Quote Unquote: What’s Kimi Werner Doing Since Her Great White Shark Experience

A viral video of Kimi Werner’s encounter with a great white shark gave her international fame.
Photo: David Croxford 

Already a sensation for winning the 2008 U.S. National Spear Fishing Championships as a rookie, Maui’s Kimi Werner wasn’t thinking of international fame in 2013 when she swam with a great white shark. After her short film went viral, however, North Shore-based Werner, 35, used the attention to encourage sustainability and advocate for endangered species. She spoke with HONOLULU after premiering her second short film, The Story of an Island, at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain.


I HAD THIS EXPERIENCE with a great white shark. Word got out. Suddenly all these production companies were calling  to make shark shows, would I submit my footage for this commercial, for that one. 


PEOPLE JUST WANTED to oversensationalize it. And to make money. And although I did like the sound of the making money part, I just didn’t want to compromise the experience I’d had. I ended up going to the Patagonia company and said, “Here, guys, you do something with it. I don’t trust other guys to do it.”



“WHY DON’T YOU TELL IT the way you want to?” Patagonia said. “Even we will end up manipulating it.” I’d just met Justin [Purkowski, the video’s editor], there was something there between us, so he came to Hawai‘i and we just put our hearts and souls into making this little 4-minute film, Variables. Patagonia then picked it up and asked me to be a company ambassador.


THEN I GOT A CALL FROM Robinson Crusoe Island. They invited me to go freediving. I explained I was a spearfisherwoman, and do freedive, but never compete for depth. They said, “We know that, we saw your video, that’s why we’re interested in you coming.” It turned out the island was hit by a tsunami and two-thirds of the only town was destroyed and a lot of people killed. The mayor had the idea of having a freediving tournament to reboot the spirit of the community and get them comfortable with the ocean again. 


“It was about overcoming fear. And giving Robinson Crusoe Island credibility as a sport destination.”


FIVE YEARS AGO, when the wave hit, kids were literally ripped out of their parents’ arms. One man, Marcello, was in a truck with his family. Next thing he knew he was in a tree. His wife was swept away and their baby, Isabella, somehow ended up stuck in the branches. 


WE HAD all the champion freedivers, every one a national champion except for me. We talked to the islanders about the problems they face, about trying to boost an economy without compromising their natural resources. The competition really wasn’t the focus. 


ISABELLA DID NOT want to put her face in the water. But very slowly and patiently, by making her feel safe, and making a circle by standing in the shallows, we got all the kids in the water, taking turns lying on their stomachs and kicking. The job of kids in the circle was to push the swimmers along and cheer for them. By the end of the day, Isabella was doing circles and laps within this circle in the ocean. 


Did you know? Part of the Juan Fernández Islands, Robinson Crusoe Island is where Alexander Selkirk, the model for the classic novel, was marooned in 1704.