“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?