Laird Hamilton: A Surfermag.com exclusive interview
Kelly Slater is the only six-time world champion. Andy Irons owns back-to-back world
titles, the last with Slater nipping at his heels. Makua Rothman rode a 60′+ wave at the
age of 18. Jamie O’Brien toys with ferocious Pipeline. Lots of surfers’ exploits make
them seem larger than life. But all of their exploits combined pale in comparison to Laird
Laird rode the unrideable at Teahuppo. He ripped the unrippable at Peahi. He’s a
champion sailboarder and a determined long distance paddler. Laird tears apart Malibu
via an unconventional standup paddle surf method. He’s innovating the foilboard concept
into what he thinks will be the next spin-off sport from traditional surfing. He’s the key
figure in mainstream theatrical surf releases, most notably Stacy Peralta’s Riding
Giants. Laird Hamilton is a unique amalgamation of pioneer test pilot and waterman,
a sort of Chuck Yeager meets Duke Kahanamoku, if you will. He is not only relevant,
Laird Hamilton defines what will be relevant. He’s forging our surfing future—
that’s right, yours and mine– at an exponential rate. And oh yeah, he hangs with James
Laird came by the SURFER magazine office to discuss the Purchase the new DVD The Ride / The Day: A two-part expose into the world of Maui’s most notorious surf spot and the
principals who claim her as their own. The Ride, the first segment of the DVD,
was a big winner at X Dance Film Festival, receiving Best Film honors.
In a unique twist to the traditional interview, the Surfermag.com message board regulars
were queried for questions to ask Laird, and they didn’t let me down. Of course the
occasional “Why did you have to pull Rick Kane’s leash?” had to be tossed out. But for
the most part our website regulars came up with some thoughtful and intriguing questions
for Laird, and for that I am thankful.
What follows is a Part One of a two part series, with Part Two to be released next week. Enjoy. – Scott Bass
SURFERMAG.COM: Let’s start off with some equipment. Towboards, could you please
describe the design elements of the modern towboard: the size, the width, the rocker,
the bottom contours, the weight and the materials. I noticed Derrick pointed out some
Brazilian wood in part of the flick Purchase the new DVD The Ride / The Day.
LAIRD: If you look at the modern towboard it’s really similar, in design expectation, to
the boards that Andy Irons or Kelly Slater, guys like that are riding. They are narrower
and…someone like myself, I’m six-two and a half, my boards are around six-two and a
half. Widths are below 16 inches wide, single concaves, concaves in general seem to be
working pretty well…inch and a half, inch and three-quarters, inch and 5/8ths thick. I
prefer solid wood boards, a spruce stringer and balsa wood.
SURFERMAG.COM: Why the wood material?
LAIRD: Wood has some absorption power that foam doesn’t have. Foam is kind of
crunchy. You wouldn’t really have a foam guitar or a foam violin, there’s something
about the absorption ability that wood has that I like. The dampening effect that wood
creates, and then also it’s a nice core weigh to start with instead of having a light blank
and glossing it real heavy. Then you have this kind of egg, kind of crunchy hard outside
with a hollow interior, which adds a whole ‘nother type of rigidity or structural integrity
which is different than lets say a wood core with less gloss that ends up with the same
weight, or more. Strength, absorption power, overall board weight, those are some of the
factors for having wood boards. Now I have foam boards that have really heavy foam
with multiple stringers that are almost a similar type feeling. But I still kind of always
end up [with wood]. I think my three favorite boards are balsa wood.
SURFERMAG.COM: And what about weight? What’s the average weight on one of the boards?
LAIRD: Well, our weights are fluctuating between 15 and 16 pounds, up to 21 or 22
pounds, depending on the performance you are looking for from the board and conditions
you are riding in. People in places with less wind tend to talk about lighter boards, but
they are able to get away with having a lighter board. It’s not that it is necessarily better,
it’s just that the wind doesn’t effect the board as much. Where in our conditions, with all
the wind, the heavier boards are a must.
SURFERMAG.COM: One of the things I noticed about the boards when I was watching The Ride / The Day is they seem to work unreal except when you’re dealing with chop. It seems like
chop is the main issue for board design.
LAIRD: And speed, speed, speed! You know, speed makes chop more exaggerated. The
faster you go the sooner you get to each one, so the more choppy it seems. You know if
you’re going slow, each chop comes slower and you’re less effected by it and also chop
comes in a few different ways. It comes in from the wind, it comes in from refractions off
of the mountains, cliffs, jet skis. There are a bunch of factors that create chop and each
chop acts differently. There are boils on the face that create bump. Everything has a
different characteristic, but in general chop, yeah chop, that’s our biggest issue with
going fast and trying to keep it together.
SURFERMAG.COM: When you’re designing the board, I’m wondering if there
are any things you do to the board.
LAIRD: Yeah, well we try to first of all make ‘em forgiving up front. Its gotta have the
right nose kick, soft rails up front, softer more forgiving up front and the right rocker
obviously because that’s going to set up your impact and then of course foot straps and
all that become such an essential part of [the board]. That’s the main reason for being
connected to the board (shrugs shoulders), just dealing with the chop, but in board design
itself the weight effects chop probably the most. You know I always use the example of a
light car on a bumpy road. You drive down a really bumpy road with a really light car at
a high speed and the car is just bouncing all over the place. You get a big old Cadillac
you know weighs four-thousand pounds and you drive down a bumpy road and you
barely feel it. The tires might be vibrating under the car but the car is not jumping around,
so there is something to that.