You Promised Hydrofoils

Laird Hamilton, Nazaré, and Hydrofoils. Why has this not happened yet?

| posted on November 04, 2013

Near the end of any modern surf history book, as the author gushes about the technological advancements of modern surfing and how tow-in, big-wave surfing will change the waveriding landscape, there will almost certainly be a photo of Laird Hamilton, perfectly coiffed, cruising around atop an unbroken swell strapped to a hydrofoil. Remember those? The 2003 Dana Brown film Step Into Liquid even devoted a segment to the hydrofoil, with Laird and Dave Kalama gliding over wind-hacked peaks on Maui. This is the next thing, we were told. Laird and his hydrofoils are all over YouTube. He even set, according to his website, the world speed record for “hydrofoil boarding” in 2012. Hydrofoils promised to harness the power of waves whether they were breaking or not, lifting the rider well above the surface, flaunting the wind and the chop. With almost no drag, ungodly speeds could be attained, taming the scariest waves on earth. “Over 100 feet tall,” Brown proclaimed in Step Into Liquid. Let’s see it.

Nazaré at size is barely a surfable wave. It’s more like a 70-foot version of what boiling water roiling around in a pot looks like. I watched people ride those hideous peaks on Monday, each death-defying (and nearly death-causing) ride still kinda underwhelming, as the waves stumbled and lurched all over the sandbar, threatening to break, but never really unloading, top-to-bottom. At least not in a manner satisfying for those of us watching web videos and drinking beer in the middle of the day. “Foilboards!” I suddenly barked out, halfway through this clip, startling the hapless plumber snaking my bathtub drain. If ever there was a day where the mythical 100-foot wave was likely to be ridden by a dude wearing snowboard boots strapped to a wakeboard attached to an airplane wing, Oct. 28, 2013 looked like a sure thing. It was too big/windy/fat/bumpy to really surf those waves properly on regular tow boards. But imagine Laird and Kalama swooping around the Nazaré lineup, way out to sea before the monster peaks had a chance to properly feel the bars beneath, catching 70-foot wave after 70-foot wave.

Mysteriously, Laird abstained. Yet the next day, he popped up on CNN of all places—a network that I assumed would have had far more important things to cover than surfing—there to piss in  the Nazaré pool party by telling everybody that he could have been there had he wanted to, and that Carlos Burle’s thousand-foot wave didn’t count ’cause he fell, and that Maya Gabeira doesn’t have the skills to get mowed down by huge surf the proper Lairdian way. Dammit Laird, nobody was even thinking about why you weren’t out there until you appeared on the news and admitted that you’d declined an invite to surf with Carlos and Maya. But Laird did make some fair points. There would have been no debate about Burle’s wave had he faded to the trough, cranked a 100-yard bottom turn and high-lined it to the shoulder. And Gabeira is a far braver surfer than I’ll ever be, but it takes more than courage to know how to make a wave while avoiding death at a place like Nazaré. I think I might know what it takes though. I think it takes a hydrofoil.

Hydrofoils look impossible to surf, mind you. I wouldn’t try to ride one in waves of even middling consequence. But I haven’t spent the better part of two decades fighting my way to the pinnacle of high-tech giant wave surfing. Laird has. That’s what Laird’s built his entire career on. And I kind of miss him. It’s just not the same when Laird isn’t involved in the “biggest wave ever surfed” debate, other than to call bullshit on other surfers. We still haven’t seen a truly big wave at Nazaré surfed properly—Laird, you’ve got the skills and you’ve got the technology. You’ve got the ego. Show us how to really ride that place. Show us how to make it to the bottom out there. That’s what the hydrofoil is for right? Huge unbroken waves? Well, here you go. Show us that 100-footer.

  • Fernstein

    Haters gonna hate!!!

  • Patrick Michael Horn

    Once again Justin finds the underlying points and issues. Much like a “foilboard” finds the power inside the wave. Great Job.

    • Perry

      Perry says: Seams like there is some Rivalry against Brazilians involved…

  • Surferkim

    Laird Rips Period!! Best waterman I’ve ever seen and that has ever lived in this humble persons eyes, thank you…

  • Dan

    Maybe I misread you’re line about Maya, but it takes a fuckton of skill to know what to do and how to stay calm when the worst happens in larger-than-life conditions. Maya has been training for this for 10 years, including several sessions at Performance Freediving for remaining calm when most would panic and especially when you are getting pounded 20+ feet below the surface for wave after wave. Maya SURVIVED because of her skill that kept her alive long enough for Carlos to be able to reach her and later revive her. Even McNamara spoke up about Maya’s ability to technically navigate that situation that even he admitted, had he taken that same wave, would have possibly ended up in that same scenario. Maya’s ankle broke on a landing from a bump, a fate ANY surfer would have suffered, and therefore fell.

    Laird is a tremendous athlete and innovator of the sport, it is because of Laird and his fellow pioneers that Maya and Carlos are able to tow-surf. Is it possible that Laird spoke up in true Laird-fashion simply because a WOMAN nearly accomplished what took him much longer to achieve and nearly took a title for Largest Wave Ever Ridden? Maybe. Did Crlos “finish” his wave, No. Did he “ride” it, yes. Maybe instead of criticizing your fellow comrades in times of disaster, you support their efforts and swift thinking. Not just give the complete opposite opinion, be it honest or not, just for causing a fuss. The Big Wave community needs to stick together in good times and bad and support one another. The thicker the tension grows, and the jockeying begins, the more accidents, finger-pointing, and deaths are going to show up.

    • sky dive

      Want to surf the sky the ultimate wave is above us sky board

  • PJ

    Everyone has been hating on Laird since his comments. (above article excluded) I don’t know how I feel about his comments on Nazare but I do know the guy has earned the right to say whatever the f he wants and his opinion holds more value than 99% of surfers…

  • Soulsurfout

    You and everyone else talking about “laird” right? well then, mission accomplished ! No doubt he has the skills to ride it, even as he nears 50yrs old.

  • bibo

    Laird knows…!!

  • David Carvalho


    To be honest I haven’t understood this conversation about Nazaré, where people say that waves in Nazaré/Praia do Norte don’t break top to bottom, guys it’s a Beach Break it depends on the banks, swell direction, zone of the peak…on 2011 where Gmac caught that 60-70ft beast it broke top to bottom…it was on the middle of the beach, now this last two years they have been exploring the peak in front of the cliffs…

    Gmac 60-70ft (whatever!) wave (world record)

    I trully believe that people are not understanding the true power of Nazaré and it’s true potential.


  • Cap

    Lost in the discussion regarding if it’s the “biggest wave ridden if the person fell during the ride” is the foundational wave that set the standard: Greg Noll’s ride at Makaha. It was the “record” and the standard by which all other waves were compared to for decades and his ride was a self-described “short drop to wipeout”. Have the standards changed or just Laird’s standard? Just a thought.

    • Jimmy the Saint

      I am guessing the difference is that Greg Noll paddled into that wave and made the drop, which is quite an accomplisment, whereas there dosesn’t seem to really be a drop with tow surfing, but what do I know?

  • Turtle

    Lance Burkhart is an asshole, did North Shore teach you nothing??? What did you expect from this guy, did you not see it coming when he was a douchebag on national television. What a Barney.

    Stay Loose haoles

  • Guest

    I told you not to trust Lance Burkhart, no one likes a barney.

    • Perrito Del Mar

      …nobody listens to Turtle man.

  • http://surfvision.tv/ SURFVISION.TV

    Im going explain what happened. Its like finding cure for cancer. The capitalist industry of surfboards shut down the process of the new amazing invention since the boards we are using right now are way more profitable and has a shorter period of life, agains the fantastic hydrofoils with last forever.

    • jbinsb

      Jeez, you have a hard time staying on topic, right?

  • Michael O’Connell

    Laird is the man. He invented tow in surfing with his buddies. They don’t film waves to win the stupid macho puke of the year award. Everybody is giving him no respect about a subject he wrote the book on. He is not politically correct but then again he is not running for office or selling anything either so he can tell the truth without sugar coating it for the sensitive people. As far as hydrofoils go he seems to be the only one good enough to ride them. If you can’t do it teach. If you can’t teach critic.

    I watched the film he is right. Look at McNamara’s rides he kicks out at the end of them. Same wave. Also instead of going straight he went left? So what do you can going straight like that the worlds biggest parry? The guy didn’t finish the ride he did wipe out mid face.

    She has almost drown TWICE including being out cold the second time. She is going to drown sooner or later. If you can’t make it back to shore maybe you shouldn’t go out. Ask Jeff Clark he rode mavericks for 15 years alone without a ski. He didn’t film his shit either. Lots of macho hype around who got into the books for this or that. No respect for the people who got them there. GO HOME!

    • mauiwind

      Right the fark on!

    • Lespaulsmith

      He rode Mavericks for 10 years alone, not 15. You have the right idea, and I completely agree that Maya was an idiot for continuing to try big wave surfing when she doesn’t have the skill, but try and make sure that the information you give in your statement is correct.

      • ola_dunk_nordmann

        Maya has a big disadvantage just from being a girl with her lighter weight. Way harder to dampen the chop when you are lightweight.
        That said, she was alive and well on the inside (although with a broken ankle which is no big surprise on a wipeout on a tow board with straps). The problem was not Maya’s lack of skill, it was the lack of skill on the rescuers behalf. Every big wave surfer will find themselves in a situation where they need rescue sooner or later. You think Laird could outswim the rips in Nazare?

      • nettwench14

        You must not have seen the Nazare wave she made before the wipeout.

        • Michael O’Connell

          Nope didn’t televise it.

      • Michael O’Connell

        He is still doing it so we are both wrong its more like 20+ years now. He goes out alone now when the circus leaves town

    • Dan

      Maybe you research all the other MEN who have almost drown more than once and stop insinuating that only MAYA has had close calls. Keala has had her close calls, and in SMALL conditions she lost a solid chunk of face that could have been her eye or worse. Greg Long had his near-drowning. It is the nature of the sport, and any sport with heavy conditions. How many people have had near-drownings at Pipe on multiple occasions? It doesn’t dictate their level of expertise, or years of experience, or skill. Shit happen. The ocean does not play favorites. It humbles the man OR woman when its time. How may people have been in multiple car accidents, totaling their vehicles and having close calls? THOUSANDS, and most of them were the ‘victim” of those cases. There is no such things as perfection in the water and EVERY single big wave team will tell you that every session is filled with things they could have done better and mistakes to work on. I am sure Laird has had his fair share of them too. Both Maya and Carlos have praised Laird and other pioneers of the sport and have taken loads of advice from them. That is how things work in this community. Generations pass down their knowledge, and ALL of them have thanked their predecessors and given them due credit where it is deserved.

      • Michael O’Connell

        Do you know laird? I do I met him a couple of times with his wife in Malibu. The first time I met him he was jumping out of trees to scare tourist around Hanelai. He is the nicest person you could ever meet. Not a malicious bone in his body. You missed the point lost point of what he was saying. Lots of people have near misses. He had a few. I have had a few. If you have a lot of them its time to re-evaluate what you are doing. You are doing something wrong if its a consistent problem.

    • Max

      I respect many of Lairds achievements – and we are richer for it. For Maya I think we are missing the point and need to respect she is a multiple world record big-wave rider sponsored by Red Bull. She charges macking Wammy, Chopes and will put on a steamer for smoking Dungeons and Nazaré. Maya is a surfing gladiator that survived a 60 foot Nazaré wipeout wearing a steamer and with a broken ankle. For the next big Nazaré why not join Laird with the hydrofoil, Maya, GMac & Carlos towing for an all-time session.

      • Michael O’Connell

        I would love to you buying?

  • rafael

    beatifull , congrats Surfer and Justin!!!

  • Scott

    WTF? Cant make this kinda shit up!

    Laird was born Laird John Zerfas in San Francisco on March 2, 1964, in an experimental salt-water sphere at UCSF Medical Center designed to ease the mother’s labor.[1] His Greek
    birth father, L. G. Zerfas, left the family before his first birthday.
    While he was an infant, Laird and his mother, Joann (née Zyirek), moved
    to Hawaii. While still a young boy living on Oahu, Laird met with 1960s surfer Bill Hamilton, a bachelor at the time, on Pūpūkea beach on the North Shore.
    Bill Hamilton was a surfboard shaper and glasser on Oahu in the 1960s
    and 1970s and owned a small business handmaking custom, high-performance
    surfboards for the Oahu North Shore big wave riders of the era. The two
    became immediate companions. The young Laird invited Bill Hamilton home
    to meet his mother. Bill Hamilton married Laird’s then-single mother,
    becoming Laird’s adoptive father.[2]

  • Pz

    Suppose Laird was there not Carlos or Maya? What would Laird and/or CNN do? what a shame…

  • mauiwind

    It would be irresponsible of any experienced BWR to simply say, “You go girl” about Maya’s near disaster. What, you wanna encourage others to kill themselves? No, being prepared to ride moving monstrosities is also about being strong enough to deal with the elements of giant waves, including the bumpy parts.. If she surfs every day for a couple years, (and many biggies) after having the experience she already does, then she could, with high confidence and community support, nail that big baddie.

  • she-ra

    nothing that grimacing Laird as he gets all hyper-excited about technology while flexing his biceps! Go Laird! He-man of the waves…

  • putesputes

    Laird comments are unfortunate because he took a sport that is all about the joy of nature and turned it into a cesspool of human political BS. He diminished himself and the sport.

    • Justanotherdonkey

      I disagree, when the surf hits over 20-25 (Hawaiian) and bigger, safety is number #1 not the “joy of nature.” Anyone that has been in conditions of that echelon knows this, simple as that. Sure at its core at the end of the day that is what surfing is all about, but not in the impact zone when you’re about to have a 2 wave hold down.

  • AC

    I fully agree, congratulations to Maya and Burle. Congratulations to anyone who played in a giant wave. I remember every day of my life when I drop a wave of 6 feet, this is my record and no one will take that away from me. Congratulations to burle, for having the courage to drop a 100-foot wave. It was possible to paddle jaws? Thinking like Laird, Danilo Couto wouldn’t have paddled it! And if Jeff Clark believed he wasn’t prepared? And Kelly is not young enouth? Or Aikau that is so far?

  • great job

    This article is kind of stupid. who honestly cares.

  • Dames

    Admittedly Laird was pushing the possibilities of tow surfing the hardest at the beginning, but his rank style made it hard for me to really get engaged by it – to me it looked like he was water skiing or something. Sorry but for me, years from now Laird will be remembered for forgotten surfing gimmicks – velcro boot aerials, hydrofoils, and tow surfing – which has been upstaged (rightfully) by guys actually paddling in to the very waves Laird so heroically(!) tow surfed. Oh and for never wearing a shirt.

  • Pedro
  • SUPsucks

    Laird Hamilton invented SUP… What a dushbag.

  • dgb

    What the fuck is wrong with surfing and it’s followers? Laird makes the sort of comment he would make to you at a backyard bbq and he’s an arsehole… On Carlos’s ride, he’s on the money. When was the last time you bragged to your mates about the wave you didn’t make? On Maya’s credibility, he’s just plain wrong. If she’s got the balls to have a go,then that’s the only credential required. Maya’s biggest problem is Carlos can’t drive a ski for shit. If he didn’t miss picking her up three times in a row the entire episode would have been a three or four comment sponsored edit for lazy editors at surfing and surfer and stab to chuck up with all the other shit the chuck up. Wouldn’t even had made it out into the real world.

    • therealdmt

      “If she’s got the balls to have a go,then that’s the only credential required”

      – not quite. The fear is that unprepared people (perhaps many of them), seeing all the big wave coverage and all, will go out there in giant surf thinking they can do it too — and die. Besides the tragedy of the loss of human life that would be involved, the consequence would be, after enough deaths, legislation. The entire activity could be shut down, ruining things for all involved.

      The thing is, who is to determine who is qualified for the credential of “big wave surfer”? If it was only in Hawaii, maybe Laird and his buddies could enforce things out in the lineups. But it’s all around the world. Hamilton tried to enforce things from afar, and looked kind of bad doing it.

      In the end, hopefully common sense prevails and stops fools from attempting what they shouldn’t. Jet skis though means anyone can “paddle out” and make it back out after a ride. Ultimately, I imagine various places will forbid surfing in waves over a certain size, or require actual certification and have rules that must be followed (like having a lifeguard present and wearing a certified floatations device, etc.!

  • A.M.

    Yeah and while he’s at it…I’d like to see Laird paddle giant proper Mavericks too.

    • nettwench14

      Or Cortes.

  • Justanotherdonkey

    I’d like Mr. Housman to say all of this to Laird’s face and anyone else who is talking smack about him. I think if anyone is entitled to have an opinion it’s him. It’s amazing the balls people appear to have from the safety of their macbook. Let’s see it people.

    • Michael O’Connell

      Laird is such nice person he would tolerate all of us talking about something we really don’t know anything about

      • sky dive

        I am creating a suf board that will fly in the air I wonder if lance would be interested in giving it a go

  • smell

    who the fuck cares

  • james

    I’ve always wondered what happens when you fall on a hydrofoil board? Looks like it’s solidly attached to your feet. The boots are in bindings and the bindings are attached to the board. No way out. Just you and 50 pounds of steel thrashing around for a two-wave hold down. Breaking legs would seem likely, and then the whole apparatus is free to flop around and mangle the rest of you. No thanks.

    • Michael O’Connell

      I had the same thoughts you cannot fall

  • AC



    who is the king? Jeff Clark, Burle, Aikau or Danilo Couto?

    The joker was on CNN!

    • Michael O’Connell

      Some would say the QUEEN of womens surfing is Jerrico popper, Rell Sun, or Layne Beachley, More style points less noise

  • Surfcrazy

    All “Lard” seems to have done recently is gotten fat off mazda commercials imho…

  • whamo

    You would think Laird would get more respect from the kuks.

  • Matt bender

    The author is apparently oblivious to the fact that the feasibility of riding that POS on a huge wave is nothing short of a pipe dream.

  • Matt bender

    …of a director. (No offense to Laird)

  • Surffoils

    Hydrofoiling hasn’t got the industry behind it, the board guys don’t want to start making something different and the fin companies don’t want anything to do with it because they don’t make foils. Sure its a cool, fast, unique ride but there’s no one supplying the equipment to the market, so its amazing, it’s exciting but there’s no chance of finding a foilboard in your local shop.

  • Tom

    Laird is the greatest surfer since the days of Greg noll and the other big wave hunters that took big wave surfing to another level in hawaii. With that said, he comes across sounding like an ass who seems threatened by others’ accomplishments.

    Not a total surprise, I’ve heard from others that have been in a lineup with him that he acts like he owns it even if he’s not a local. And no, I don’t buy the whole “he can do what he wants because he’s laird”. He can still show some humility even with being as great as he is.