It’s In the Water

The revival of a Hawaiian tradition gives us even more reasons to love the ocean

Brad Melekian

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To a surfer, a flat ocean is about as useful as a lead board. But to a waterman, every change in conditions brings opportunities for adventure. Surf’s down? Hop in the outrigger for a paddle. Or maybe go spearfish yourself some dinner. The waterman lifestyle an ethos rooted in Hawaiian culture that includes sports like bodysurfing, paddleboarding, and freediving has been enjoying a resurgence of late, from Laird Hamilton crossing the English Channel atop a stand-up paddleboard to teenagers spearfishing in the shallows of Southern California. So how does one earn the title? “The term gets so diluted nowadays,” says Hawaii-reared Brian Keaulana, a pioneer big-wave surfer described in The Encyclopedia of Surfing as the greatest waterman alive. “It’s the lifestyle, not a piece of equipment. It’s anyone who can survive off the ocean and have fun in any condition.” Here are four key skills to help you earn your trident.

“It’s amazing what the ocean can provide,” says Keaulana. “It’s our supermarket.” And the waterman’s preferred shopping method is spearfishing, a term that covers everything from skin diving with a sharpened stick to scuba diving with a trigger-activated harpoon.

GEAR: The most popular tool is a Hawaiian sling, a sort of elongated bow and arrow designed for underwater use ($40;

GET STARTED: Find partners and shop information at

WATCH IT: Fort Bragg, California, will host this year’s U.S. National Spearfishing Championships on August 9 (


Great for building endurance and upper-body strength, paddleboarding involves lying prone or kneeling on a canoe-length board and stroking with your hands until your lats burn. “No cell phones, no babies crying,” says Jamie Mitchell, five-time winner of the Quiksilveredition Molokai to Oahu, the sport’s premier race. “Just you and the ocean.”

GEAR: The boards look like ocean kayaks without sides and range from 12 to 18-plus feet shorter for maneuverability, longer for distance. The 14-footer from Joe Bark is a great all-around board ($1,700;

GET STARTED: Go to or to find events around the country.

WATCH IT: The 32-mile Molokai to Oahu race takes place July 29 (


“You pretty much never have a bad time when you go bodysurfing,” says pro surfer Dan Malloy. “Just throw on your trunks and jump in the water.” It’s also the only way to get overhead surf in two-foot waves.

GEAR: If you can swim, you can bodysurf, though fins definitely help with catching waves and with swimming back out for the next set. Try Voit’s Duck Feet ($30;

GET STARTED: Head out at a break where you’re comfortable with the currents and bottom contour, wait for a wave, and start swimming.

WATCH IT: The World Bodysurfing Championships take place every August in Oceanside, California (


Though the materials have changed, outrigger design a main boat hull with a parallel stabilizing arm, called an ama has remained the same since Polynesians first paddled to Hawaii 1,600 years ago. “You think of that when you’re on the water,” says Hawaii lifeguard Guy Pere. “If I throw a handline out and catch a fish, I think, Some guy probably sat in this bay hundreds of years ago doing the same thing.”

GEAR: Outriggers generally range from one- to six-person models. If you can’t talk your friends into joining you, try the one-man Hurricane OC1 ($2,950;

GET STARTED: Check for a list of clubs from Dallas to Hong Kong.

WATCH IT: The 31st annual Outrigger World Championships will take place on May 20 in Molokai (