The story of Laird Hamilton is that of an inspiring innovator and athlete. The man is a surfing genius, and his impact on the sport of big-wave surfing is unparalleled. I had the privilege of speaking with Rory Kennedy, the director whose current project’s goal is to share the story of this driven individual.
In this day and age where you see athletes like Colin Kapernick politicizing sports, do you think that surfing is a sport that can be politicized?
I think you can turn anything into a politicized adventure, but this particular movie is not. This is really a story, and you know I think, a great story, and one that deserves to be told. What drives me towards films, I love politics, and so there are a lot of films that are political in nature that I’m interested in, but I also love sports, and I love to watch big-wave surfers. This film, I think, is really about what motivates a guy to surf an avalanche.
So for you, is that the most crucial part of Laird’s story? Is it the motivation?
A big part of the story is what motivates him to surf these enormous waves, but its also a film about an innovator, and someone who has radically changed surfing. Tow-in surfing, putting straps on the boards, graduating into foil boarding, and we don’t talk about it in the film much, but he’s (Laird is) responsible for paddle-board surfing.
After I had spoken to the extremely polite Rory Kennedy, I shifted my conversation over to Laird Hamilton, and his awesome intensity took over my attention from there. Through powerful sea-green eyes Laird told me about his experiences with fear.
So Laird, were you born without fear?
No, I have extra. Through surfing I have built a relationship with fear, and now I use fear as a tool rather than a crutch.
Can you think of a time when fear conquered you?
A: Most of the times that happened was when I was really younger, once I was stranded out at sea for 14-15 hours.
Before the documentary began rolling, Rory Kennedy said a few words, and she spoke about the fact that the movie is made to be seen in a theater. When I began watching, I saw exactly what she meant. The entire film is an amalgamation of interviews, old film, and beautiful, striking, and powerful visuals of the monstrous and mysterious ocean. Kennedy directs the film in a way that makes the audience feel that they are powerless in comparison to the ocean, and rightfully so. The ocean is an untamed beast, and will snatch you up if you’re not careful. It seems, though, that Laird had an uncanny relationship with the ocean. Growing up without a biological father, and having the only father figure in his life beat him incessantly, Laird found solace in the ocean. Where reverse racism made his school an unsafe place for a white boy, and where violence made a shaky home-environment, Laird was able to escape to the ocean, and channel his energies into something productive. The film shows Lairds journey as he navigates through relationships, his dislike for competition, his insatiable curiosity, and his natural tendency towards exploration of the unknown. Laird’s story is an inspiring one, and I felt a rush of energy after experiencing it through the film. Laird never wanted to compete with anyone, he found the idea of being judged horrendous. So, he trained for a profession that didn’t even exist yet. Through his determination and consistency, he created new types of surfing, his own brand, and his own following. The only thing he ever wanted to do was surf, but society wouldn’t allow him to. And so, he disregarded what society thought, and went his own way. Laird teaches us the power of the individual, and Kennedy’s documentary is reminiscent of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. It’s a must-watch, but even if you don’t get a chance to, take a minute to learn about Laird’s story, I promise it will be worth it.
The film is now playing. The special New York screening was presented by Land Rover, Verizon and Ryot.