Object of the Day,  Stories from The Zone

“Walking on Water” in the Panama Canal

Another day, another interesting item found in the Panama Canal Museum Collection!

We came across these photos, as well as newspaper clippings, which revealed to us the story of Walter Robinson “walking on water.”

Specialist Robinson spent his spare time working on his invention which allowed him to “walk” across the Bay of Panama. These “water shoes” were the first of their kind in that they were stable enough for the wearer to propel themselves across rough waters and to navigate around obstacles. Robinson patented the invention, which was made of plastic foam and fiberglass, and tested it at the Clayton Teen Club. From these tests, he determined that one could fish, fire a rifle, and throw a football, among other things, while wearing these water shoes. Robinson hoped the invention would be used for a variety of purposes, by fishermen, lifeguards, and even military personnel.

Robinson, along with his fellow “water-walking enthusiast,” Craig Cobb, would be seen walking the Amador causeway near the entrance to the Panama Canal. Once, Robinson successfully walked from the Fort Amador causeway to Taboga Island in an 8-mile, 4 ½ hour journey in 1974. Robinson always intended to walk the Panama Canal but was initially denied due to safety reasons. He was finally granted permission after negotiations, and he walked the length of the canal, staying outside the main ship channel, the Gaillard Cut and the locks.

Our records show that he also “walked” the Hillsborough River in Tampa, Florida in 1974, and according to accounts online, Robinson achieved his aspiration of walking the length of the English Channel in 1978. Robinson pursued these opportunities to “walk on water” not only for his own enjoyment, but in order to publicize his invention, attract merchandisers, and “stimulate the public.” While Robinson did not see commercial success for his product, he did achieve a fair share of glory and even earned a Guinness World Record.

Robinson wrote a novel about the invention and his adventures, called The Water Shoe: A Serious Work. You can order it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Water-Shoe-Walter-L-Robinson/dp/0741424614.

Did you ever see Robinson walking in these water shoes? Can you think of any other inventions unique to the Panama Canal Zone?

2 Comments

  • John E Schmidt Jr

    I too walked on water – on the Pedro Miguel River in the Canal Zone.
    Much too, long ago to pin down the year but I was living in Pedro Miguel so I can narrow that down some and will say lit was probably in 40 or 41. I was just 10, Several of my friends and I were in our kayaks which we had made ourselves. Not sure how we found the design of the structure, but I can still see the craft sitting upon on wooden box as I was applying another coat of gray paint….. and the more paint, the better the canvas would be waterproofed. Anyway, we were in the lower part of the river, close to the lake. The river wasn’t more than 15-20 wide as we paddled up towards the “rapids”. my kayak and the other were side by side……..I began to take on water, and my fear of the crocks that shared our lake and surely were watching us kids invading their space is all I could think about

    With a huge shove and gyration of my skinny body, I was able to exit the kayak and “walk across the river and made dry land without entering the water. I actually walked across the water. I am sure it was nothing more than jumping those few feet………but my friends swore that I actually did “walk those few feet” and did not enter the river.

    Unlike Mr. Robinson, I , did not invent a device for walking on water……but I can still visualize the day in Pedro Miguel that I did in fact walk on the Pedro Miguel River.

  • Robert Dryja

    My nearest effort to walking on water involved a large sheet of balsa wood. My friends I would push it across the mud flats of the swamp adjacent to Amador Road, (now lost to the construction of the Bridge of The Americas). Our goal was to stand on it, planning to float out into the bay of Panama and across the Pacific Ocean. However the tide was receding faster than we could push the balsa sheet into deep water. We ended up covered with mud. My mother sprayed me down with a garden water hose before she would let me in our home when I returned home. The idea for floating on a balsa sheet came from the book, “Kon-Tiki” in which a balsa log raft was used to float across the Pacific.

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