interviews -

Laird Hamilton: A exclusive interview - Part Two

By: surfermag/ Posted on July 22, 2010

Laird Hamilton is a unique amalgamation of pioneer test pilot and waterman, a sort of Chuck Yeager meets Duke Kahanamoku, if you will. He is not only relevant, Laird Hamilton defines what will be relevant. He’s forging our surfing future— that’s right, yours and mine– at an exponential rate. And oh yeah, he hangs with James Bond.

Laird came by the SURFER magazine office to discuss the DVD release of The Ride / The Day: A two-part expose into the world of Maui’s most notorious surf spot and the principals who claim her as their own. The Ride, the first segment of the DVD, was a big winner at X Dance Film Festival, receiving Best Film honors.

In a unique twist to the traditional interview, the message board regulars were queried for questions to ask Laird, and they didn’t let me down. Of course the occasional “Why did you have to pull Rick Kane’s leash?” had to be tossed out. But for the most part our website regulars came up with some thoughtful and intriguing questions for Laird, and for that I am thankful. – Scott Bass

SURFERMAG.COM: Some of the folks in the message board community wanted to know if you’re actively pursuing a 100-foot wave…is that a
goal of yours, the 100-foot wave?

LAIRD: You know this whole 100-foot wave thing I have nothing to do with it. I am
actively pursuing trying to find and ride the biggest waves in the world, period. And
whatever those waves may be and how high and how wide and how thick and how
shallow and how mean, the waves will determine. But this whole 100-foot thing is so
ambiguous to me. I have a hard time knowing how big it is half the time we go out. We
just go, “hey it’s big today” or “today it’s friendly” or “today it’s not friendly” or “it’s
shallow here” or “this is a thick one” or you know so… And for me, I’m never going to
pursue something that the end result is one climactic moment. That would be not only a
waste of time but it would be sad to go, “OK my whole thing is to ride the 100-foot wave
and then the 100-foot wave comes and you’re like OK and that’s it.” Then what? You’re
done? You stop? That would be sad.

SURFERMAG.COM: Right. It’s a little too one-dimensional.

LAIRD: Yeah, sad.

SURFERMAG.COM: Speaking of mean, gnarly waves, I was looking at the DVD and there were some
sections in the video where I’m like, “God, if it just held open a little more right there.” If
you could play the master role and tweak Peahi properly, and maybe make the tube
section hold a little longer, or the shoulder a little bit fatter…is there some part of the wave
that, if you could, you’d change?

LAIRD: Yeah, the surface. If I could just make it go (flattens the air with his hands) and
pull flat and tight like Teahupoo does. If I could make it like Tahiti where it just stretches
like Saran wrap then that would probably be the one thing that I’d like to do at Peahi
because that’s the biggest thing we deal with, the surface.

SURFERMAG.COM: There was a ruckus here last year in Mexico, some tow-in surfers invading, maybe
that’s not the fair term, but showing up when guys were paddling in. Do you have a take
on that? On etiquette involved?

LAIRD: I think that’s totally disrespectful. I think when people are out paddle surfing I
think that you should go somewhere else or just don’t go until they are gone or
communicate with the guys and ask them if they want to get towed. I mean, ultimately,
there is a line where some guys might go out and paddle surf just to kind of say they can
do it even though really it’s not happening. Maybe it might be too much or the conditions
are not right and they are going to go out and prove a point that they can do it to kind of
like, “Hey we’re out here paddle surfing so don’t come out here and tow.” Which I don’t
necessarily agree with, I think that’s where the other side’s not playing fair. Like when
you got both sides: you got the tow guys and the non-tow guys. The thing is, I’m both.
I’ve paddled Waimea, I surfed huge Hanalei. But you don’t go and tow-in a spot where
guys are paddle surfing, period. Unless you know everybody in the crowd, they’re all
friends of yours and you’ve already communicated that, “Hey you want to go tow onto a
couple” and you might tow them too. OK, no problem. Yeah, that’s not proper tow
etiquette (laughs), the lesser vehicle has right of way. You don’t take your motorbike
down to a bike path. It’s just part of the etiquette of surfing. But then I also hear stories
about guys going out at Maverick’s when its too big sitting on the shoulder making a
point that they can go out and paddle around. OK, well great, congratulations but you’re
not catching anything. Maybe you’re catching one little end shoulder bowl but you’re
trying to make a point that you can go out there but you’re not being productive and
you’re not really taking advantage of the opportunity. There’s only so many waves, life’s
only so long. Lets try to take advantage of the opportunity of riding these waves and ride
them to the maximum instead of wasting them. Because for me, I look at what’s going on
and I see a lot of wasted riding going on. “OK, yeah you caught a shoulder on one, but
then you missed the last 10, no one got them and everybody could be getting all there is
to offer.” It’s like eating part of a dinner and then throwing the rest of it away. These are
opportunities that you need to take advantage of and you only have so long to do that, so
you need to decide how to do that. Of course there a few bad apples that ruin the whole
pie but I can tell you from the beginning at Jaws because our wave at Peahi was never a
paddle surfing wave, we never had that problem. We never had that issue of hey paddle
vs. tow, that whole thing. And when we do tow waves where guys are paddle surfing
there is no reason to do it. Unless you’ve communicated with the guys and there are so
few people that they don’t care and you have the right guys and they’re driving in a way
that they are not effecting people in the water with the rope or with the ski and you know
again you always have a few guys hot ridding around.

SURFERMAG.COM: Sure. How do you feel about government intervention or government regulation
regarding towing, because I know the state of Hawaii is somewhat involved?

LAIRD: Well right now there is a new thing with licensing people that are towing, which I
think really they should license people to get a surfboard at a certain point. The less rules
we have, the better because all rules and all governing is going to be geared toward the
lowest common denominator which is going to be the lowest person in knowledge or skill
level and it just makes for restrictions. Then people are breaking rules and one thing
about a license is people think it’s a license to kill. All of a sudden you have a license,
now it gives me the right to go do it. Just because you have a license doesn’t mean that
you know what you’re doing. They give a lot of people licenses to drive cars and there
aren’t a lot of good drivers out there. The good thing about that process is that you
educate people and give them information that they wouldn’t normally have in another
situation. So they are getting educated, they’re getting exposed to information that will
help them in the future if they get in a bad spot.

SURFERMAG.COM: The scary thing would be, “I got my license, now I’m going to Jaws.”

LAIRD: Well that’s already what we got. That’s what I’m saying, were giving these guys a
right of passage. They’re going, “OK, I got a license, now I’m going out to Jaws.” Really
a better thing would be, “Can you go out and surf a 20-foot wave paddling.” Just go out
and paddle onto a 20-footer. Half the guys can’t; three-quarters of the guys can’t.

SURFERMAG.COM: Which brings up a good point, Derrick Doerner said something along the lines of,
“some guys are out here for the wrong reasons.” What are those reasons? Can you
elaborate on those reasons?

LAIRD: Guys will come up to me and say, “Hey I really want to tow.” Why? “Well…I
love it” (imitating someone else). And I go, “perfect answer” then you’ll be good at it
because if it’s in your heart and you really want to do it for the reason is you really want
to because you’re drawn to it, big waves attract you, you desire to do them, great. If you
think its cool, if you think you’re going to make some money, if you think chicks think
its happening, if you think all these other reasons that you can come up with, then when
you get in the moment of disaster and you’re sitting in there and here comes a 30-foot set
and you’re going to be wondering why you go there and you’re probably not going to
react in a proper way. Where if you’re there because you love it, you’ll react properly.
You’ll just be cool and you’ll go, “I’m here because I love this.”

SURFERMAG.COM: Do you think that there are guys out there that are doing it just for money?

Laird: Absolutely. I think there are guys out there that don’t really want to be out there.
They have the skill to do it, but it’s not what they love to do but now you got a bounty up.
Some guy’s going, “I’ll give you a hundred grand if you go catch a giant wave.” All of
the sudden that just pushes them over the edge. Like they’ve been on the edge the whole
time, but now its like there is a hundred grand involved. Now they’ve crossed over and
there they are running around doing weird stuff and then all of the sudden before you
know it they are getting pounded on the bottom and then they are washing up on the
rocks and they are spitting up water. You know, we all can be there but it’s about your
choices of why to go there. And that’s the thing I kind of despise or resent about things
like a bounty. You’re going to go and push people to do things that they wouldn’t
normally do for your own promotion. And you know what? At the end of the day there
are enough of us who are going to do it ourselves. There are enough of us that are willing
to do it because we truly love, it that you don’t necessarily need [to pay]. You might as
well take that money and pay some of these guys that are doing it already and say “we are
supporting you in your pursuit of trying to do this.” There are always going to be
[bounties], it’s part of human nature. We got every reason, we got all the reasons out in
the water. You go down the list everyone’s got some reason. You know I talk to Derrick
and Dave about this all the time, if there was no one in the world, we would still be trying
to figure out a way to go out and do it because this is just who we are and this is what we
really love. And the other things that come from it are just byproducts. If you are able to
make a living from it, that’s a byproduct. If you’re able to do whatever you’re doing
around it, these are just byproducts of your love, your genuine appreciation and love for
the ocean and your desire to be near that power and experience that power. There are
guys out there for the wrong reasons too. Those are the
people who are the most dangerous to themselves first of all and then to us ultimately. In
the end, we’re going to pay the price. I mean that’s why I wear flotation all the time. I
don’t always want to wear it, do you think I always want to put flotation on and wear
these big jackets? No. And do I need to all the time? Probably not. But you can’t tell
people to wear flotation if you’re not wearing it yourself. So if something happens, you
come up and we have you and we can do something with you to help you.

SURFERMAG.COM: So there are guys that are driven by their ego rather than their heart. It’s
unfortunate that we can’t quantify that, that we can’t…

LAIRD: measure it (laughs)? You can see it. It’s like a dog. Dogs have a certain instinct
about people that are just like, “I’m not right with this person” and you can see by their
behavior what they do. And actually they know too, but unfortunately it takes until the
moment of truth and what happens is a lot of times guys get away with making really bad
mistakes, then all of a sudden they get more confident, “I made it, I survived it…” That is
not what we wanted to have happen. We wanted it to have to opposite effect on you,
which was that you got humbled from the experience. But then I’ve seen it the other way
too, where I’ve seen guys really over-confident about it. First of all, they are ignorant on
how powerful the ocean is and about being respectful to the waves. So they come out
with this attitude and they get hammered so heavy the next year they are like changed
people, they have been born again. They are totally changed and it’s awesome. That is
what we are looking for because they’ve come back with a totally new humility that is
essential for what we are doing. There’s confidence, there’s ego, but there is a line of
humility that you need to have when you are doing this because you need to understand.
If you look at all the top guys Kelly, Andy, Rob, all these guys, there is a certain humility
that everybody has through the line that the a few guys right below don’t have. I’m not
sure why that is; it’s because maybe they haven’t experience this or maybe that’s what’s
stopping them from going the next level. Maybe that lack of humility is stopping them
from being one of the better ones.

SURFERMAG.COM: So it would be fair to say then that the guys that are out there for the wrong
reasons are the guys that haven’t reached that moment of humility, good humility.

LAIRD: I think that’s a big part of it. I think a big part of the guys who are out there for the
wrong reasons is because they are not genuine about their intentions, they’re not being
realistic about it. By doing that they have to be in denial, so what is the first thing they
are going to deny? That this thing is more powerful than them. That will be their first step
in denial and then it will just be tiered down from there.

SURFERMAG.COM: This is actually another great segue. Does surfing big Peahi heighten your

LAIRD: Absolutely.

SURFERMAG.COM: And how so?

LAIRD: I just think that when you get out in those days everybody becomes pretty
friendly. When it’s really, really big and it’s really heavy everybody gets really, really
nice. We always say someone will fight you for a two-foot wave but they’ll give you for
a twenty-two-foot wave and there is something about the humility that brings us a certain
check of that. Yes we have to remember who we are and where we are and our
sometimes insignificant role in life and on the earth. Our insignificance in the whole
scheme of life, that we are not really such controlling creatures. Even though we have all
these great heavy things we can do as humans, we are still at the mercy of you know…

SURFERMAG.COM: Do you think a two-foot day can provide that same type of spiritual…

LAIRD: I think you can have an enlightening two-foot day when you’re sharing it with the
right people in the right situation and you’re really getting the purity of the experience…

SURFERMAG.COM: …So it’s not the size of the wave, forgive me for interrupting, but rather the purity of

LAIRD: The experience of it and its also your level. Some people can go out when it’s two
or three feet and your first ride is pretty incredible. First two-foot wave that you standing
up and actually go a ways is pretty awesome. We spend the rest of our live trying to get
there but now for us we gotta go ride 80-footers to go get that same sensation again.

SURFERMAG.COM: There has been some talk about an autobiography or a movie about Laird
Hamilton. Now the basic elements for any story, as you know, are characters, conflict and
resolution. Now your life is filled with characters, we know how that’s taken care of.
How would you explain the conflict in your life and the resolution of that conflict?

LAIRD: (Thinks) Well you know the conflict of anybodies life is fighting between doing
the right thing and the wrong thing.

SURFERMAG.COM: And what is that in Laird Hamilton’s life?

LAIRD: That, that has to do with being a good person and a bad person. I think it’s the
same for everybody, it’s just at which level. It’s about being honest with yourself, about
being true. I think that’s my biggest battle. My mom told me once, “If you can’t be true
to yourself, you can’t be true to anybody.” So really being true to yourself and then
dealing with all your inner conflicts, all the things you desire versus the things that are
right. Sometimes they are the same, sometime they’re opposite. You might desire to go
do something that’s not good. You know, you see someone who cuts you off on the road,
you desire to go pull the guy out of his car, but instead you think that’s not the best thing
to do and you just smile and wave at him and keep driving. You know, so I think that it’s
a daily thing and that coming from my background I’ve had many times throughout my
life where I could have chosen to go left and I went right and sometimes I chose to go
right and I should have gone left. But at the end of the day, the fact that I’m still sitting
here right now and I have family and friends and children and I’m able to go and pursue
my passions and my career riding waves and all the other phenomenal things I’ve been
exposed to is testimony to choosing some of the right rights and some of the right lefts
along the way and then just refining it. Just keep trying to refine who you are as a person
and being a man.