"I am a waterman," he proclaimed. This after regaling me with tales of waves ridden, depths descended, and races won. All of this would have been fine with me, if he had simply not had the hubris to call himself a waterman.
Prior to the digital age, one rarely heard anyone refer to themselves as a waterman. The title of waterman was something bestowed upon an individual by others, not something one called oneself. It is as if self-promotion on social media has become as intoxicating as the act itself. I must imagine, low on the list of things on Greg Noll's mind as he stared out at those massive Waimea Bay waves and contemplated paddling out and surfing one of those giants for the first time ever, was if anyone had a camera. The promise of Instagram fame is a great motivator but it is not why true waterman do what they do.
The dictionary definition of waterman, is a person who earns their living from the sea. Like a fisherman. The Urban definition of a waterman is a water athlete who is adept at many ocean related activities, which to some degree describes the childhood of anyone who grew up in Hawaii with the ocean as their playground. Growing up in Hawaii, I never heard anyone refer to themselves as a waterman. For that matter, I never heard anyone proclaim they were a surfer, a diver, or a fisherman. That would be redundant as all of us were doing the same stuff. You give almost any kid from Hawaii a sharp stick and they are going to come home with a seafood feast. Waterman, used to describe a person who participates in a variety of ocean sports, is not much of an acclaim from this frame of reference.
As I mentioned, IMO, waterman is a term bestowed upon an ocean athlete by esteemed peers. A true waterman or waterwoman, is an expert. A true waterman borders on the supernatural. An icon who inspires action in others. Like when lifeguards Brian Keaulana and Craig Davidson charged into the "Moi Hole" on their jet ski to rescue a floundering tourist trap by the high surf at the back of the cave. Or freediver Terry Maas spearing and landing unassisted, a 398 pound Bluefin Tuna in the very sharky waters of Guadalupe Island. Participation is not a sufficient qualifier.
All this being said, I would like to congratulate my friends Jim and John Foti as inductees into the 2017 Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame. Two kids from Lanikai, who do what children from Hawaii do.
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