Listen to the Legend of Laird Hamilton in Santa Barbara

Famed Wave Rider to Speak with Filmmaker Rory Kennedy on October 16

Credit: Chris DeLorenzo

In the ascending hierarchy of movement, there are athletes. Professional athletes. World-class athletes. And, finally, there are freaks ― people who do things beyond the pale of what was previously thought possible with a purpose and consistency that transcends. To be clear, Laird Hamilton, coming to Santa Barbara this week as part of UCSB’s Arts and Lectures series, is just such a freak.

By now, Hamilton’s oceanic feats are the stuff of actual legend. His escapades riding gigantic waves at the turn of this century forever altered what people thought was possible in terms of big-wave surfing. The Hawaiian-raised Hamilton was a pioneer of “strapped” and, soon thereafter, “tow-in” surfing, the former being when a surfer is held to their board by foot-straps, thus opening the air above for exploration, and the latter being when a surfer is slingshot into a giant slab of rolling-ocean swell by a Jet Ski or small inflatable boat. He can also rightfully claim pied piper status for derivatives like kite-surfing and foil boarding.

Credit: Chris DeLorenzo

Love him or hate him, there is no doubt that Hamilton’s vision questing while sliding sideways on water helps provide the foundation of surf riding as we currently know it. From the above-the-lip aerial antics that increasingly define modern professional surfing to the crazy 70-foot waves being ridden today to the popularity of stand-up paddle surfing and the rise of foil boards, Hamilton has his fingerprints on all of it.

Of course, no discussion of Hamilton’s place in the surf universe is complete without mention of his jawline and pecs, two things that seem better suited for the cover of a romance novel. The blonde-haired and blue-eyed regular foot embodies, even now at the age of 58, an unbeatable, archetypal surfer look, one that appears to be chiseled from granite and preternaturally tanned. The combo of his physique and his accomplishments has made Joann Zyirek’s firstborn a household name for surfers and landlubbers alike for the better part of three decades.

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Despite all of this, or perhaps, because of all this, a mention of Hamilton around certain corners of the surf universe is sure to elicit an eye-roll or two. He is too skilled. Too pretty. Too intense. Too driven. And he is often peddling a product. There is Laird Apparel, the clothing line; there is Laird Superfood, the supplement line; there are several American Express ads; two best-selling books (Liferider: Heart, Body, Soul, and Life Beyond the Ocean being the most recent), and there is Extreme Performance Training (XPT), the workout protocol he created with his celebrity/model/ former pro volleyballer wife, Gabrielle Reece. And then there is his Hollywood lifestyle with A-lister friends, a house in Malibu, and assorted minor roles on both the big and small screen. It all conspires to pigeonhole Hamilton as something we should try to tune out rather than tune in to. But it would be a mistake not to listen to Hamilton. A big mistake. After all, there is nobody like him.

“We create all this complication in life and that hides our imperfections.” offered Hamilton during a recent interview with the Independent. “That prevents us from achieving the things we want. But the recipe is simple. The needs of the human organism are pretty basic: sunlight, sleep, clean food, clean air. We need a good relationship with nature and we need community…. It’s crazy how out of touch most of us have become with these things.” This answer came as Hamilton was asked about his journey from hyper-handsome surf standout from Kauai in the 1980s to a health and wellness magnate nearing 60 years old who still performs athletically on a near-daily basis at a very high level. 

Credit: Courtesy

As he sees it, his message for the world these days isn’t as much about his achievements or his action-figure adventures; it’s more about the values and spiritual philosophies that he has developed along the way. “Dreaming up and pursuing new ways to ride waves, dealing with failure and loss, getting injured and trying to come back even stronger ― these things have all offered important learning,” says Hamilton. “I know in the end, no matter what it looks like or how stressful or difficult, you benefit from the ride.”

For him, sharing these hard-earned insights and wisdom are a natural extension of the aloha spirit that he holds at the center of his life. “Real aloha is about generosity. When you live aloha, you feel useful. You feel helpful…. Everybody wants the rose bush to bloom, but you have to prune it first. You have to put in the work.”


UCSB’s Arts and Lectures series presents an evening of Laird Hamilton in conversation with documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy on Sunday, October 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the Arlington Theatre. For more info or to purchase tickets, go to

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