#11 Laird Hamilton
SURFER Celebrates the 50 Greatest Surfers of All Time
I remember Laird when he was an infant and got to know him as a child growing up on the beach at Pipeline. He always had more energy than anyone else I knew. When he was about 4 or 5 years old, Laird tied a rope around a cement block and dragged it up into a tree that grew out over the Kam Highway. There wasn’t much traffic back then, so like a cat on the hunt, he patiently waited for his unsuspecting prey to happen along. A car finally appeared and as it passed under his perch, Laird dropped the brick.
It was direct hit—right through the front windshield. He scampered down from the tree and ran across Ke Nui Road to hide in his yard. His victim, however, had made a quick right turn onto the side street and saw the little towhead hellion dashing away. Laird’s stepdad, Billy Hamilton, was working on a surfboard in the backyard when the angry driver parked out front. The broken windshield and the cement block on the front seat were all the explanation necessary. Billy paid the man for his windshield and assured him that the punishment would be more than equal to the crime.
Laird paid for his misbehavior in spades during those formative years, but eventually he was able to channel his prodigious energy into more productive pursuits and today stands as the leading big-wave surfer of all time.
The point of this story is not the mischief angle. Who hasn’t pulled childhood pranks? The cat analogy really sums it up. Like a cat able to find play in the most innocuous things, Laird has gone through life amusing himself with some interesting balls of yarn.
The first one that comes to mind is his Velcro boots, which allowed him to stick to his surfboard while flying through the air. He played with that for a while at Backdoor and got pretty good at it. Then it was using the Zodiac to tow him into outer-reef waves. Next was putting the windsurf footstraps on his surfboard and creating a tow-board. That led straight to the specialized tow-surf boards. Of course, the whole team-effort and use of the Jet Ski as a tow vehicle (a use its designers had never dreamed of) were the beginnings of the tow-surfing phenomenon we see all over the world today. It was this innovation that enabled him to score one of the heaviest rides of all time, the Millenium Wave at Teahupoo in 2000. And what about kite sailing? He was first to pull an outrigger canoe with a sail, naturally leading to kite surfing, which has become huge. Then there’s the air-chair that developed into the foil board, a board so difficult to ride that only a few skilled guys do it. Following that was the 12-foot tandem board Yoshi Ueda and I shaped for him that he ended up riding exclusively whenever he surfed waves of any size. That board soon became the prototype for the stand-up paddle board.
I’ve probably left out a few other balls of yarn, but I think I’ve made my point. I’m anxiously waiting whatever’s next. I’m sure it will be something interesting and very hard for the rest of us to do. —Gerry Lopez