Laird Hamilton Interview from the 2002 Towsurfer Vault

Laird Hamilton/Professional Athlete/Stuntman/Actor

Nickname: None that I would like to mention
DOB: March 2, 1964
Height: 6’3″

Weight: 210lbs.

From: Hawaii

Current Residence: Hawaii and California

Years Surfing: 35

Years Wind Surfing: 16

Years Tow Surfing: 12

Years Hydro Surfing: 8

Heavy Helicopter Snow Boarding: 14


Manager:  Jane Kachmer Management

Other Talents: Paddling and Channel Crossing, Mind Treacherous Activities Mountain Biking and Land Boarding

Objective: To keep evolving either with personal skills, to evolve the activity and equipment and to go bigger, higher and faster.

Films: 007-Die Another Day, North Shore, Water World, Raiders of The Lost Ark, King Kong, Big Wednesday. Currently working on a big wave documentary project.

Videos/DVD’s: A lot of surfing, windsurfing and snowboarding projects. LAIRD ‘01 and STRAPPED ‘02 The Origins of tow-In Surfing, Wake Up Call ‘96 and Radical Attitude ‘92

Commercials: Mountain Dew and Stuff like that

Sponsors: Oxbow/Myself

This is all for now. There were product sponsors in the past but there came a time where that wasn’t enough for what I was doing for them on a marketing level.


Quote From The Book “Jaws Maui”- Written By Charlie Lyon
“I think it’s an honor that we have the opportunity to share with people like Brian and Archie the things that we’re doing. The greatest thing about this is that it’s a team thing. Hawaiian is in your heart and in your spirit, you know, not in the color of your skin.”-Laird Hamilton

I remember one winter morning years ago, driving down the curvy road with anticipation of a solid winter swell awaiting us. As usual my buddy and I we’re getting ourselves all pumped up for the session and what awaited us. Seconds later, there he was, larger than life itself! Laird in a double page centerfold shot introducing tow-surfing to the world on his 7’2”, screaming down what looked like an 80’ face at JAWS. He looked like a fricken ant on a mountain and all we could say is, “NO WAY”!! “We used to do cartoon drawings like this as kids.”

This guy is a freak, and tow surfing is not surfing!! That was then and this is now! Laird is known today as “The Godfather” to the sport of tow-in surfing and has brought the level of performance surfing within this sport to an untouchable level.

Today we have a growing population of tow teams from all around the world who are challenged by this extreme sport and themselves. The quest today for most is to become the first one to ride the 100’ elusive wave, survive and collect the financial reward at the end of a so-called rainbow!!! For others, it’s simply pushing oneself to a new level of surfing and having fun for pure reasons. Whatever your reasons are, you can be assured that by the time you read this or buy your next surf magazine, Laird will have already developed in his mind, another amazing wave riding sport and will once again be light years ahead of himself as well as the rest of the world. –

Laird Hamilton Bio

Laird Hamilton is known as the guiding genius of crossover board sports, and he is truly amazing in the water. His size – six-foot-three, 215 pounds – makes him seem indestructible. ‘Laird is the elder son of 60’s surfing legend Bill Hamilton, and is a throwback to that time when surfers prided themselves on being an all-around waterman.” His mother, Joann, gave birth to him in a “bathysphere” with reduced gravity as part of an experiment at the UC Medical Center in San Francisco. Joann was also a surfer and decided to move the family from California to Hawaii when Laird was just a few months old. They lived on Oahu’s North Shore and later in a remote valley on Kauai, not far from one of the world’s best surf breaks. He learned to surf between the ages of two and three on the front half of a surfboard, and at age eight, his father took him to the 60-foot cliff at Waimea Falls where Laird looked down, looked back at his dad, and jumped. ‘He’s been bold since day one,’ says Bill, ‘and hell-bent on living life to the extreme.’Laird does all kinds of interesting things in the ocean like making epic long distance journeys on his ocean-going paddleboard and creating the fast forward speed sailing loop. When he was twenty-two years old, Laird entered a speed-sailing competition in Port Saint-Louis, France, defeated the heavily favored French champion, and broke the European speed record of 36 knots in the process. Today, he surfs the outer reefs in Hawaii with his friends after years of working with different board designs to be able to catch the giant waves. Their method involves getting into a Wave Runner, taking a water ski rope, and towing each other into waves that are too big to paddle into. The craft flings them into the wave at full speed. Laird has foot straps on his board to keep from getting bounced off and to enable him to do some mind-boggling things like aerial liftoffs, including 360’s. “Jaws Maui,” a book published in ‘97, features Laird in action and is filled with spectacular photography of the men who pioneered tow-in surfing.Photo shoots with sponsors such as OXBOW have taken Laird around the world: the Caucasus mountain range to snowboard, a jungle preserve in Java, Indonesia with a world-class surf break just offshore, and the Great Barrier Reef to name a few. He can be seen on the cover of magazines such as National Geographic, Outside, The Surfer’s Journal, Men’s Journal, Surfer, Surfing, Sports Illustrated for Women, etc.and in Rolling Stone, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, People, Life, GQ, Interview, L’Uomo Vogue (Italy), Paris Match (France), Surf (Germany), High Wind (Japan), and Sailboarder; to name a few. In 1996, People magazine named him ‘One of the 50 most Beautiful People.’ Surfer Poll Awards,’00 ’Breakout Performance of the Year’ and in France,’00 (M6) honored him with overall ‘Rider of the Year’. In ’01, ESPN’s, Action Sports & Music Awards, awarded Laird ‘Feat of the Year’ award.Laird recently finished filming for the upcoming MGM feature film ‘Bond 20’ doubling as James Bond on big surf and the stunt coordinator of the big wave sequence. Has been featured on TV as a host in Fox Sports Net’s, ‘Planet Extreme Championships’(2000) on the Outdoor Life Network (1999), and “The Extremists” (1996-97), in which he took incredible risks while air boarding, rock climbing, kite surfing, jet-ski surfing, and much more. He is featured in the documentary film “Endless Summer II” (1994), the sequel to the surfing cult classic as well as the upcoming sequel ‘Liquid’ aka ‘Endless Summer III’ (2002). Laird’s filmography also includes “Waterworld,” “North Shore,” “Night Waves,” “Totally Committed,” and “Five Summer Stories.” Among his ventures, Laird and his crew provide film and television companies with performers, planning, and expertise in shooting in surf. Their own productions, including “Radical Attitude” (1992) and “Wake Up Call” (1996), and the most recent ‘Laird’ (2001) and soon to be released ‘Strapped: the origins of tow-in surfing’ are videos in which Laird demonstrates why he is considered one of the most respected board riders of our generation. Surfer’s Magazine’s editor, Sam George, in their ‘Most powerful people in surfing issue” ’02, had this to say, “Laird is flat out surfing’s biggest, boldest, and bravest. He is the best big wave surfer in the world today, bar none. He is the sport’s most complete surfer, displaying almost unnerving expertise in a multitude of disciplines: tow-surfing, bodysurfing, longboarding, paddling, sailboarding, kite-surfing.” ‘Bigger, Higher, Faster,’ says Laird of his future plans, ‘I want to go after the world speed sailing record. I want to ride bigger waves. I want to try and invent some new sports, combine some existing ones. I want to be creative.’ When you look back to where tow-surfing started, how far it has come and to where it is today, what are your thoughts?
: In the very beginning it was something that just a few of us were sharing and experiencing for the first time. It was not only new but also something unknown in new territory and we weren’t sure where it was taking us. It was defiantly exciting for all of us involved and especially since we were the only ones out there doing it. We were all a part of discovering something new and creating an awesome bond with each other. There was no ego, no financial objective and it was all pure. When it is giant and you have the love for this sport, it’s pure and you are out there for the right reasons. If you are a tow surfer with a financial objective then you better be careful, because you will make some bad decisions. If someone says I want to ride a giant wave, my question would be why? and your answer will determine your faith. You live by the sword and you die by the sword. Everybody has to eat and there is a fine line that has to be drawn between financial gain and making the right decisions which may affect others around you.

What did you use for a tow-board in the very beginning?
The starting point was to ride existing boards. I had a 10’ 2” solid balsa wood gun, pintail thruster with straps. Then we downsized to my pipeline board which was a 7’ 2” that allowed us to go faster than we could ever imagine while experiencing more advanced control.

What are your current dimensions and explain to us how the changes have become beneficial?
More specialized, not just for the biggest waves, but for other breaks smaller in size, which allow us to do performance surfing with respect to aerials and tube riding. My range is 6’ 6” to 7’ 3” which weighs about 18 lbs.

Can you tell us what your very first tow session was like out at Jaws?
The first time was on my pipeline board and we were going as fast as we could and we still couldn’t outrun the wave. We were always on the edge yet taking our approach nice and slow without the sense of urgency. There just wasn’t any real purpose to be in a hurry to figure it all out. We wanted to remain safe and make good decisions while learning without all the hype and pressure.

How did being an accomplished and experienced windsurfer help you in the very beginning when you first started towing?
I think honestly, all the guys coming out of this background have advantages with experience in really rough conditions, they are all used to foot straps and have aerial and board controllability with the two. Windsurfers are able to judge a wave before it peaks and can read the wave before it breaks where a conventional surfer doesn’t have this experience, making it more difficult to adjust to the wave in the beginning. As a windsurfer, you’re used to the speed and the bumpy surface conditions and this is what was helpful for me.

Why have you avoided contests all your life?
Honestly, I feel like more times than not there is some injustice in it. I don’t want to be judged by someone based on my performance. I think that surfing is an expression of who you are and I want to be my own judge. While growing up and watching my Father in the contest, I experienced a lot of injustice and got really turned off by this. I bowed to let my performance do the talking and to be the best in any conditions, without the contests!

Is this the same reason you avoided the T0w-In World Cup at Jaws this past season or were there other reasons and what were they?
First of all, why would I start now? If I were to be in an event, I would want to be involved in the format and structure for the benefit of the athletes. Second, of all, it’s because of the way the athletes are treated with respect to the lack of compensation. These guys put their butts on the line and need more compensation. I would like to say that I felt a little bit betrayed when I watched the contest only because of the amount of time our crew put in over the past decade developing a relationship with her. (Pe’hai) She is like beautiful and experienced women and whether the experience is good or bad you don’t want to disrespect her in any way. She likes those that are humble and dislikes the cocky arrogant attitudes that haven’t yet experienced the real force in her. There is something to be said about being skillful with direct understanding and respect with Pe’hai. She was really nice that day and it was a fortunate day for the athletes who participated in this event. Any other day, there would have been some big hammer time going down and not so many guys with hands in the air across the finish line. There were a lot of shoulder soldiers this day! The bottom line for me, there is a certain way to share a wave and I don’t believe it’s in this type of contest format. How about a contest allowing four guys to get pulled into the same wave and the last guy standing wins? No matter what it takes! Now that would be a contest based on individual performance level without the judging. The strongest and most talented riders win.

As fast as tow surfing is growing today, what changes in the overall sport with respect to equipment and technique, do you see in the next couple of years?
Right now it’s all about material and fin design. Due to the nature of surfboard technologies, the increments of evolution are very small at this point. I think we will have bigger breakthroughs in foil boards and refinements on what we are currently using for towing. We have already laid out most of the work on tow equipment and now is just about fine tuning.

What are your thoughts on The Odyssey?
The thing that bothers me the most about The Odyssey is that they used my name and Kalama’s name as if we were a part of the deal and we were supporting them. They never even asked if we wanted to be a part of it or participate in this project and to me, this is disgraceful! I believe that they are using the term (100’ wave) very lightly and conveniently for the sole purpose of marketing and creating success for the creators. I don’t think the athletes are being taken care of like they should financially. Sure the opportunity to travel and surf is great and all that but there needs to be more financial commitment during the period where an athlete is putting his butt and life on the line. We (our crew) have been pursuing our own Odyssey since 1990 without all the hype.Who came up with the concept for “Strapped” and what was the main mission and focus for your crew?
In the beginning, I felt this would be a good way to pay respect to one another. We were the original crew and we all believed in and supported one another. It’s a small group with small projects and this was just another small way to give back to the original guys who went through the whole process.What is your overall view and feeling on what’s happening with tow teams?
There are a lot of disrespectful and very loose cannons out there. Rules and regulations need to be addressed with one common goal for safety.How do you feel about the performance level of Peter Mel and “Skindog” from Northern California?
They are great surfers and tow surfers. Judging from their performance level and the short time we spent together, they obviously know what they are doing.Other than your crew, what other tow teams in your mind are the most experienced, prepared and dedicated to being challenged this coming season.
Other seasoned teams are Siera Emory and Luke Hardgrave, they won the tow contest at Jaws the year before and they both come with windsurfing background. There are a few strong teams from the North Shore and Parsons and Gerry are a good. Carlos and some of the Brazilians are making a big push, determined and disciplined to their training. Makau Rothman and Ryan Rawson are second generations tow surfers and these two will be guys to watch because they are young, talented and will have great influences in the sport.Some of your closest friends and crew are saying that something changed about you ever since you surfed Giant Teahupoo in August of 2000. Are you personally aware of these changes and if so, what can you tell us?
I think what changed me was realizing at that moment, I had achieved a life long objective and realizing I had made it to the next level. A wave that powerful, beautiful and scary, brings a calmness over you that you can’t really explain. It’s kind of like going 100 miles an hour in a car for the first time and experiencing a new thrill. Once you have achieved that level of experience and thrill you really don’t want to go slower or look back, you just want to go faster and more extreme. Still, even though that was a great ride that day, Jaws is a much harder wave that challenges your every skill and you need to be ready for whatever she delivers on a seconds notice.Are we going to see you this season up at Mavs?
Yah, I’d like to come up there this season and the way the whole ski issue is going down, I better hurry before it all gets banned.How was it working on the film set of 007 out at Jaws and having to tow into 20’ surf with two other guys on the wave?
That was a slam dunk. We met with producers and discussed the script and we could do or couldn’t do. Kalama, Doerner and I acted as part of the second unit team. Having three guys towing on the same wave is very tricky and I wanted both of these guys who have as much experience as I do, which made the whole thing feel more secure.What other current projects are you working on that you would like to share with us?
I got some hush stuff waiting to get a green light and I’ll fill you in when it happens and also a big wave documentary. I am actively perusing film work as an actor and stuntman. New stuff out of my realm, new ideas, and more mainstream projects. Foilboards and designs are definitely in the works and a new brand name skateboard that I have been riding and developing.

How do you train mentally, physically and emotionally?
Super strict diet, no white this or that, no grains, lots of protein and veggies, real hard workouts with my trainer Paul Chek. I am on a few new programs designed by Paul and we are on the pre-season training drill.

What is the single worst experience that you can remember having while tow-surfing?
I got held down pretty severely, pressed to the bottom in the abyss and pondered life. I scratched, clawed and felt like I got buried alive. But nothing is worst than watching your buddies not coming up. This is the scariest thing because you feel helpless and it’s the worst feeling in the world because you have no control. At least when you’re the one going down for the count, you have control of what you are thinking and how you’re reacting.

Who are some of the most experienced and skillful ocean and safety crew in the world?
Brian K. and the boys, Archie K., Wolfred and Shauna

How important is it to have the proper ocean safety training and experience with a PWC in the heavy surf before you actually start towing?
I think that you have got to be able to go out and paddle into 20’ surf before you even gear it up, this is the number one deal. If you can’t, then you need to reconsider what you are doing with tow surfing. Listen to your instincts, if they are saying don’t go then there is a reason for it.

Where are you today with your hydro foiling and what can we expect to see in the next couple of years from you?
I think with the foil thing, we are just tapping the surface and exploring the potential, wave riding is being experienced like we have never known and we are still so young in the whole thing. There will be a lot of open ocean spots to explore and experience with respect to swell riding. In one way you are more exposed when you ride a wave that doesn’t break in deep ocean waters and on the other, you eliminate one of the biggest threats, the breaking wave. This sport will allow people to ride swells in a way that they would never be able to and they don’t even have to be great surfers or the surfer that rides a 20’ waves.

Thanks for the interview! Any last words or comments that you would like to leave our readers?
I want to say, what an incredible thing it is we have to ride these waves and the reality is, the waves do all the work. We are just apart of the experience, the power, and the beauty. I wish more people could just experience this and I am sure the world would be a better place.

In closing, I personally would like to add that my experience working with Laird and Jane his manager, were very positive ones. They were very supportive, open and willing to assist in this interview process for the site. Having the opportunity to hear it from the man himself gave new light to the overall picture. I hope that through this interview, you will as I have, be able to walk away with new insight into the mind of Laird Hamilton and all that he represents.
Thanks Laird!-TS

Contact: Jane Kachmer
Kachmer Management
5111 Ocean Front Walk #4
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
O: 310.821.0656
F: 310.821.7044

You may also visit Laird Hamilton on his website – , where you can purchase LAIRD and STRAPPED, two very powerful and exciting videos/DVDs.

If you want more information on hydro foiling and how you can purchase your own foil that is created by Laird, you may also refer to his website.

© 2002 copyright – / Eric Akiskalian