Probably the most versatile surfer of all time
BY ANJA FAHS
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 2 2019)
Teahupo’o turned him into a legend. The surfing spot on the coast of Tahiti has the legitimate reputation of being the “Heaviest Wave in the World”. The monstrous waves during the winter’s big wave sessions are seen as particularly dangerous, as the waves break over a coral reef that is located just a mere 50 centimetres below the surface of the water. This is where Laird Hamilton achieved a spectacular ride in the year 2000 that would make him world-famous. Laird Hamilton is one of the most influential big wave surfers of the 21st century. He has surfed waves of up to 22 metres high at speeds of 80 kilometres per hour and is regarded as one of the pioneers in the world of action watersports. He co-invented tow-in surfing, which changed the way of surfing large waves with the help of foot straps attached to the board, bringing surfing to a new level. He also developed the foilboard and is the cofounder of stand-up paddle boarding, which has since become immensely popular.
It is no wonder that Laird also works as an inventor, author, stuntman, model, producer and TV presenter in addition to his affinity for water. He is the ultimate Aquaman who constantly tests and pushes his limits. Over the past decade, Laird has above all become known for being an international fitness icon and nutrition expert. Many of today’s top professionals and celebrities train using his methods, such as his unusual underwater resistance training.
When Laird is not busy surfing the biggest waves in the world, inventing new water toys and appearing in Hollywood features, he is a philanthropist. He has always had a great passion for helping others live a happy, healthy life. We reached out to Laird in Malibu to talk about his everyday adventure life, his career, and what he wants to achieve in the future.
Your preparation for your extreme action sport is a lifestyle. What does that mean?
Well, that means that everything I do is directly or indirectly connected to my athletic pursuit. I would say my training is for life – so that means that my lifestyle is designed to enhance my life and that enhances my performance as an athlete. But it also enhances my being a father, being a friend, my everything. It has an impact on how you sleep, how you eat, what you watch, who you hang out with – everything is connected to trying to have a high-quality life.
Please describe to us your typical day, what are you doing, when do you start it?
Well, it’s surfing time here in Southern California, so over the last three days I spent about sixteen to seventeen hours in the ocean because we had really high-quality waves. I’ve been training, working out and spending time with my family. We homeschool our children; I’m self-employed so I don’t have to leave for work and be in the office the whole day. So I spend most of the day at home with my family, except when I’m travelling to surf in Peru, for example. Then I’m away for four to five days.
That sounds like a really good life.
I’m happy that I can make a living from what I enjoy. But the devil is in the detail. There are still things like putting the dishes away and taking the trash out and so on. But we focus on trying to live healthy. My wife and I are both athletes in professional sports. We work out multiple times every day, we try to learn about nutrition and wellbeing. I think our biggest thing is that we are students of wellbeing and we continue to learn about what it takes to be a human.
You are a guiding genius of crossover board sports, but also an international fitness icon and nutrition expert. What are you most proud of in your business life?
The superfood business we are doing at the moment is an incredible opportunity to help people and to expose people to nutrition that really benefits them. All the opportunities to share with people the things we are exposed to and to show them how to use these tools – just like we learnt it, showing how it helped us to change our lives. And when our life on this planet is finished and we look back and see how we helped people and made a difference in their lives and how it made them happier, that’s great. I mean, what else could be more important to do on the planet?
So would you say that your biggest challenge in life is being a better human?
That is being a father! But yes, the biggest challenge is being a better human, absolutely. And that is being a better friend, a better partner, dad, athlete… These are all pieces of ultimately being a better person. And I mean spiritually, emotionally, physically – all these things are connected and you have to respect it.
What was the biggest challenge in your professional life?
I have been surfing my whole life, since I was five years old. And that turned out to be my brand. I had to learn how to connect it to a product or how to make a business out of a brand. That was the biggest challenge and continues to be the biggest challenge.
When did you fail? And what did you learn?
Well, I failed more times than I can ever remember! I failed in businesses, sponsorships, I had a lot of injuries during my career. For me, the greatest example of failure is when you get hurt, because this is something you really feel. When a business opportunity fails, that’s not dramatic, it is just papers and products. But when you fail with physical consequences, then you feel pain and injury. One of my friends always says about business: “It’s not life or death”. I think that is the biggest lesson I’ve learnt and what gives me confidence.
When it comes to sports – what would you recommend to all the busy managers in the industry who say they don’t have time for sports on a regular basis?
The amount of time it takes to take care of yourself, your body, your mind is not very long, and if you don’t respect your body’s needs physically then don’t be surprised when it doesn’t work when you need it! So if you don’t want to take a lot of medication when you’re older and if you want to have a longer, healthier and more enjoyable life, then you’d better consider taking care of the machinery. I don’t see working out as a luxury – I see it as an obligation, a part of work. And a lot of modern corporations realise that healthcare is important and are starting to incorporate workouts into the business. Because if you are healthy and strong you do better work, that’s a fact. And sometimes people think more hours mean more work - but these hours are not more productive. I’d rather see somebody work for six hours and be more productive because they are mentally sharp than work for 11 hours, and that’s not good anyway.
You are a philanthropist and work with a lot of non-profit organisations. What is your aim?
Some may say “save the planet”, but sometimes I would rather say, “save the human”. For me, it is to help people. When you help to find a cure to help people, for example. When you can figure out how to prevent people from doing things which are bad for them. And the environment is, of course, a big issue. The ocean is so close to my heart, so to do something for the sea and the animals in the sea. But there is so much work to be done I can’t say what is more important. I think the one you can be helpful with – that’s the project you can make a difference with. And hopefully all will bring some solutions in the future.
What is your vision for the world?
It would be nice if we tried not to kill each other, so world peace would be great. It would be nice if we could figure out how to reach out for the environment so that my children can experience things they might not be able to otherwise. And we should use all the technology we have to help people. Try to reduce pain and suffering and eliminate all that as much as we can.
So what would your advice be to people for the future?
I think if people get healthier and have a healthier mind it’s going to be much easier for them to make better decisions between right and wrong. And if everybody started telling the truth and being honest, how about that? That would be great! I’m sure everybody would start grinning and we all would behave in a different way.
Laird John Hamilton was born on 2 March 1964 in San Francisco, California, USA, as Laird John Zerfas. He is an American big wave surfer, co-inventor of tow-in surfing, and an occasional fashion and action-sports model. He is known for surfing monster waves such as the “Millenium” in Teahupo’o, Tahiti, in 2000 and “Jaws” in Maui, in 2002. He lives with his wife Gabrielle Reece, a professional volleyball player, television personality and model, and their daughters in Malibu and Hawaii.
Picture credit © Laird Hamilton