By Miki Turner
Special to Page 3
BEVERLY HILLS -- For a man born in a bathysphere, an underwater tank with reduced gravity, Laird Hamilton certainly has an idyllic life.
He has a beautiful wife, former pro beach volleyball star Gabrielle Reece. They have a lovely daughter, Reece Viola. And, he's the ultimate surfer dude -- tall, tan and tough as nails.
And that's not all. Hamilton, the son of legendary surfer Bill Hamilton, is considered the best and most innovative big wave rider in the world.
Some of his greatness, along with the mind-boggling feats of his fellow watermen, is nicely presented in a new feature documentary called "Riding Giants." The film, which Hamilton also produced, hits theaters in select cities this Friday.
If you love surfing or just want to know more about the sport, be sure to hang ten on this wave. This film will take you where you want to go. There are thrills, spills and an intimate look at the athletes who essentially risk their lives every time they paddle out.
In 10 Burning Questions, Hamilton, who was born in San Francisco and grew up in Hawaii, talks about the film, his passion for surfing and his way of life.
1. How daunting was it for you to be involved on both ends of the camera, as a producer and talent?
Laird Hamilton: It was a huge honor to get this film made first of all. Actually, it was an honor to pay homage to the Hawaiians -- the original pioneers of big wave riding -- and then just march our way along. I wish I could have only paid my respect to all the people that I respect, but that would too many films.
2. How long did it take to pull this documentary together?
We'd been trying to build the film for about four or five years. Then I met Stacy Peralta, and him having been a surfer, I thought we were one step closer to getting it made. That was a prerequisite ... actually having someone who knew about surfing from personal experience. Once we got him and the studio said OK to him directing, that whole ball started rolling.
3. Why did you want to do this kind of film?
I just want people to know our story. I want people to know about our history. In most other sports, you know all the history. It's easier for you to be more attached to the sport -- the legend of so and so and the greats of all these sports. With surfing, people are attracted to it and they like it and the clothes are cool and the locations are desirable, but they don't really know much about it.
4. Because of the Beach Boys and "Beach Blanket Bingo," a lot of people might think that surfing culture originated from California. What's the real deal?
Everybody only knows what they know about where it came from. Surfing is the sports of Hawaiians, but Polynesians who were the greatest navigators our planet has ever known. They navigated by stars and sailed around the world. It's an ancient sport. We don't know how many years, we know it's more than hundreds years old. That in itself makes it something. It's the sport of kings. The ability to ride a wave for people around the ocean, that's the essence. That's the ocean in all its majesty. And if you can actually have the skill to master that ...
5. Was it kind of pre-destined that you'd be a surfer with your dad being one and you being born in that water tank?
I believe in (things being) pre-destined. In a way I feel like I was fortunate that I was raised in the right place, had the right kind of background and childhood. I had the right circumstances to create who and what I am. It's almost like how it was for the big waves. To create a good wave you need all of these pieces. You need the wind from the right angle with the swell and the tide and all these variables to come together. I've been fortunate enough to be the recipient of that blessing.
6. Has there been any point in your career where you're riding a wave, something went wrong and you thought you weren't going to make it?
Well, Tahiti [a scene in the movie]. That wave in Tahiti was one of those moments that I questioned the success of that ride during it. Right in the apex of it I was seriously questioning whether I'd make it, and I had this voice telling me to jump off. I was having this internal battle as to what to do. I've had some heavy situations when I was young, too, because of growing up in Hawaii around the ocean. I had a lot of really powerful things on me when I was young that had a lot greater impact then. When you get older they don't seem as bad.
Any encounters with sharks or other dangerous sea dwellers?
I've seen big sharks, yeah. I've been lost at sea, trapped under waterfalls ... I've had some great stuff. My mom was surprised I made it to 20. So the fact that I'm 40, that's a huge leap right there. It's the whole nine lives thing. There were a few times I could've been taken out, but I'm still here. I promised I'd turn from my sinful ways!
7. Can you kind of put into words what it's like to ride that big wave all the way through?
That's a very difficult question. It's like describing a color in words. If you've never seen any colors and you go, Hey, describe purple ... It's a sensation like if it's the fastest you've ever been driving or flying or some situation where the moment is so intense it demands so much focus that you can't see anything else. It's almost like the twilight zone where time stops for a moment and you're in a place where there is no beginning and no end. It's probably one of the truest forms of living in the moment that we have on this earthly plane -- before we go.
8. What was the best advice your dad ever gave you about surfing?
Well, my dad said never do a sport where all the best guys in the world are dying!
9. People describe you as an old school surfer. What's the difference between the old school and the new school?
I think sometimes people have a tendency to be very narrow-minded, and they think there's only one discipline in the surf. When they refer to me as old school, I think it's because I'm not flashy surfer guy. I'm not riding the little tiny board and riding the small waves. I did that when I was 16. This is the man's part of the sport -- big wave riding. There are men and there are kids. For me big wave riding is for the men. There are young guys doing it, but at the end of the day, you've got to do it for a few years. To be a mature big wave rider, it takes time. I just do a lot of traditional stuff. I ride long boards, stand-up paddle. I don't surf in contests because I never liked that whole judgmental thing. I just never have fit into a box. I've never had a bunch of sponsors.
Speaking of old school, what do you think about the Fox series "North Shore?"
I laughed when I saw it! It is so way off course. It's things like that show that make all of us look really unflattering and perpetuates this surfer dude mentality thing. That's why I made "Riding Giants." That show "North Shore" is absolutely laughable.
10. Your own kid has to have incredible athletic genes. So is she a surfer or a beach volleyball player?
You know what? I'll tell you. We're not Little League parents, Gaby and I. I think it would be an unbelievable sadness or disappointment to make your kids do something you want to do, that you want for you. With the children, I'm just going to provide opportunity and create exposure. Here's windsurfing, here's snowboarding, here's film, here's scholarship, here's library books, film and golf. And you know what? It's what ever they want to do. The primary objective is to create a fulfilled person.
Miki Turner covers the good life in LA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.