart. She grew up watching her dad spear fish to put food on the table. As
a young girl, Kimi foraged for fruit and gathered eggs from the family’s chickens. Through this “magical and fun” lifestyle, the environmentalist learned the importance of sustainability. And, because much of her childhood was spent outside, playing with animals and in the ocean watching fish, Kimi came to love communing with nature and realized that humans are not at the top of the food chain, but are merely a part of it.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Kimi began spearfishing as a teenager. It quickly became apparent that there were considerably
less fish in the sea than there had been when she was a child. At first there were feelings of guilt, as though hunting was contributing to the problem. But after conservationists told her that even if she stopped fishing, the number of fish saved would still be insignificant, Kimi had a new realization.

“If I got good to the point where people looked up to me, then I could set a really good example,” the waterwoman describes. “I could show people that you can be really good at spearfishing and still only come out of the water with just enough fish, with just what you need for that day.” So Kimi made the decision to focus on sustainable spearfishing. And then the local girl got really, really good.

In 2008, Kimi won the National Spearfishing Championships and in 2013 was inducted into the Hawai‘i Freediving Hall of Fame. The accomplished lady holds the title of Patagonia Provisions ambassador and has received sponsorships from major companies like Patagonia, Maui Jim Sunglasses and Riffe International. But one of her biggest accomplishments, one of the most intense moments of her life, was swimming with a Great White shark.

Incredible footage was captured of Kimi holding onto the shark’s dorsal fin as they glided together, and big name energy drinks and major TV networks fought to buy the rights to it. But Kimi wouldn’t sell them.

Photo: DJ Struntz

Instead, she made a four-minute grassroots video called Variables, in which she talks about her passion for cooking, diving and art, as well as the importance of sustainability, communing with nature and merging hunting with conservationism.

Many people do not understand how someone can be a hunter and a conservationist at the same time, but for Kimi, they are one and the same. “In order to hunt the animal I have to first know that animal; what it eats, where it lives… and through this I fall in love with this prey,” Kimi explains. “Today, people are so disconnected to their food source, they don’t even know what it means to be conservative.”

Kimi believes that one of the best ways we can begin to change our mindsets and habits is to rekindle the connection we once had with our food – where it came from and the energy it took to get it to our plates. “When you know the energy it took it get that meal to your table, it makes you appreciate every single bite.” Kimi feels that knowing where our food comes from keeps us accountable and honest, especially when we know the people who grew, raised or caught it. “Hunting is my way of being honest about where my food comes from and because of that I have to conserve.”

These days, most people don’t fish. We buy our groceries at Foodland and eat out at restaurants that import food from who-knows-where. More often than not, we have no idea where the food we’re eating came from. Kimi feels that people are simply unaware. “If the information of where things came from was available to the public, people would make more conscious decisions.” Kimi thinks menus in restaurants should give the story behind their ingredients and tell where the items came from. “We need to not only make this information available, but promote interest in it as well. People need to start taking a little bit of time to realize where their food came from.”

Kimi also uses her passion for cooking as a way to work toward her goals of conservation and sustainability. “Everyone will find their own way to contribute, but for me cooking is a big part of it. I know it’s a way that I can make a huge difference. I know how to eat the whole animal and can make my food into so many more meals. I think if everyone knew that, sustainability wouldn’t be an issue.”

Photo: DJ Struntz
Photo: DJ Struntz

“Being a close friend of Kimi’s and going out catching and gathering food with her so many times, sharing and having her prepare meals, I get to see it first hand,” describes Mark Healey, North Shore waterman and big wave surfer. “She really practices what she preaches. She uses every single part of any of the ingredients that are sourced and she’s very conscientious about gathering things and not taking too much fish or any kind of one resource.”

Here in Hawai‘i, people spend an incredible amount of time in the water. When summer arrives on the North Shore and the ocean goes flat, many locals grab their masks and fins – sometimes even a spear – and go diving. Whether they’re free diving with the intention of catching dinner, or simply going for a swim to explore the reefs they surf above all winter long, they are enjoying an ecosystem that people like Kimi are working so hard to save.

Like many of us, Kimi feels most at home in the ocean and thus is doing what she can to preserve it. An amazing role model, Kimi lives her dreams and passions, follows her heart and leads by example in the hopes to “spark the inspiration in people to do better things in life, whether it’s being more sustainable, being more conscious about things or just being happier, being more true to yourself.”

When it comes to Kimi, there is much to follow. Whether it’s her opinions on conservation, practice of living out of a sense of gratitude and fulfillment, or just being true to oneself, there is no end to the lessons that can be learned. And maybe, if we begin to follow Kimi’s lead, we can start working toward taking better care of our islands, our ocean and each other.


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