Katherine Donnelly | 07.06.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I aim to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Kimi Werner.

Her Instagram bio probably puts it best: "Freediving Underwater Huntress." But while you'll most likely find this Woman In The Wild deep under the ocean surface, there's much more to her than just playing in the water. Get the full scoop below.

Photo by Mark Kushimi.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Kimi Werner is. 

Kimi Werner: I'm a freediving spearfisherwoman from Hawai‘i. I'm an ambassador for Olukai, Patagonia, Yeti, and a few other great outdoors brands who care for the environment and share the same values. My main passions are foraging food straight from the source and sharing stories that make us all feel connected to this earth and one another!

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Kimi Werner: I grew up in the boonies of Haiku, Maui. My family was poor in my early childhood, but nature always took care of us and provided me with the most magical childhood. So from as far back as I can remember, the outdoors were my passion and provider, and I always knew I wanted to live a life in harmony with it!

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry? 

Kimi Werner: Being a woman of the outdoor industry means that I have a responsibility to take care of the natural world that takes care of all of us. The ocean and outdoors provide me with my fun, food, entertainment and livelihood, so everyday I try my best to examine my choices and make sure that I'm giving back.

OP: What has the outdoors done for you and how do you pay it back?

Kimi Werner: I try to payback the outdoors for all it gives to me by sharing what I learn about some of the global issues that threaten the environment. I also share the beauty and how good it feels to live a life connected to the elements of the wild. I feel that if I can get people to appreciate and care about these places, they will feel motivated to keep them healthy and thriving. I often do fun cooking tutorials and try to reconnect people to where food comes from and the skills of working with sustainable harvest. Many people don't know how to start a garden, forage in the wild, clean a fish or prepare wild game, so I try to share these skills and make it less intimidating.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Kimi Werner: Yvon Chouinard, the owner and founder of Patagonia, Nainoa Thompson, the navigator of the Hokulea, and Jack Johnson, singer and songwriter, all inspire me so much. I admire how they use their platform of fame to shine a light on humanity, the environment, and what we can do to help with global issues. They are all such talented, driven and warm hearted people who have remained humble through their crazy success.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Kimi Werner: Adventure means that you let your curiosity lead you into the unknown and you take the wild turns and lessons that come with it. It will rarely be easy, but you will always grow!

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Kimi Werner: We all can be a badass! "Badass" means that you don't give into the cliche standards of society that try to force you to fit a certain mold. Badass means that you have the courage to listen to your own authentic voice and live accordingly.

OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors? And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same?

Kimi Werner: I worked really hard and hustled a lot. I used to cook, teach art, and paint paintings to earn enough money to pay my bills. Whenever I had extra funds,  I'd save every penny for travel. When I traveled, I explored and documented in any form that I could - writing articles for free, blogging, social media posts - I just really wanted to express my passions and share what I was learning. And when I couldn't afford to travel, I explored my own backyard and did the same. My following grew and I started getting recognition for the work I was doing, and eventually I got paid for it. It not only took a ton of hard work and dedication, but it also took a ton of love. I had to do it for the love alone for many years, so it was my passion that kept me fueled. But it also took learning self-love, and with that, I finally was able to recognize my own value and the worth of what I was doing. That was probably the hardest part: asking to be paid never came easily to me, and honestly, it still doesn't. But if I'm going to preach sustainability, I also have to live an economically sustainable life or, just like the natural world, I'll run out of resources, and the journey of growth and sharing will fall short. So put in your time, do it for the love, build your own worth, and then stand by it!

OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (size, shape, color, sexuality, gender identification, etc.), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?

Kimi Werner: Being a woman to me means that we have certain superpowers. We are intuitive and compassionate by nature - it's how we are designed. I think these can be our biggest strengths because the more we tune into those natural instincts, the stronger they will become. We can use them to guide us and to bond us to sources that are much bigger and more powerful than any one individual. 

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

Kimi Werner: "Don't get mad. Get what you want." Those words were told to me by my friend Shep Gordon, and I can't tell you how much they help me. In the same way that panic in the underwater world can be fatal, reacting to our negative emotions can be just as fatal to our true goals or happiness. So any time things don't go my way or I feel frustrated by an injustice, I think of those words and they immediately take me to a productive place of communication or action that helps me reach my ultimate goal. 

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you? And what can outdoor brands and media companies, such as Outdoor Project, do better to help get us there?

Kimi Werner: In a perfect world, the outdoor industry wouldn't be focused on competition or popular trends but rather on the important values that bond us all.  We would all be trying to work together and live with the belief that if we all strive to take care of this Earth, there will be enough for all of us. It would be great if brands could get inspired by one another and collaborate more towards shared goals rather than dividing and living through the fear of scarcity and comparison. 

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without? 

Kimi Werner: I always try to carry a reusable Yeti water bottle with me and my Keep Wild Co reusable utensil kit. This small action helps me refuse so much single-use plastic on a daily basis, and it is also a great conversation starter for those looking to do the same!

OP: Let’s talk gear - what are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Kimi Werner: Most of the gear I wear is unisex. I'm a 5-foot, 8-inch broad-shouldered woman and usually don't have issues with using unisex gear. But I love having brands that put feminine touches and style on products with function because then I feel empowered and I feel like my true self while doing what I love. I think I own close to every single pair of women's OluKai footwear, and there's just something invigorating about gear that not only works and handles the lava rock, dirt, sand and ocean, but also makes me proud to be a woman!

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received and what’s the story behind it?

Kimi Werner: "When you feel the need to speed up, slow down." This is something that Martin Stepanek said to me when he was mentoring me through a deeper dive. I was just about to swim down to 159 feet on a single breath of air, and he said that to me right as I took my breath. It helped me so much. Every time I felt panic or fear kick in, I realized that I started to kick harder and swim faster. I repeatedly took myself back to his words, and in those moments I made the intentional decision to slow down. All of a sudden, I felt like I had so much more air and so much more time, and I was able to complete my dive safely and with grace. These words have helped me so much in life on land as well. Panic never serves us, so if we just give ourselves a moment to slow down, we usually can see a better way. I also think it's sound advice for how to turn things around with the environmental human-caused issues that are threatening our world.

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Kimi Werner: I just like to think of it as a personal journal of sorts. I try to use words that I really feel inside instead of copying what seems to be the ticket to success. I think that people crave authentic stories, and I try my best to make sure that I am coming from a place of real truth any time I make a post. I mainly try to share my positive thoughts, not because I want to make it look like my life is always perfect but because I think we have more power to make change when we inspire others.

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Kimi Werner: I'm heading to Greece tomorrow! I'm really excited to be on the road and dive in waters that I have never been in before! After that I might do a dive in Tahiti, and in the fall I have an ocean conservation speech to give in Borneo. From there I will do a short production in Papua New Guinea and then go straight to a freediving retreat I am holding in Bali. It's going to be a long time on the road, and I'm trying to mentally prepare for it all. As wonderful as these opportunities are, I also know how taxing they can be on me energetically. In the years to come, I see myself spending a lot more time at home in Hawai‘i.

OP: The title of your autobiography would be...

Kimi Werner: The Masterpiece of Being a Work in Progress.

OP: In your next life, you will come back as... 

Kimi Werner: An iwa bird. A sea bird that eats fish and soars high above in the sky.

OP: Tell us one thing about yourself that no one knows. 

Kimi Werner: My hidden passion is rhyming.  

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be? 

Kimi Werner: You already have everything you need. Just harness and nurture it. 

Learn more about Kimi online and on Instagram, and check out her work as an OluKai ambassador.


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