Surf Pro Laird Hamilton is a badass. You might know him as the biggest big wave surfer. Or as one of the innovators of such crossover sports as stand-up paddle boarding and tow-in surfing. Maybe he’s on your radar as the creator of a line of revolutionary superfood products.
And then there’s the performance apparel that bears his name. To some, he is Gabby Reece’s husband. If you are a member of a small subculture in Malibu or Kauai, you know him as Izabella, Reece, and Brody Jo’s dad.
There are certain people throughout history who can claim the title “iconoclast.” These are individualists who care little for how tradition or status quo dictate the way things should be done; out-of-the-box thinkers who look at every situation as an opportunity to innovate, and radicals who are compelled to find a better way to do something…or a better something to do.
Branson, Jobs, Warhol, Gandhi…you know the type. Laird Hamilton is one of those. So much so that he is the subject of a new documentary by filmmaker Rory Kennedy called, Take Every Wave.
I’ve watched the film twice now in its entirety and I’ve even gone back over some passages repeatedly, each time, savoring the spectacular footage as well as the riveting testimonials of a bunch of the world’s best surfers and an assortment of related characters.
About Laird Hamilton
His unconventional upbringing laid the foundation for an attitude Laird calls, “part coping mechanism, part strategy.” By the time Laird was born in San Francisco in 1964, his father had split.
As part of a research study, his mother, Joanne, gave birth at UCSF in an experimental sphere filled with saltwater designed to ease labor. It was a proper birth for a future waterman. When Laird was still an infant, Joanne fled the big city and moved to the North Shore of Oahu where they could connect with nature and live more freely. It was the height of the Gidget era and surf culture was in full bloom.
When Laird was a young child, he was playing on the beach and happened to meet Bill Hamilton, a legendary pro-surfer and bachelor (at the time). They had an instant chemistry and became unlikely companions. Laird took Bill home to meet his mother, and the two ended up marrying.
Bill adopted Laird. The family moved to Kauai and had another baby, a little brother for Laird named Lyon. For the boys, who were much taller and blonder than their predominantly native classmates, school was not easy. They were ostracized as “haoles”—a derogatory term for non-natives. Laird became rebellious.
We Got to Chat with Laird Hamilton. Here’s What He Has to Say:
“Hey listen,” Laird says to me over the phone as he is driving down the coast in his black Land Rover, “if there are people that don’t like me for the way I was born, which is something I had no control over (at least that I know of right now), then why would it bother me if I do something that upsets them?
I became almost devoid of peer pressure at that point and I had a tendency to be a contrary—to want to go the exact opposite direction of what is considered the direction that everybody is or should go. I often cite Thoreau, ‘Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty and the obedient shall be slaves.’ “
“Thoreau, nice one Laird.” I’m actually not sure if I said that aloud or in my own head. I’m still trying to keep my fangirl crush in check at this point. There is so much that impresses me about this man, the most obvious is the way he handles the ocean.
“Tell me about this defining moment in Take Every Wave when you guys are finally successfully getting towed into Jaws and it’s a game changer. You’re surfing Pe’ahi and the distinction is made between riding the giants and surfing them. Is that something that you were aware of in that moment, sort of a distinction you made, were you able to actually navigate those waves and have some sovereignty as you surfed them?” This one I know I am asking aloud, and he responds.
“Up until that point we had been at the mercy of the power of the conditions of the wave. All of a sudden we were able to match power with power. It put us in a position that we could actually perform beyond strictly survival mode, which up until that point had been the only way that we could ever be in those extreme situations. I avoid the concept of ‘conquering’ the wave, because you don’t conquer something that powerful, that majestic, something that superior; you don’t conquer it but you gently exist in harmony with it. That’s something that can’t happen when you are simply surviving.”
“That’s a metaphor for life,” I offer.
“Amen,” he laughs.
“So Laird, do you feel that you’re at a point at 53…” I’ve already confessed that he is exactly eight weeks older than me, “Do you feel like you’re at a point where you’re able to dance with life in a way that feels more harmonious, less survival?”
“Living is a dangerous game and dying is easy. It’s surviving that’s difficult. The ocean teaches you as soon as you get a little bit proud, that’s when you get hammered. But the truth is, yes, at 53, when unforeseen situations arise they don’t have the tendency to derail me like they would when I was 20 or 30. The use of stillness helps. I think it’s easy to overreact to things and as you get more time at this game of living, you start to realize that maybe you don’t need to overreact. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel it but you can wait to act. In the military they say, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” I like that. That’s a metaphor for life.”
“You sound like a yogi, Laird. What role does yoga play in your life?”
“The relationship with yoga is an intimate relationship with oneself. It’s about being consciously connected to yourself, to your body, to your breath. I hear people say, ‘I do yoga to be more flexible.’ Actually no, you should do yoga to be more connected to your body, to be able to say, ‘Hey, this is my quad and my hamstring and my Achilles, and this position is what makes me aware of the connection of all parts.
“Yoga is a discipline that really isolates those relationships and connects you to your body on an important level. I’ve spent time doing different types of yoga over the years. Right now I give a substantial amount of my time to my breathwork. It’s all about the underwater training, the ice, the heat, and the breath.”
The relationship with yoga is an intimate relationship with oneself. It’s about being consciously connected to yourself, to your body, to your breath.
He is talking about his personal practice as well as the XPTlife fitness program he runs with Gabby.
Intense underwater workouts on the floor of the pool with weights, followed by extreme sauna and ice training. To my non-athletic self, it looks like some sort of Navy Seal torture training. But no one makes more out of the experience of living in a human body than Laird. No one stretches the limits of what a human body is capable of like Laird. It’s that thing he has about him. I am suddenly aware of how little I know about my own body by comparison.
So I say to him, “It’s amazing how little we know about the way our body works. Maybe because you are a lifelong athlete you have more knowledge than most of us, but if you ask a hundred people where their liver is located in their body, I’m not sure that even 25% would know.”
There’s something about self-awareness that makes you desire less, that makes you less interested in searching for things outside of yourself. You begin to find that most of what you need is right inside.
“Yes, that’s true,” he says, “Ultimately I just ask people to breathe. I’ll say, ‘Hey, breathe for me.’ I’m so often amazed by how people breathe—or don’t. I’ll say, ‘Have you breathed?! Breathe like you need it, like it’s the most important thing you’re going to do. Breathe like it means something.’ Then I watch them and think, Wow that doesn’t have a lot of meaning. I use breath to bring people back into themselves. There’s something about self-awareness that makes you desire less, that makes you less interested in searching for things outside of yourself. You begin to find that most of what you need is right inside.”
Breathe like you need it, like it’s the most important thing you’re going to do. Breathe like it means something.
“What are your three top fitness tips for regular folk?” To be honest, I am not sure Laird has ever seen the likes of regular folk. He’s been surrounded by athletes his entire life.
“The most obvious to me that many people have an issue with is hydration. It is essential to be properly hydrated. Drink as good a water as you can, with minerals. Next is breathwork. You can get a lot of benefits quickly, it’s readily available, there’s a thousand ways you can do it. Then, I would say, go out and learn something new. Go out and try new things you’ve never done, and tell me if you don’t benefit from that.”
He’s talking about the Buddhist concept of Beginner’s Mind. As long as we’re comfortable, we’re not going to grow. At this point, I’m not sure if I am talking to a surfer, a fitness guru, or a spiritual teacher. There is a human side to this man, I saw it in the film. He’s a husband and a father to three daughters. He’s got a big heart and I want to connect with it. I take the obvious way in.
“Laird, it’s hard to talk to you without mentioning Gabby. There’s a beautiful moment in the film where Gabby is speaking over some very sweet footage of your wedding. She says that she has a tremendous amount of respect for you and for your dedication to the ocean. That she knows you love her as much as the ocean, and that there is an unspoken understanding that she will never ask you to choose.”
He jumps right in and I can hear the love in his voice. “Gabby is just incredible. Because my mother was such an amazing woman, such a hardworking, intelligent woman, it was the beginning of my training to be able to first of all be with a woman like Gabby, because I have such respect, you know. Her strength gives me stability. I get power from knowing that she is there for me. It gives me great strength knowing that she’s behind me and I rely on her, her intuition, and all of her other skills. I think ultimately a man is not complete without a woman. It’s not always the same way with women. I think they don’t need us the way we need them.”
Swoon. Heart connection achieved. I ask him what else is important to him.
“To have a positive effect on people. Whether we just go paddling, have an experience in the ocean, develop a relationship with the ocean, or through XPTlife, by giving them an experience that changes their lives, or my superfood coffee creamer that improves the quality of everyday life and makes them healthier. I enjoy being able to help if someone is sick, or hurt, or searching for some sort of life change. I get joy from inspiring someone to believe in themselves, to follow their dreams. My film, the superfood, the clothing line…everything I do is authentic to me, and my beliefs, and meant to be something that improves your experience of life.”
“Speaking of clothing, Laird…boxers, briefs, or commando?” Yes, I asked that aloud.
“I like briefs. I used to sleep in my surf shorts. Gabby said I wasn’t allowed to anymore. I would literally sleep in surf shorts so I could just get up in the morning and go. Commando’s a little rough for a surfer—a little vulnerable. Definitely not boxers, I like the long brief, it’s like shorts.”
I can hear through the ambient noise on the phone that he has reached his destination. My time is almost up. I say, “Close your eyes and take a deep breath for a minute. As a person, as a man, what lights you up?” I hear the breath he’s been talking about. And then…
“Which side of me? I mean as a man, as a purely mortal, physical creature—Gabby. As a dad, my daughters…the way they put their hand on my hair. The giant waves. I’m not that complex. Things that light me up you can’t buy. I can’t buy Gabby, I can’t buy my children, I can’t buy my friends. I can’t buy hard work, and I can’t buy a giant wave. Maybe in the future, I might be able to buy a giant wave,” he laughs, “At that point I’d probably spend everything I had almost.”
For More about Laird Hamilton:
The documentary Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017 and will be opening in select theaters starting September 29.
For more information about Laird Hamilton including his XPTlife program, visit his website.
Laird Hamilton’s wife Gabrielle (Gabby) Reece is a professional volleyball player, sports announcer, model, and actress.
Zoë Kors is a writer, speaker, and coach. She is the founder of The Big Libido, Pussy Project, and other programs which cultivate a women’s rights, empowerment, and self-expression. Zoë is the former Senior Editor and Creative Director of LA Yoga Magazine and Origin Magazine. She is a certified Co-Active Coach and has a thriving private practice. Zoë’s work reflects her extensive study of Tantra, Zen Buddhism, meditation, yoga, breathwork, and other Eastern disciplines, which she blends with more process-oriented modalities of Western psychotherapy and Co-Active Coaching.