It’s a little known fact, the fast track way to achieve some vague semblance of waterman status, is to invest in a Rolex or Omega dive-timepiece. Indeed the number of waterman you might see on any given day in any metropolis far, far away from ocean shores, simply defies probability as to how these gentleman buyers find the time to work the hours required for the buy-in price and the time to hone their water skills and the number is growing daily.
Frankly, many look unsuited to their timepiece or certainly not what you may think represents the demographic of its namesake, but looks I guess can be deceiving. On the other hand, a Rolex goes hand in hand with luxury yacht ownership (indeed boating of any type) and monetary milestones, which can certainly preclude you from having to be able to swim. But in all seriousness, what’s it all about; men who can barely tread-water wearing beautiful time pieces that shout out, “I am Ocean-Man” or sentiments to that effect, or are they simply, James Bond wannabes.
Confusing is it not, but imagine the indignation of being rescued by a Bondi Beach Lifeguard on account of being clueless on the one hand, with a Rolex Submariner on the other? Drowning may be the better option to avoid the whole sordid, embarrassing, scenario in the first place, but therein lies the dilemma, ‘Waterman drowns in rip at Bondi,’ it could happen to anyone and it does, though anecdotally, it’s in the same league as the fairer sex wearing a padded bra, because when things gets real, the truth wins out.
THE WANT FOR ASSOCIATION WITH THE OCEAN
What this exposes however, is a genuine want, to have an association with the ocean on the part of many hundreds of thousands of non-water orientated watch wearers, no doubt victims of good marketing and it’s very probably easier to fathom than the very definition of what a waterman is. Whatever the motivation, the idea of it is highly appealing, alluding to a man of adventure, derring-do, a three day growth, dashing good looks and certainly a hint, or bucket-loads of monetary success; of course if it’s a fake, then we really do have a problem.
The truth of the matter however, is that many genuine waterman and women; whatever that may be, very probably place little importance on expensive timepieces and most could not afford, or would choose not to afford, the price tag of the aforementioned in any case.
Sun comes up, sun goes down and their natural bio-rhythms are so dialled into the natural rotation of the earth, the phases of the moon, the rise and fall of the tides and the behaviour of wind and water, that a watch is a mere exercise in futility. They live in T-shirts, board shorts and flip flops, not Armani Suits and if anything, most are your digital watch-type wearers, which can facilitate interval training alarms, speed over ground, distance travelled and so on and it must of course be water proof.
THE WATERMAN (or women)
Getting back on track, there are so many issues with the term waterman, it’s frankly tedious to have to deconstruct this presumably Americentric claptrap ideology backwards into its component parts in order to begin to make any sense with respect to its non-sense.
I blame Hawaii, for it is here that we see a polarised view of all things water orientated and where the term waterman, is as over used to the point of dilution as the Hawaiian word aloha, bastardised and commercialised to the edge of oblivion and annoyance, not to mention disrespect for its true meaning.
Numerous articles and forum posts have been made in respect of what a waterman is, should be, could be, might be and it certainly appears to be an exclusive membership, demanding rights of passage, clearly elitist biased and peer group centred. It may just be, that what I can offer in this missive, may indeed make you feel closer to being one, than you thought possible. What is certain, the notion of a waterman, is certainly a valid one, as legitimate as the existence of a plumber or electrician, the issue however, is what type of plumber, electrician or waterman.
The fact of the matter is, waterman and women come in many differing forms and they are not in any way as narrow a notion as some factions would have us believe, for it is neither (or need be) exclusive, elitist or based upon hall of fame status, more’s the point, it is largely a state of mind and how you choose to live your life.
The dictionary defines a waterman, as someone who makes a living on the water, usually by way of being a boatman, fisherman, ferry boat captain and so on and in no way does it make reference to board sports or any other such pursuit, let alone swimming.
THE WATERMAN JURY
A waterman, in any other frame of reference, is a contemporary, idiosyncratic concept, manifested from a sub-culture of hero worshipping groupies, who make clear, a waterman in their frame of reference, cannot call themselves a waterman, being as the title may not be self appointed.
Ultimately, it is bestowed upon the deemed-worthy, by lesser wannabe waterman or sentiments to this effect. What makes them qualified to pass judgement is dubious if their frame of reference is only surfing, which makes them a surfer of course, but not a waterman by default. Of course a waterman could validate another waterman, but could never him or herself, self elect. It’s a tricky process as you can imagine given this caveat.
This being the case, let us address the elephant in the room, that of surfing. The historical perspective of surfing is as much about hype, ego and consumerism as it is anything else, to which end according to those who surf, if you don’t, you could never a waterman make?
This is of course news to those ancient and not so ancient cultures who have relied upon the ocean for all manner of existence, whether on it, in it or under it, which immediately tells us that the entire premise of the waterman is of course a contemporary manifestation of someone who has failed to acknowledge the existence of mankind's relationship with the ocean before the advent of contemporary surfing. Their is some hope however.
THE ORIGINAL WATERMAN (WATERPEOPLE) WERE NOT SURFERS
"That surfing stems from a nautically-based culture with a legend-filled history of outstanding waterman is undeniable. The first surfers were waterman who initially became noted for their finesse with outrigger and double hulled canoes before taking to mere slabs of wood. Very possibly, these island fishermen first envisioned a more recreational use for waves when they used them as the fastest means for getting their canoes over the coral reefs and on to the beach with their catch. At some undefined stage, catching waves developed from being part of the everyday working skill of the fisherman to being a sport. Instead of work it became play. This change revolutionized surfing." NorthEast Surfing 2017
There's some clarity in this, but erroneous to call it a sport when in fact it was a recreational pastime. Canoe racing was indeed an ancient sport practiced in Samoa, Tonga and elsewhere in various ancient Island Kingdoms and betting was common. It was left to Europeans to morph surfing into a sport, into competition, commercialism and consumerism.
Ironic is it not, how far the fruit has fallen from the tree, so that today surfers and most all factions of its narcissistic community, want to turn this around, so as contemporary exponents of the art of outrigger canoeing in all its forms, including canoe sailing and surfing, a skill often required to negotiate safe passage back to shore, are NOT waterman without the prerequisite of being able to surf to elite level, which from an evolutionary perspective aims to turn history on its head? This is nothing short of a collision of arrogance meets ignorance.
So there you have it, my first sand kick in the face of surfing; you do not have to be a surfer to be a waterman, because if you believe in this caveat, then you also believe, that before the contemporary existence of surfing, along with Billabong, Rip Curl, Quicksilver, Surfers Journal or Sex Wax, there were no waterman, period, lending gravitas to the often jingoistic nature of the surfing mind-set.
Surfing, but not as you might know it or want it to be.
THE FIRST WATERMAN WERE NOT POLYNESIAN
This may burst romantic notions of the Pacific, but its important also to grasp the reality that ancient Hawaiians did not in fact invent surfing, as dished out by myopic surfing journalists, who care only for the mythology and not for the facts, when it is clear that West Africans for example, were surfing in one form or another, well before Hawaii was discovered.
Off the coast of western Africa , “in areas of Senegal , the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Near Dakar, Senegal,” wrote Finney and Houston, “… African youths and young fishermen regularly body-surf, ride body-boards and catch waves while standing erect on boards about six feet long. These Atlantic skills seem in no way connected with the Pacific, either historically or prehistorically. Evidently, it’s an old pastime in west Africa; young Africans were seen riding waves while lying prone on light wooden planks as long ago as 1838, long before surfing began to spread from Hawaii.”
1838 is a very abstract number when you gather that at around 600BCE the first Phoenicians circumnavigated Africa and that West African human settlement has existed since around 12,000 BCE. But of course, if a European did not note it, it didn't exist.
Magazines and media are content to ignore extraneous and pertinent facts surrounding the very roots of surfing, because it is now so heavily engrained, entrenched and burnt into the consciousness of us all that it manifested from the mythological tropical islands of the Pacific, that to change tangent now would be a PR disaster of epic proportions.
Free-surfing may be attributed to Polynesians or at least the Western Pacific, but fisherman in their dugout canoes in West Africa, paddling through Atlantic surf, formed the basis of a coastal canoeing / surfing culture, thousands of years older than island settlement of the Pacific - not an unimportant fact overlooked in usual Euro / Americentric fashion.
There is simply no getting around the mindset of many surfing historians, who have a pathological want to make it so that surfing in any form, originated in Polynesia and that the first internalised sensation of the 'stoke' (hopupu) was first felt by a Polynesian turning it from a survival based skill into a recreation. This is akin to proclaiming that a Polynesian discovered the first pleasurable orgasm, because up until this point in the history of mankind, humans had only shagged each other for the purposes of procreation?
CONTEMPORARY VIEWPOINTS REMAIN TRANSFIXED WITH SURFING AS THE ONLY RELEVANT PREREQUISITE
Paul Holmes for Surfline on-line, produced a narrative, entitled ‘What is a Waterman’ and did the blindingly obvious, ‘ . . . polling more than a dozen pillars of the surfing community,’ which is a noble start point, but should not be the end point when you further go on to pen out a list of 45 mostly American, all male line up, which apologetically states, ‘This list was culled from the input of our panel of experts. It is no way intended to be comprehensive; the names are merely a few exemplars from a century of surfing in the waterman tradition.’
Of course the list is an exercise in futility, more especially when tagged with a disclaimer in advance of its revelation and it further informs us that waterman have only existed for a century and qualification, is relevant only in respect of ‘surfing in the waterman tradition’.
If these guys don't free-surf it makes no difference in the grand scheme of the debate of qualification for waterman status. Ironically and brace yourself, surfing is relatively easy when compared to many other ocean related board and paddle sports, it's kinda why so many do it, a bit like wanting to become a musician and choosing the guitar from all the instruments available, because compared to any number of possibilities, its relatively easy and can fast track you to musician status, even if you only learn 5 chords and cannot read music.
Outrigger canoeing does not offer a quick-fix or rush, so much as it offers total immersion in doing the hard yards and learning a multitude of related skills beyond nurturing fitness, friendships, team work and more besides. If you are looking for what 'aloha spirit' may even come close to meaning, this is where you can find it in spades. Mutual respect and co-operation is required for success unlike surfing which by nature is all about the individual. Kelly Slater once famously told Jamie Mitchell, he could never do what Jamie has done as it's just too damn hard, which tells you something about distance prone paddleboarding and how hardcore it can be.
Pointing this out of course, is akin to a fly hitting a car windshield; there it was, happy in its little world floating around, then ‘boom’ the last thing it sees, is its arse flying through its head, or the other way round, depending on its orientation at the time of impact, because out of no where, reality smashes it to pieces. No matter how worthy the individuals are, it further presupposes all so called waterman compete, are heavily sponsored are endorsed to one degree or another and at the very least are fringe-benefitting in one form or another.
ONLY THOSE IN THE MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ARE WORTHY OF WATERMAN STATUS
This begs the question, if you’re not in the media spotlight, you clearly don’t exist within the framework of rhetoric pumped out by the media, which means all other skilled waterman, from the coastal regions of Africa to the Marquesas Islands, are in effect irrelevant, benign and unworthy; especially if they do not surf.
A list therefore, is about as baseless as a beauty pageant.
So the caveat here is, take the blinkers off and begin to see the big picture, because believe it or not, there are individuals in far reaches of the world, who can doubtless do a dozen thing better than Laird when it comes to ocean related skills; the fly just hit the windshield for the second time.
In fairness, some good things came out the article, but in a bitter sweet way, the writer could not resist in further stating, ‘Beyond a passion for surfing (because he believes as many do, that this is the primary pre-requisite for waterman status) all waterman should have great ocean skills . . . be great swimmers most importantly, but also be an outrigger canoe paddler, paddle boarder, Dory rower, sailor or sailboarder . . . they (waterman) attached little importance to SUPs role within the waterman ethos. Bodysurfing, free-diving, spearfishing, lifesaving skills.’ All very confusing, 'Dory rower . . .' really? Kite surfing gets no mention and rarely does in the waterman context.
This is a big list which can be expanded upon, beyond the caveat, ‘Thou shalt be a surfer first and foremost or forevermore be cast into damnation of mediocrity and fraudulence.’ How about this sentence beginning, ‘Beyond being an excellent ocean swimmer with a love of being in water . . . ‘
SUP SHOOK THE DUST INTO THE AIR AND CAUSED CONFUSION IN THE RANKS OF THE WATERMAN COMMUNITY
Universally, from the Pacific Rim boundaries of Australia to the Californian coastline and common to all islands in between and to the far reaches of coastlines way beyond, water sports are omnipresent and as varied as the notion of the waterman ethos itself.
Since the contemporary development of stand up paddleboarding, the idea of the waterman gained new attention and brought into focus, evolutionary pathways and attention to novel end-user ideas spawned from existing skills, drawn from other water sports.
Ironically, SUP is on the fringes of waterman accreditation and this is due in part to its youth and yet as pre-pubescent as it is, the SUP soothe-sayers immediately wanted to add SUP to the list in the great tradition of Hawaiian waterman activities and the Olympics, naturally.
Dipping the quill in the ink of knowledge, new ideas and designs have been drawn out and with it a rebirth of interest towards that of more traditional sports, such as that of prone paddle boarding, made popular by Tom Blake in the mid 1920s and ocean swimming, two closely linked sports on the evolutionary tree. For all the attention and debate it has manifested regarding waterman status, the definition remains universally unclear.
One thing is certain, if your focus is upon one sport and one skill set, say surfing, SUP or prone paddle boarding and little else, this does not a waterman make . . .
THE IMPORTANCE OF SWIMMING AND THE NEED TO FREE YOUR MINDSET
The fundament of being a waterman must obviously be born from a love of ocean swimming, for without this basic pre-requisite all else seems to be folly, or at least an accident waiting to happen. Winston Churchill, expressed that of all the virtues one could possess, courage was the most important, because without it, you could not possibly meet the needs of the others. Swimming could therefore be considered the mantle from which waterman and women evolve.
Of course, cold water swimming may be problematic, but the waterman must love being in, on and underwater in one form or another. It’s not enough to simply be on it, for there is no greater sense of being in touch with the very liquid we speak of when fully immersed within, which by default may well make it the start point of this contemporary construct.
If you are averse to being wet, being in water, then it would seem implicit you could never a waterman make. It is the essence from which you must embrace and love. It should set in motion cetacean-like senses and awaken child-like playfulness in being immersed, free and weightless. If you see no value in this, derive no pleasure and feel uncomfortable in its embrace, then you are already at the antithesis of the waterman ethos.
Of all the water sports we could and do associate with that of the waterman, while surfing gets the most attention, it has to be said, 'some' surfers, like it or not, represent narrow-minded individuals in the context of water sports participants; polarised and blinkered, hateful of other sports which dare shred their precious break in no doubt some localised tribal microcosm of the world they live in.
On reflection, SUP may not be embraced within the waterman community on account of the hatred spurned against SUP surfers in particular by free-surfers who have a hatred of any other object in the line up, other than a free-surfer and even then, if you’re not a local, they may well objectify and object to that person by why of tribal necessity.
The reality is, SUP done well and to extremes in any context, is not easy, embracing a rare mix of skills which waterman would usually admire and aspire too, but on the face of it, it is easier to reject it to avoid having to learn or try something new and be seen as a kook all over again.
This is not the expected mindset or actions of a waterman, indeed it is the antithesis of all that a waterman should be. The waterman is open minded, accepting and loving of other water sports embraced within the spiritual family of sports beyond that of swimming.
GEOGRAPHY SETS APART DIFFERING QUANTIFIERS AS TO WHAT A WATERMAN MIGHT BE IN ANY PARTICULAR PART OF THE WORLD
Geographical and cultural differences around the globe, determine what a waterman might be, specific to that region. It is also reasonable to say, the very idea of the waterman, very probably grew out of the Pacific and therefore with it, the sports which are omnipresent in these differing Pacific regions, give us a clue as to which sports represent a reasonable quiver of interest to arrive at what a waterman is in this part of the world. But in saying this, the use of the word sport, may well be muddying the waters.
HEDONISTIC PLEASURE VERSUS UTILITARIAN NEED AND IT'S RELEVANCE TO WATERMAN STATUS
If you want to attempt to bring relevance to the waterman debate, one thing often over looked is that of a utilitarian need to have a set of skill sets related to survival or transmigration as against, hedonistic pleasure seeking. Not sure what this means? Consider ocean swimming, prone paddle boarding, surfing and spearfishing. Of these, surfing is the most indulgent and almost perfunctory, while the others can be perceived as a more utilitarian requirement for survival and for life and living an island culture existence.
Outrigger canoeing would indeed be relevant as a cultural choice in the context of the Pacific Islands and indeed originally born of a utilitarian need. Ocean surf ski, is a relatively new concept and highly specialised, with origins back to Australia in the early 1900s and South Africa in the 1970s, but as far back to Peru some 2500 years ago and the Caballitos de Totora if you want to really get into it.
SUP is universally doable by many, but its conceptual origins are ancient if you acknowledge the paddling skills of Congolese fisherman or tribes of Papua New Guinea and there are sailing skills, in harnessing the wind; this is how thousands of islands were settled, in canoes of differing forms and yet the waterman is rarely expected to know how to rig, sail or steer a sailing canoe let alone paddle a rudderless va’a. And what of the lifeguard and the skill-sets they use to save and rescue.
THE ABILITY TO DESIGN AND CREATE
Taken further, it could be said, a waterman may also be an artisan, capable of designing as an expression of their intimate knowledge of the interaction between that of their craft and water. The pioneering spirit demands innovation of skills sets, experimentation with design concepts and an ability to interpret nuances of design in relation to interaction with the water. If you lack this perception, it would seem implicit that where equipment is used, you are by default detached from it and not a part of it.
IN TOUCH WITH THE ELEMENTS AND THE NATURAL WORLD
Naturally, being in tune with nature’s rhythm, ocean dynamics, the phases of the moon, the behaviour of marine and bird life and much more besides, are all essential elements to study and gain intuitive knowledge of, thereby safe guarding your activities. Whether self taught, or gained by tribal dissemination of such knowledge, there is of course no substitute for time spent doing what you love, to gain such knowledge. Getting it wrong can of course be costly.
BROADENING THE PERSPECTIVE
The point being, it is safe to say, the idea we already have of what a waterman is or should be, is already too narrow a perspective and doubtless Americentric in meaning and context. It is therefore fundamentally flawed, because of all that a Polynesian, Melanesian or Micronesian waterman may have been within the Pacific, it is a far cry from what the media hype on about in misguided tones as to what a waterman is, so far as they perceive it.
A waterman by definition and default, must feel comfortable in swimming in breaking waves, negotiating reef passes on a wide variety of craft and the thundering rollers which may be closing out around them. They posses nerve, poise and confidence in such waters and are certainly comfortable in a rough ocean. The point being and by comparison, the actual act of free-surfing on a board, is of course sport-specific and an indulgence, when not a factor of utilitarian need and survival perhaps associated with a hunter gatherer existence.
Consider if you will, The Ultimate Waterman, The Waterman Festival, The Waterman League, all events which draw upon the waterman ethos and ideal. The use of the very term, is intended to evoke an emotive response, the meeting of demigods in an aquatic clash of the titans.
Of these events, The Waterman League (Group) is the most perplexing, their mission statement reading, ‘Our mission is to represent the global world of Ocean Sports as a unified collective and to revolutionise the connection between its cultural dynamic and a mainstream audience . . .’ Impressive and confusing sentiments when their primary focus is as they like to call it, Paddlesurfing, ' . . . also known as Stand Up Paddling,' and that's a direct quote from their literature, which assumes they have a conflict over the nomenclature, which is an interesting stance and probably a more punchy a term for their means and ends- and where 'cultural dynamic' comes into it, I am yet to find it or even understand what it means?
Further to this, their definition of the term waterman, ' . . . refers to versatile athletes who can engage in various forms of water sports at the highest level,' which is about a vague a statement as you could construct, akin to seeing your GP when you're unwell, only to have them concur you are indeed unwell, without giving any specifics, whereas a specialist may cast some light on your malaise; so the question is, if they are in fact specialists, should we not expect something with a little more potency?
Jamie Mitchell’s, Waterman Festival, embraces swimming, prone and SUP (no Surfing) and as a genuine waterman himself, his vision and credentials speak for themselves and while the event is unashamedly connected to the Quicksilver Waterman Collection, the format of the races in knockout format, ticks many boxes and creates for great spectator viewing and it is indeed open to all comers of any level.
The Ultimate Waterman is somewhat surfing obsessed and includes; Big Wave Paddle-in Surfing, Longboard and Shortboard Surfing and SUP Surfing; three differing free-surfing disciplines including SUP Surfing (or Paddlesurfing as the Waterman League like to call it) before consideration of any other form of water sport skill. SUP Distance (15km), Underwater Strength Run in a 25m indoor pool, consisting of running along the bottom of a swimming pool carrying a weight in the time honoured tradition of something which is not even a sport, let alone a tradition, followed by swimming back over the 25m distance and lastly Prone Paddleboarding (1.5km course x 3 laps).
The whole underwater running thing in a 25m pool and swimming back over the same distance, is basically a fitness test, more than a measure of water related skills, but it seems to offer them a sense of ticking the waterman status box. I would imagine someone from the local Under Water Hockey Club could do this better than most, but I digress.
WATERMAN TAHITI TOUR, IRONMANA AND CANOE SAILING
Imagine therefore if you will, a waterman event with a difference, open to all comers simply willing to pit themselves against themselves, against the elements, against uncertainty, an event which hits home hard in respect of authenticity, staged far from Americana, set in the remote beauty of Tahiti and her islands, taking in Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora.
Created by Stephan Lambert, the concept is simple enough, but it is the venue in which it is served up and the tossed-salad format which makes it uniquely special to all other waterman styled events and the survival based nature of the challenges which make it full-bore-core and not a token offering. It is what the SAS is to the Cub Scouts.
Further to this, it explores the very idea that a waterman must be an adventurer, a trailblazer, in a state of constant pioneering metamorphosis and that it is not satisfactory to be in a transitory state, but to exist in a rich prism of opportunity and readiness and in this context, the Waterman Tahiti Tour (WTT) offers exactly this, culminating at the end of the year with the Holopuni Va’a (Canoe Sailing Race) covering the 375km Channel Crossing from Tahiti to Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa finishing on Bora Bora, followed by the Ironmana Liquid Festival a four day mind-bending torture test of flesh and bone, muscle and mind, signifying the final event of the six events, in the majestic waters of Bora Bora’s lagoon.
Originally from France, Lambert’s life story begins in being born into a life of professional tennis, his father, Alain, coach to many tennis champions including, Guy Forget, Yannick Noah and trainer for the French David Cup Team. A life as a pro-tennis player was always on the cards as a natural player of the game himself and when at the ripe age of only 16 he visited Hawaii to play an exhibition game, a fixation for the colours of the ocean, the fragrances, warmth and potential as a giant playground, spun him off in a new direction and his attention span for tennis waned.
Meeting with local surfers and outrigger canoeists, it did not take long before the wanderlust set in, setting him on a life oceanic and within five years he was back living in Hawaii and in 1994 found himself in Tahiti falling for its obvious charms.
Tahiti and her islands hold a fascination for many and after greater than ten trips here in working with Tahiti Tourism in promoting sport in the islands and more specifically outrigger canoe racing (Va’a Hoe and Va’a Ono) I, like many, have developed a love affair for this unique part of the world.
While Hawaii loves to steal the limelight, bolstered by a few over-zealous chest beating rock-apes who have rarely left the comfort of their local break, let alone travelled anywhere requiring a passport, the fact of the matter remains, Tahiti and her islands, atolls and archipelagos, are home to purist in the art, form, function and personification of the mythological waterman status, for in these islands, they bring substance to the meaning and all without fanfare or nonsense, ego or other intention other than emulating the footsteps of their ancestors and that’s not to say they do not exist elsewhere.
In 1999, Lambert organised the 1st Edition of the Ironmana (‘mana’ meaning life-force / energy) which involved a 30km/18m) Va’a Hoe (rudderless traditional solo outrigger canoe) race within the lagoon waters of Bora Bora. The distance increased up to 60km/37m) over time and from a one day event, it now embraces four days and a mixed box of aquatic challenges, including ocean swimming, prone paddle boarding, stand up paddle boarding and canoe sailing, using Hawaiian styled double outrigger Holopuni sailing canoes, replicating a traditional form of seafaring craft omnipresent throughout ancient Polynesia and various variants throughout Oceania.
It is the canoe sailing component, which emphatically separates this waterman event from all other wanna be waterman events. More powerful or relevant than surfing, this is as real as it gets, testing a prism of skill sets and character attributes, replicating an ancient maritime Polynesian transmigratory act, incorporating the use of a craft, considered the space craft of its time in terms of their footprint in history, being a defining factor in the context of settlement of the islands of Oceania, the first of many waterman before the advent of surfing.
In 2014 the concept was expanded to create a series of lead up events throughout the islands, named the Waterman Tahiti Tour, a progressive series of challenging events. In Lambert’s experience, ‘One must always do more than the previous year. There is a greed for effort plus reward which equals pleasure.’ Added to this the philosophy enshrined in his beliefs include the adage, ‘ . . . always exceed your limits and don’t worry about your adversaries. Expect nothing, be ready for anything,’ a metaphor for life, if ever there was.
Indeed Lambert’s own life has necessitated this mindset as a coping strategy as a result of an unexpected change in his own circumstances, which taught him consistency, certainty, security indeed health, are never a guarantee and that ultimately self-reliance is of course the fundamental basis of survival, even over and above the support of others.
This reverberates back to something presented earlier, that original waterman skills where not born out of hedonistic pleasure seeking but indeed from the simple premise of survival, of transmigration, food gathering and trade. Our very idea of what a waterman should be, is undeniably fabricated largely out of magazine imagery, jingoistic journalism and some brand investors unwittingly supporting all that they know nothing of.
In every sense, when you meet the man and converse with him as I was fortunate to do so as we swung at anchor late at night, moored out in the islands, it is clear he has developed a clear philosophical vision of what his events represent and what they offer to those who sign up for the challenge. Above all, ‘attitude’ he believes is the primary quality that will pull you though the challenges confronting you.
Of all the challenges served up by the WTT events in this unique setting, the one least expected, is the unexpected and the way this is achieved, is to avoid committing to an actual schedule of events; all you know is, on some days you will be swimming, prone paddling, stand up paddling or a mix of all three with some beach running thrown in. Of all the challenges, this mental anxiety at times challenges the regimental doctrine of many athletes.
Perhaps it is the often times, survival based nature of Lambert’s WTT events, which brings kudos and authenticity, where self reliance is blended with physicality, innate knowledge and overcoming the seemingly impossible in circumstances which you could not specifically train for per se, but nevertheless, the challenge is given you and delivered in dry tones by Lambert, which gives no quarter, other than ‘It’s only a problem if you let be one . . . ‘ in this context failure is not an option, because if it were, you may indeed perish.
Famously, one of the three day WTT events on the coral atoll of Rangiroa, demanded limited water and no food, other than what you could forage, catch or beg for; a 30km SUP course, an 8hr SUP paddle, a SUP, prone, swim combo and a lengthy swim. Competitors may have been in paradise, but they were doing time in hell, as they endured hunger, thirst, physical and mental torment, so as indeed the notion of racing was secondary to the reality of surviving.
What this provides, is a brief taste of the rawness and extent of mental will power that would have been endured by the very earliest waterman, those earlier pioneering, colonising, maritime transmigratory giants of the Pacific, the Polynesians and of course, those who share a close lineage from Melanesia and Micronesia and further back in time to Indonesia and other parts of South East Asia, India, Africa and every coastal culture in between.
For those in late November, early December, who endured the 2016, 375km Holopuni Va'a Channel Crossing from Tahiti to Bora Bora and went on to compete in the now infamous Ironmana, their test was far from over and with only a few relative hours of rest, the next few days would take in nearly 50km of stand up paddling, 15km of swimming, 35km of prone paddling, running along open beaches and enduring tests of endurance upon the mind and body that humbled even the best of them to the point of making the ego secondary to the need to simply finish.
By any measure by which luminaries, groups, organisations or wannabe's wish to define a waterman by, the big picture here, is that those who took part were unquestionably waterpeople, people with a genuine love of water, whether in it, on it or under it, which by default makes them a waterperson and that is surely good enough to qualify as a waterman or women in the absence of having to attain a subjective level of approval and achievement by an equally subjective jury.
Even though there were victors, there were certainly no losers and by the end, there was only camaraderie and a sense of togetherness and the collective mindset that each competitor had given their all and that age, race, or ability was not the greatest underlying difference between them, but indeed the unity and humility in having endured and shared a life altering experience, in a place on earth, that's almost not of this world, in being one of the most surreal geographical spots on this planet, if not the greatest waters on earth in which to truly feel as if you are indeed born of water, for if indeed there was an Planet called Ocean, this is most probably what it would look like.
All island people of the Pacific can trace their lineage back as a result of one great canoe journey. The very idea that they were not waterman and that somehow entitlement belongs today only to a singular niche interest group who free-surf, is ludicrous, baseless and unworthy of agreeance, even surely by the reckoning of some hall of fame waterman.
One thing’s for sure, even the great Duke Kahanamoku would I am sure embraced the idea that swimming must first and foremost be a requirement for entry to waterman status, melded with a love of the ocean and for the creatures in it and that surfing per-se, is something you can choose or not choose to do on account of there being such an abundance of other water pursuits, skills and interests which by default would earn you waterman status in the same way as that of a horseman, mountain man or spaceman, of which the Polynesian voyagers where indeed of that same ilk.