Pioneering tow-in surfer Laird Hamilton is one of only a handful of riders who significantly changed the way waves are ridden. Now the big-wave champion is ready to tackle a new challenge — riding waves underwater.
Pioneering tow-in surfer Laird Hamilton is one of only a few riders who significantly changed the sport. Now the big-wave champion is ready to tackle a new challenge — riding them underwater.
by Blaine McEvoy
When you visited Men’s Journal last fall, you addressed your next challenge: riding waves underwater. Specifically, you spoke of a craft that could even supply riders with one or two breaths. Where are you with regards to development?
It’s still in the conceptual stages, but we’re moving along, and I’m nearing an opportunity to build something pretty cool. I’ve been working with the design team for Puma Ocean Racing, actually. I have access to a designer who is saving me lots of research and development grief, which is ultimately getting me closer to something real a whole lot quicker.
And that designer is a boat builder?
Yes. His name is Juan Kouyoumdjian. He’s one of the premiere yacht designers in the world. He just designed a new racing boat for Puma which is one of the fastest in the world. Juan is going to bring me the scientific data that I’ve been searching for, and some construction capabilities as well. In fact, we just collaborated on a couple stand-up paddleboard prototypes. As we move forward, we’re going to start working on the underwater fuselage and a foil as well.
Surfing, stand-up paddling — now foiling too?
When you foil, you’re riding a board that cruises above the water on a flying keel. This has been my main focus since last winter. I’m a bit like a dog: I’m relentless in my pursuit, and I’m willing to do it over years and a lifetime of work. I think that’s what keeps me doing the things I do, and what brought me to the point where I’ve done what I’ve done.
Another topic we spoke about last fall was your goal to surf during a hurricane. Is that something that you’ve crossed off your bucket list yet?
Not yet. This new relationship with Puma will help me locate those opportunities. These guys are going to be on the ocean, all over the world, for the next year. They’re going to be sending me daily weather updates, so I’ll have the opportunity to find and access areas with unique conditions.
When we spoke to Kid Rock, he debriefed us on the Malibu workout community, specifically the training he does with you, Rick Rubin, Chris Chelios, and John McEnroe. What have you learned from those guys?
Sometimes, when you’re training hard and doing certain things alone, you question what you’re doing. But when you have other people experiencing similar successes and failures, it sort of helps you in your position. Having these guys come and be involved offers a kind of accountability you only get when you work out with other people who train hard. It also helps my drive and motivation, since we’re all open to new techniques. Those guys helped me evolve my training quite substantially over the past year or two.
What are some of the new techniques and exercises that you’ve been working on?
You know, a lot of these things just come to me in my sleep — lots of breathing exercises, rather elaborate circuit training regimens for the pool, balancing exercises, and circuit training for the weight room. Then, the next morning, I’ll introduce a different move or technique. It keeps things new and exciting and different. But it also makes things a lot harder.
You recently told Esquire that, at 47, you have never felt stronger or more focused. Is that a result of always varying your routine?
I’m enjoying my life right now, and that’s something I’ve retained throughout my whole career. Sure, there have been times when it’s not been as fun. But when you lose the reason why you started doing things in the first place, and you lose your enthusiasm, at that point, that’s when you become old.
What up-and-coming riders have caught your eye?
At some point soon, we’re going to see some exceptional surfers coming out of Tahiti. Out of every thousand 20-year olds, there’s only going to be ten 30-year olds, and there’s only going to be five 40-year olds. Who’s going to be the one who can sustain it? Surfing is an incredibly hard sport, and there are going to be some huge shoes to fill very soon. It’s not something you can just come into and dominate. If you look at guys like Kelly Slater and Shane Dorian, these are guys who are a little older. It’s going to take a hell of a young man to come in and fill those bootprints. But there’s Kai Lenny, who’s one of the unique ones, in that he’s multi-versatile. He can do all the disciplines, and that’s kind of unusual in our world, because not that many riders have the exposure at a young age to be able to stand-up paddle, foil board, wind surf, kite surf, and tow surf. Kai has definitely put himself in a unique position.
Susan Casey’s book The Wave includes a particularly fascinating discussion of the physics of a wave. Is that something you pay particular attention to?
Everything is formulaic, and I think there is a mathematical equation for everything we do. But there’s something to be said about the spirit of the ocean. It hears you, it feels you, it sees you. And it definitely reacts to you. You see certain guys go out, and it seems like the waves just come to them. Then you see other guys go out, and they can’t buy a wave. I think that when I stop being a student of the ocean, then it’s time for me to be gone from this planet.