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Fast Talk: Laird Hamilton

Laird Hamilton is on an eternal quest for the perfect wave. An international surfer extraordinaire, he has been surfing ever since he was a lad, gaining inspiration from his stepfather who was considered one of the most popular surfers of his time. But after years of mastering breaks off the coasts of everywhere from Hawaii to Indonesia, he went in search of a new adrenaline rush: the big wave-curls in the middle of the ocean that can reach as high as 25 feet. His new film out in July, Riding Giants, which he starred in and helped produce, explores this relatively new sport and takes its viewers on an incredible journey around the world. Hamilton took some time away from building a new house on his homeland, Hawaii, to share with us his favorite surfing locations, what he hopes to accomplish with the film, and strange lore he discovered in other cultures.

1.Where’s the best place in the world to surf?
Hawaii is my favorite. Not just because I’m from there, but because it has the best waves year-round. Tahiti has great surfing too, and terrific food. It’s the only place in the tropics where I’ve found good Bordeaux, cheese, and baguettes.

2. What makes a surfing location appealing?
The typography of the bottom—reef breaks and sand and rock bottoms—really affects the type of surf. The Southern Hemisphere has fairly consistent surf, but doesn’t quite produce the size that we have in the North Pacific. Probably the two greatest wave producers in the world are the Indian Ocean and the Northern Pacific, followed by the South Pacific. The longer the waves travel across the ocean, the cleaner they are and the more precision, but the smaller they are—so, in places like Indonesia and Fiji, what you sacrifice in size you make up for in quality.

3. Are there any waves that you have yet to ride, but are hoping to conquer?
Yes, but I don’t know where they are. That’s the search—looking for new waves that haven’t been ridden. In order to find them, you study weather patterns, where the majority of the swells are going, and start thinking of areas where they are going to hit. In a world of ever-growing population, I think the more remote and rugged the area, the better chance that there is no one there yet. Most of the great waves have been discovered because surfers are pretty adventurous and have been searching for good waves for a long time.

4. Why did you start riding big waves?
My father was a champion surfer and I grew up around the water, so it was a natural progression for me. A big wave is the only place I can relive the excitement I felt as a kid riding a five-foot wave. I’ve decided that the higher the surf, the nicer everyone is—there’s a tendency to be humble when lives are in jeopardy.

5. What led you to make Riding Giants?
I wanted the film to educate people about big-wave riding and surfing while bringing the sport to those who’ve never been to the ocean. Hollywood’s portrayal of surfers hasn’t been true to who we are as people, athletes, and adventurers.

6. You’ve surfed all over the globe. Which destination surprised you the most? I was amazed that no one in Java surfs. When surfers first went into the water there, the locals were shocked. The Javanese rarely swim in the ocean—they say that’s where the spirits are.

7. What was your most unusual travel experience?
When I was 11 years old, I drove with my mother from Paris to Bombay and I had my 11th birthday in Afghanistan. We actually drove through the Khyber Pass and along the old Silk Road, right before the Iran/Iraq thing went down. Looking back at the area now, I feel that people in that region are into fighting. That’s what they do. They don’t really have a nice place to live, to enjoy their environment. They’ve been fighting for thousands of years, and they are used to having gang war. After going to Bombay as a young man, and seeing poverty and starvation, I looked at life and what is important to me differently. My philosophy is you only live once, and you should enjoy it along the way. And money is a tool, not a goal.

8. What is the one important lesson you have learned from your years of extreme sports that could apply to the layman? There’s a saying: There are old pilots and bold pilots but there are no old bold pilots. I think it’s important to know your limitations.

9.What’s always in your carry-on?
Slippers—they make it easier to get through airport security. And I always bring surf shorts no matter where I’m going. You never know when you’ll find a body of water to jump into.

10. What’s next?
Bigger, higher, faster. Our world of sports is ever evolving. We’ve got windsurfing, kite surfing, foil boarding, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new comes along. So, it’s important to be open-minded. The only thing that scares me is being a good dad and a good husband.

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