Sisters Kimi and Christy Werner grew up on the beaches of Maui, exploring the ocean world around them with their father, a spearfisherman who used the ocean as a food source for the family. At the time, the sisters didn’t imagine Kimi would grow up to be a competitive spearfishing champion, or that a day would come where they didn’t spend time in the ocean together.
Kimi returned to her roots and begin competitively freediving in her 20s. Unfortunately, due to ear problems, Christy couldn’t share her sister’s new passion because she couldn’t go to the same depths as Kimi.
One thing the sisters can enjoy together is scuba. Because she has more time to equalize, Christy doesn’t experience the challenges with her ears that she has freediving “I love scuba diving because I can stay underwater for a long time. It allows me to really immerse in the underwater world,” Christy said..
Through one very special scuba diving trip, the sisters reunited with the ocean, reconnected with each other and made new, unforgettable memories. In Christy’s words: “Kimi and I live such different lives, and the ocean was just like, ‘all right, let me just set it up for you, this is something you guys don’t get to do together a lot, let’s just make it really special.”
Read on for behind-the-scenes interviews; learn the special meaning behind the sisters’ manta ray dive and how Kimi may have summoned a tiger shark.
“The minute I mentioned the possibility of a scuba trip together, Christy was just over the moon,” Kimi said. “To me that was a big wake-up call. I haven’t seen her that giddy about something in a long time. The ocean has given me so much, my food every day, my whole career, and where it all started was with my family. I can’t believe I haven’t stopped to slow down and share this experience with the person who’s most important to me.”
For Kimi, big sister Christy is still a role model. “I get recognition for what I do, but Christy is the true hero. She’s a sex-abuse therapist and hears the darkest of the dark stories. She spends every single day being a pillar of support and helping people through hard times. I can’t think of a more selfless thing anyone could do, and yet she doesn’t even see it that way,” Kimi said.
“When she talks about her work she’s not the hero. It’s her patients, her clients; it’s the survivors that are her heroes,” Kimi said. “She always puts everyone else before herself, but I would love to put her first for once.”
“Being underwater with someone is especially bonding because you’re sharing an experience that’s only between the two of you. When you come out of the water, that’s your little secret; that’s your special bond; that’s something that only the two of you went through together and whether you verbalize it or not it’s going to now be ingrained with you and that sensation lasts far beyond the dive.”
The sisters’ PADI® scuba diving adventure started with a ReActivate® scuba refresher. It had only been about two years since I last went scuba diving,” said Christy. “I got pregnant and then had my son and then mom life just took over.”
“I actually walked in thinking I might not need retraining. It was humbling to recognize how much I forgot,” Christy said. “Reactivate was really great because it walked me through all of the basics. The program was well-organized and you build upon skills as you go. I feel like my diving skills from pre-baby improved as well.”
“Anyone who hasn’t been practicing scuba on a regular basis will benefit from being reactivated, because it’s like a language,” Kimi added. “You can study a language in books, you can practice it in a classroom, but if you’re not out there making it second nature to you and speaking fluently all the time, you’re going to forget stuff.”
“You don’t have to do everything all over again, which is really nice. You get instruction on the important things you might have forgotten, so that when you go out there, you feel confident, you feel safe, and you feel ready,” Kimi said.
The Tiger Shark Encounter
“I was with Kimi the first time we both saw a tiger shark when we were little. We were on a 13 foot (4 metre) boat and the tiger shark that came up right next us…and it was bigger than the boat,” Christy said. “And, Kimi’s like, ‘Dad, the reef looks funny.’ And, he’s like, ‘Oh, that’s not a reef, that’s a tiger shark.”
“Kimi has a little gift where, when she’s in the water, you can guarantee that something amazing’s going to happen,” said Christy. During the shoot, there was no shortage of marine encounters to enrich the sisters underwater experience and the tiger shark encounter was one of the most memorable.
“As the ulua (giant trevally) started to come in, this tiger shark appeared, and got curious about what was going on. Then she turned and started to come towards us. My heart started racing and I clenched down on Kimi’s arm. Just kind of absorbing her calm… gave me what I needed to feel safe to really enjoy that experience, just sit there and watch. It was so beautiful,” Christy said.
“When I felt Christy clench my arm, that brought back childhood memories of watching a scary movie with her in the theater,” Kimi said. “But I knew that there was an equal amount of complete delight mixed in with that fear, and the fact that we could experience the height of that moment and the beauty of that moment together. I mean, I honestly, I would have never guessed that was going to happen in our lifetime.”
“People think [tiger sharks are] these crazy, violent man-eating machines, and they’re so not. They’re one of the shiest sharks, in my opinion. For all the time I spend in the ocean, [an encounter like that] has happened, like, twice” Kimi added.
“Some of my favorite memories are of my dad free diving. It was how he provided for us for food, because we were, in my early years, pretty poor,” Christy said. “My sister and I would hold onto a boogie board attached to his stringer and watch him dive down. We learned a lot about fish identification and what fish or sea life we enjoyed eating. To be surrounded by the ocean and have it be such a part of our life was a mix of everything. Playful and fun but also a source of food a connection to something bigger than ourselves.”
“The minute free diving entered my life when I was 24, I knew I had found my destiny,” Kimi said. “I love free diving because it’s my form of meditation. There’s a process of slowing down every single cell in your body because, in order to hold your breath and spend time in the underwater world, you have to take yourself to a place of calm.”
“When you get to the place where you’re neutral and you’re just suspended in this liquid, it’s surreal and therapeutic to feel the support of the whole ocean around you. At first it feels a little uncomfortable. But the more that you welcome it, it just starts to feel like this big underwater hug. I love that feeling. And I love being on the bottom and looking up and stealing glimpses of the sun and its distorted shape as it flickers at you from the surface, always watching over you and calling you home. I mean every dive you feel like you’re going into the unknown and every ascent you just feel like you’re returning a new person,” said Kimi.
The Manta Ray Re-do
Around the age of seven, Christy had an botched opportunity to swim with a manta ray. While out with their dad, one of the girls spotted fin tips on the surface of the water. Christy grabbed her mask and jumped in the water, but when the animal came close, she got scared and climbed back in the boat.
“[The manta] was double her size in wingspan,” Kimi said. “It was her biggest regret for so long and it was something that I always teased her about because I was like ‘Why did you get scared? It’s just like an underwater butterfly. What’s so scary?’ and she was so frustrated with herself because it was a moment that she wanted to last a lot longer than it did,” Kimi said.
The opportunity to dive with manta rays felt like a manta ray re-do for the sisters. “Christy was a manta magnet. When I looked over and saw her, I remembered the story of her being a little kid and getting freaked out by that manta. [During the dive] when the manta would come to her, she would just tilt her head back and just breathe it in, and it just felt like everything has come full circle.”
“There was absolutely no fear for the manta dive, it was complete bliss,” Christy said.
“The mantas…felt like that was the grand finale. To have that experience put things into perspective about what a big, beautiful world and what a big, beautiful ocean this…it felt like the ocean was celebrating the fact that we’re both back in it together,” Kimi added. “I feel like we were raised by the ocean. When we were little and we were poor, when we had really no money, no toys, nothing like that, it was the ocean that took care of us. We didn’t have money, but we had food provided to us by the ocean. Besides our parents, the ocean was our guardian. The ocean was our mother, and I honestly just feel like it was just nodding her head and clapping in delight and saying, ‘Here you go, sisters, go, girls, have the time of your life.”
If you haven’t been in the water for a while, it’s time to ReActivate. Visit the ReActivate page to get started today.
If you would like to book a dive experience like Kimi and Christy’s in Hawaii, visit PADI Travel.