Laird Hamilton is many things to many people. He's an iconoclast, a big-wave pioneer and an innovator. Some might even say a revolutionary. He's also, arguably, one of the two or three most famous surfers on the planet. His groundbreaking tow-in exploits at Pe'ahi on Maui forever changed the way surfers looked at riding big waves. In the year 2000, his Millennial Wave at Teahupo'o sent shock waves through the collective surfing world, reminding everyone that there were still barriers to be broken.
In the last decade, his use of standup paddleboards both as wave-riding vehicles and pieces of exercise equipment once again tilted surfing on its axis, forcing self-propelled stalwarts and traditionalists to reconsider the definition of wave riding. SUPs went from fringe element to full-fledged subculture in a very short period of time.
Last week at the Hurley Pro at Trestles, the man known to many simply as Laird (no surname required) made the trek south from his home in Malibu to the outskirts of San Clemente. He came to talk about a whole range of topics, including his status as a pro surfing fan, the evolution of big-wave surfing, health and fitness, and of course his new feature length biographical documentary, Take Every Wave, directed by Academy Award nominee Rory Kennedy.
Whatever you think of his contributions to the sport of kings, and they are numerous, he's never been shy about speaking his mind or having an opinion, controversial or not. He's well read, well traveled, engaging and funny, a part of Laird's personality that sometimes gets overlooked. The guy is stoked on life, and on surfing waves and boards of all shapes and sizes. To that point, there is no doubt.
On Pro Surfing
"If you look in the last five to 10 years and you see what they're doing right now, every single one is doing acrobatics. Ten years ago, there were only a handful of guys. You see the evolutionary process happening in performance surfing, because of guys like Bruce and Andy Irons and Kelly Slater. There's always someone leading the charge on the Tour, demanding that the other surfers' skills must come up to their level if they want to compete. Otherwise, don't bother.
"Right now, John John [Florence] is the guy at the apex of this evolutionary process in surfing. It's interesting, there's always a similarity to these iconic figures, the Gerry Lopezes, Tom Currens, Kelly Slaters, but there's always something mystical about their relationship to the ocean. It's in those times where Slater goes out and a great wave will come to him. John John goes out and a great wave will come to him. Guys like him have put in a tremendous amount of time in the water. When you put that much time in the sea, you have a relationship with the ocean, and it's cool to see that."
On Big-Wave Riding
"Big-wave riders are unique. Not only are they fit, but they have a mental strength that allows them to do what they do. It's a mentality that makes you dangerous, but in a good sense. It also gives you this ability to push yourself harder than a lot of people because you have this psychology that you can implement into your fitness. Listen, to take the beating that guys take, it's really more about wiping out. It's always been about surviving the wipeouts. You try to be in the best shape you can to handle the crash. I tell these young guys, ‘You need to be strong, it's gonna help your performance, but overall it's gonna protect you from being injured.' That's why you need this strength. You need this strength and this flexibility to protect yourself from injury."
On Surfing's Next Quantum Leap
"I think there's a real good chance that foiling will have an influence. It influenced my big-wave riding. It's put me focused on foiling because of the barrier that you run into when the surf is so big that you can't descend. What you see happening in Nazaré, and some of these other places, is the intense friction. The friction that is caused by a wave of that size is immense and the planning hulls have an issue. Then you get tossed into the air. In those situations I feel like the foil will penetrate.
"The skill of these guys, the top riders in the world, they have the skill to ride anything. But I think the fact is that it's more about the evolution of the equipment. Now, can the foils get to a spot where the guys can use them productively in the bigger surf? I think that when they do, just the fact that we can go so much faster gives us a better chance to make the wave, to be more aggressive in the turning and performance aspects."
On Diet and Fitness
"I think the thing that would have the biggest impact immediately on most people's diet is hydration, proper hydration and the volume of they consume. I don't think people drink enough water and they don't hydrate properly with the right stuff. Another would be cutting out sugar, pasteurized dairy and white flour. People ask me about my diet and I just say eat plants and animals. The more wild it is, the better it is.
"I like a lot of variety in my fitness because of my short attention span. I really like to do the same routines differently each time. So I'm always looking for variety, like in my surfing. Every wave is different even at the same spot on the same day, so we love that. Obviously, that's what keeps surfers coming back out for more. I have the same philosophic approach to fitness, where you just do a variety of things to stay interested. But I do a lot of breath work. I do a lot of stuff in the water, pool swimming with weights. I have a program called XPT, which is a whole program that I based around pool training. It'll revolutionize your fitness. I also like to add some isometric and meditation stuff."
On His New Film, Take Every Wave
"Originally, I was trying to do a film about the performance stuff I've been doing with foiling and where we've been in the last few years. But then it just so happened that we were able to get Rory Kennedy, who directed Last Days in Vietnam. And Rory saw a different story. So I just wanted to give her the best chance at making a compelling film. I just tried my best to be as honest and forthcoming as I could be and supply her with the things she needed.
"It was an emotional thing the first time I saw it. It's interesting because I remember all these stories that I tell. And at a certain point, you start to wonder if they were ever true at all. Then, all of a sudden you see vintage footage of the stuff that was exactly what you said it was. All that stuff was very emotional. I've enjoyed seeing how the film affects other people, and people have had such great responses to the film. In the end, I feel like I've done my job. I can't change it. It's my life. I feel like Rory produced a film that was beyond my dreams. She made it something much greater than I thought it could be."
The film will also be available via pay per view on October 6, check your local cable operator for more details.