Explore Kauai

Laird Hamilton

As chronicled in such epic films as “Riding Giants,” “All Aboard the Crazy Train,” “Waterman,” “Strapped” and “Step Into Liquid,” and in revealing books such as Susan Casey’s “The Wave” and his own “Force of Nature,” Laird Hamilton is driven by a passion for the extreme. The tallest wave he’s ridden? A more than 80-foot face, Maui’s Outer Sprecks. The most monstrous wave? Teahupoo, Tahiti 2000. It rocked the surfing world.

What drives you to do the extreme things you do?
My dad always told me big wave riders are born and not made. For me it’s a personal thing. When I go to sleep at night, especially on the days when I’ve done something that is perceived as crazy or exceptional or just out of people’s reality, I feel a real sense of peace and joy.

Is that desire never-ending?
My personal goal as a young man was to never stop surfing and loving the ocean. I’m always looking for new ways to do things on land and in the water. The worst thing that could ever happen is to stop loving surfing. If surfing became some sort of obligation, or a job that I did that I wasn’t looking forward to, that would be devastating. I’m on a never-ending search for the sensation I had the first time I ever rode a wave.

Have marriage and raising three young girls caused you to hold back from doing these scary things?
I want my girls to know me for who I am: somebody who does these dangerous things. I feel I have more control of my destiny when I’m in the ocean than when I’m on a freeway or in an airplane. I want my girls to see my faith and experience my energy before I go out and ride giant surf, and also when I come in from it. The support I get from Gabby [Laird’s wife, Gabrielle Reece, former professional volleyball player, writer/actress/model] in doing what I do ... is unbelievable. Her support has made me more precise in my focus, and at the same time—because I have a family, and because of my love for Gabby and the girls, and my desire to spend time with them—I’ve become a little more directed with my time.

There’s the inspiring story of how you met Bill Hamilton, the man who became your father, on a North Shore beach when you were just a boy. Do you remember the day you met him?
I was three. For me to say I remember the day might not be accurate. I do have memories, but they run together with stuff I’ve seen documented. I needed a dad and my mom needed a man. This guy represented that to me and became that for us.

Did you really take him home to meet your mom?
Yes, I did. You can’t make it up any better.

How do you give back to your community?
Obviously my concern for the ocean is a big thing. When you have a certain amount of success and influence, it’s your responsibility to try to make a difference. The list is long; I’ll continue as long as I can, as long as I have the skill and can make a difference.

To raise awareness for autism, you embarked on a 450-mile trek, biking and stand-up paddling across the Hawaiian Islands with friend and fellow surfer Dave Kalama. How did this trek become your avenue to raise awareness?
Like most good things, it came together in a really natural way. Autism is a huge thing because of the impact it has on people. [The trek was a] culmination of something I’d wanted to do because of the Hawaiian Chain and the whole idea behind the messenger traveling across the chain and bringing the message. Obviously there was a daunting need for funding for the film [“Beautiful Son”] and autism’s need for awareness.

Who inspires you?
My mom is somebody I really looked up to. She raised two boys, was a hard-working woman, and gave me a lot of respect for women and a certain kind of moral standard to try to live up to. My mom was a huge influence. And of course, my wife.

What do you love most about Hawai‘i?
Hawai‘i is one of the most special places in the world. You really don’t know that until you get out there and travel the world and see what’s happening. Then you understand and appreciate what Hawai‘i is. For me the mana, the power of the land, has given me so much strength that I wouldn’t be who I am today without Hawai‘i.