My Extreme Adventure with Laird Hamilton

Posted: Aug 08 2012

One of the great job benefits of working at gabbyandlaird.com is being able to routinely train with Laird and his Malibu mob, as well as periodically tag along for some good adventures. Over the past few years I have experience a couple of big adrenaline rushes, including following Laird off a major cliff while heli-snowboarding in Canada, paddleboarding with Laird in Hanalei Bay, and recently getting to catch a ride on the maxi-trifoiler Hydroptere while Laird foilboarded behind it, and that’s just to name a few of the perks.

However, if you hang out with Laird long enough, you are eventually going to experience what his friends call a, “Blame Laird Moment”. Almost all his close friends have their own Blame Laird Moment. My father had his when Laird towed him into Jaws on his 70th birthday. For me, my blame Laird moment came last winter while visiting the Hamilton family in Kauai (where their live for a significant part of every year).

For those of you who are just beginning to follow Laird’s exploits, he and his posse of big wave tow-in surfers spend most of the winter chasing down the largest surf they can find, as they refine the sport of hydrofoil surfing.  Last year my family and I were living on the river that connects into Hanalei Bay, and on most mornings while having our morning protein shake (normally TRUition Meal vanilla mixed with coconut milk, oatmeal and almonds), we would see Laird and his team slowly making their way down the river on their jet skis geared up for what looked like serious action.

The site of Laird’s crew headed out each day was fairly intimidating to a novice surfer like me. They would typically have 3 or 4 jets skis, with what looked like stretchers strapped behind each. Everyone had on life jackets (maybe 2), and they had these futuristic hydrofoils of all shapes and sizes strapped down everywhere. On some days, a cameraman with driver would be following behind. It certainly looked anything but casual, and definitely way out of my league, but very intriguing.

One day while going through our normally breakfast shake preparation routine, Laird dropped by to bring us some espresso beans (Blame Laird Espresso of course), and out of the blue he asked my father and I if we wanted to tag along that day and watch some foilboarding. After a week or so of watch Laird and crew go by each day, or interest was already high so we immediately agreed without thinking about it. In retrospect, I probably should have been more inquisitive as to what exactly this adventure entailed.

We were instructed to grab our wetsuits and lifejackets, and meet him at his private launch ramp nearby. Moments later, my father and I sharing the same jet ski (with him steering) were following Laird and team out of the bay, headed straight away from shore at 30 miles an hour or so. Since we normally surf in the break just offshore, I was a bit taken back by how far off shore we were headed, after all what if our jet ski malfunctioned.

Before I knew it, we were about 6 or 7 miles down the coast staring at the largest waves I had ever been close too. So large and violent, it was very hard to hear over the noise of the breaking surf. As my father and I tried to adjust to this unfamiliar environment, Laird immediately started yelling instructions, which were fairly simple to understand. Noting the waves were so large you couldn't see over them, he said the only way to watch the action was to follow the camera crew. His instructions to us to where something like, “stay directly behind the Jet Ski with the cameraman and do exactly what they do”. With that, his driver circled away and Laird dropped into the water with his foilboard. Seconds later, here comes Laird towing behind his jet ski headed for the biggest surf I had ever seen in real life, and I could feel that things were going to get very exciting.

Following Laird’s instructions, my father closely tailed the camera crew. However, the next thing we realized was that the camera crew was going to ride the same wave as Laird just several feet away from him. Be it as it may, off we went. It was a rush like I have never experienced before. Within seconds, we were riding our jet ski down the face of a wave that felt like 40 feet or so. As we started down its face, the wave was clearly 5 or 6 times longer than our jet ski. Never having been on such a large wave before, my adrenalin was immediately maxed-out. Focused more on the wave than Laird, I eventually looked over and there is Laird just a few feet away casually surfing 3 or 4 feet above the water, it was all very surreal.

It seemed our ride lasted forever, on his foilboard Laird can catch the wave way before it breaks, so we had a extra-long ride. But the most exciting part was just beginning, as the wave broke-over Laird turned out and disappeared. Then the jet-ski with the camera crew took off full speed to run away from the oncoming whitewater. I urged my father to hit-it, but understanding the situation he was already at full speed. Unfortunately, the white water was still gaining on us, and I was forced to begin to consider what to do if this monster wave engulfed me, my father and the jet-ski. Just as I started to consider diving off the ski, the wave rushed safety behind us and we avoided disaster, or so we thought.

We look over to see the camera crew speeding away, and headed straight up the next wave which was soon to break over us. Right or wrong, my father gunned it behind them, but their 20 foot lead was enough for the camera crew to be assured they would make it to the top prior to the wave breaking, but our destiny was now completely uncertain. These next few seconds had the potential to be life altering, but at this point all I could do was tighten my grip on the rails and hang on.

As we headed up the wave, we heard the engine start to sputter. Apparently, we were now so vertical that our jet-ski was sucking in air instead of water and losing propulsion, not a good situation at all. I had never been eaten by a 40 foot wave before, and I had no idea what to expect or what to do next. Fortunately, Just as the wave started to rollover, we hit the top and our jet-ski fell to the other side. Without saying a word, my father an idea came to the same conclusion, let’s get out of here. He floored it straight away from shore, and once outside the impact zone turned for the bay without any goodbyes or communication of any kind.

Safely away from what was clearly a situation for which we needed a much greater skill level, we were happy to be in one piece and headed back. Until with both realized, if we now have a mechanical failure alone and 7 miles from shore, this could become a very bad day. That said, we were committed and took our chances, neither one of us wanting additional big wave encounters.

Needless to say, all went well, and now my father and I both have a good fireside store to tell. However, in Laird’s world, our story is just a typical daily event. So when I share my Blame Laird moment, and tell my version of how I almost killed myself following Laird during a foilboard session, I need to make sure he is not anywhere around.

Written by John Wildman for GABBYANDLAIRD.com