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Becoming a Waterman

This was originally written in January of 2018.

Growing up, I have always loved playing and exploring water environments. The stream that ran thru the forest behind my childhood home, the lake that we would visit during the hot summer months, and the town pool where I spent much of my childhood and teenage years training for swimming competitions. Water is such a surreal and strange substance, and without it, life as we know it would not be possible.

Water does not behave like other substances. It’s solid form is less dense then it’s liquid one, which is something most people take for granted. If it followed the behaviour of other substances, our waterways would freeze from the bottom up. Fish and most aquatic life would perish, and it would take a much longer time to thaw out.

Since water's temperature range in liquid form is suitable for us, we are able to use it for our nourishment, travel, and most importantly play. Humans will never be able to fly, and the closest we’ve gotten with wing suits is still just controlled falling. Water on the other hand, can provide you with such a free feeling of floating and gliding that birds so casually demonstrate for us.

Shek O Beach during Typhoon in 2017

A term that has resprung up over the past decade or so that has really grabbed my attention is that of Waterman/woman. I first recall hearing it to describe several professional surfers, and all I could think of at the time was: how do you get that distinction? And I want to be a waterman!

It's recent use comes up in water sports films, brand advertising, and a variety of interviews, articles, and online social platforms. The older use of the word was just to describe someone who made their living via the water, such as fishing or sailing, or an individual that was a very skilled oarsman/woman. Brad Melekian provides quite a colourful overview of the current use and vagaries around this title. (

Regardless of the lack of criteria or defining features, I set out on the personal quest to become a waterman, hoping at some point along the way it would come more into focus.

Port Shelter Downwinder September 2017

I have spent and continue to spend a lot of time out on the water. It's almost every day in all types of weather. Sometimes it is several times a day or extended days. I guide and train people in canoeing, kayaking, sailing, and stand up paddling. I pursue these personally for play as well as compete. I am a Team Rider for Aztron Sports, and I have presented at symposiums on water sports. Yet, I still don't really feel any closer to this title then when I first set out.

What I have realised is that there is a foundational error in my pursuit. I was viewing this whole distinction in the way that you may receive a medal or certificate and get a slap on the back with everyone saying, "hey you've made it!" I have now realised it's not about how many different water sports you can do, or how great you are at them. It's not about how often you spend time out on the water, and it's not even really about a lifestyle. It's a bit more deep then that.

South China Sea Offshore Sailing April 2018

From what I've come to understand from my experiences and encounters with people, it relates to the values and behaviours of the person regarding their interaction with all things involved in the watery realms. This makes it become an ongoing process as opposed to a destination, and that process is ultimately never finished. It is something that can become just within reach but is always slightly beyond your grasp. In many ways the process of becoming a waterman is embodying a set of ethics.

I have made some ground in knowing how to become a waterman, while at the same time making it more ambiguous and unattainable. Even with this in mind, I will still continue my pursuit to become a waterman, knowing that the process is the key element. I hope that my actions and behaviours will reflect the admirable traits of water:

  • Patience and moderation from its tranquility

  • Strength and power from its waves and currents

  • Generosity from its bounty and life

  • Contentment and humility from its path of least resistance

Glancing back up at these traits, it makes me wonder why myself and so many others feel a deep admiration and calling to the sea. I feel that John F. Kennedy did quite well in explaining this connection during a speech delivered before the America's Cup in 1962:

I really don't know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it is because in addition to the fact that the sea changes and the light changes, and ships change, it is because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in out veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.

Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on my experiences! If you've got anything to add or something related please pass it along.

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