044: Laird Hamilton: Big Wave Surfing’s Biggest, Boldest and Bravest
If you’re big on surfing, there’s no way you haven’t heard of Laird Hamilton. He has been labeled as the sport’s most complete surfer and the biggest, boldest, and bravest big wave surfer there is. Growing up with a surfing background, Laird shares how he got into the sport himself after his adoptive father’s footsteps, and the intensive training he had to go through to master each discipline of surfing. In his life, he has always taken every wave, of which a movie of the same title has been made about his personal life and career. He also developed Laird Superfood, a line of non-dairy, GMO-free, gluten-free, vegan alternative to traditional creamers which provides razor-sharp focus, untapped energy, and exceptional endurance which is great for people who are active. Learn more about big wave surfing and what has driven Laird to become the best big wave surfer and entrepreneur in the world today.
I thought I had done a bunch in my life until I met this guy, Laird Hamilton. This guy is a rock icon in the world of surf. This guy pioneered basically the whole concept of tow-in surfing. That is the wave that’s so gigantic that you get on the back of a jet ski, then slowly get off and get towed into one of these monster waves. He’s done it a bunch. He’s been filmed, videoed, and the highest wave he actually been in is 100-foot wave in Tahiti. We go through his life. How he grew up in Hawaii. He was influenced by his stepfather, Bill Hamilton, and he became a model. He was in a bunch of different movies and has led an extraordinary life. He shifts his homes between Kauai and Malibu. He’s married to a beautiful woman named Gabby Reece, former professional volleyball player herself and model. They both have created a really cool life.
It was so much fun to interview, Laird. Very generous with his time. We went through the whole thing and then at the end started talking about this new project that he’s working on, which is the Superfood. He is really taking organic products and making them into something that really what our bodies need, which are things that are organic and grown from the ground. As always, if you want to hear about my climbs, various podcasts I’ve done in the past, things coming up in the future, you can do that, www.MarkPattisonNFL.com. I’ve got Denali coming up in May and that should be an amazing climb. I can use some of these techniques that I learned from Laird in terms of breathing to help me get to the top and back down in a very safe manner. As always please go and rate, review and if you have any comments, please leave them. If you have any people like Laird or others that fit the profile of what we try to do here on Finding Your Summit, please send me an email.
Listen to the podcast here:
Laird Hamilton: Big Wave Surfing’s Biggest, Boldest and Bravest
I’m back again with an epic episode. I know it’s going to be with Laird Hamilton. I’m so fortunate that I’m beaming now from Hermosa Beach and I could probably get my paddleboard out and start paddling hard all the way across the ocean because he is in Kauai which is the most beautiful island ever. Laird, how are you doing?
I’m doing good. It’s a little rainy here, but what do expect from the wettest spot on Earth?
It’s such a beautiful island. I think they filmed Jurassic Park there. Is that correct?
There’s a long list, King Kong and Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think the list is too long to remember at this point.
I was over there two years ago and I hiked the Na Pali Coastline and it was a bare. I do a lot of climbing all over the world and that I think it was a 5,000 vertical up and down and up and down and I think at about Mile seven or eight, it gets pretty narrow right next to the cliffs. Then you finally break into that beach. I’m sure you’ve been out there a few times.
I have. I spend a lot of time. That was our idea of Disneyland when we were growing up in the summertime. We’d go down there when the surf wasn’t up and we’d spent a lot of time swimming that coastline and hiking those trails. I used to drive a boat into the far beach and then we would run out and we would do that barefoot, because we didn’t have shoes. It wasn’t because we were choosing to go barefoot, but that coastline, there’s nothing like it in the world and that is bare. It’s the switchback from hell. Some of those ones that you just see the trail at the back, it looks like it’s about a mile away and it takes a couple hours to get there.
The thing that I found fascinating, and again, I’m going from the mountains, which is my world into the surf, which is your world. I sat there on the beach and I spent the night there. I brought in a tent and I was on the sand. I was watching these guys who are coming in on jet skis and trying to maneuver of getting in and then back out against the surf and it was so intense. It was great.
My first job growing up was bringing a backpacks and backpackers in to that beach and then they camp and then hike out. We’d have to land zodiacs on that shore break. Going back out to the surface is always more difficult because the timing and getting going and before the wave comes and then the chance of you getting knocked back in. Coming in is always a little easier because you can get on the back of a wave and follow it in and then slide up the beach. I spent a lot of time in that shore break and watch to a few good a boat wrecks in those days. We didn’t have jet skis. Now, the jet skis make it a lot easier to be in that environment just because of their mobility and the power.
I know that you grew up on Kauai, right?
It’s amazing that our influences are shaped. I grew up in Seattle, Washington, very climbing centric, mountain streams, water. I spend a lot of time in those mountains. I climbed Mount St. Helens before blew its top. You’re now in Kauai, what was that like growing up as a kid? In the references, I was thinking about this last night, I went to the University of Washington as well, that’s where I played college football. We were in the inaugural 1983 Aloha Bowl and we actually went back again the year before and the year after. It was interesting even though we had Samoan-Hawaiian players on our team, it wasn’t always a copacetic relationship with when we got over there and just like there was that group and there was our group. There were a lot of fights going on in Oahu Beach and just wondering you’re a 6’3” guy, 215, how did you mix in with that on that small island?
It was a little bit like the Wild West when I grew up out here because we lived at the end of the road and so there wasn’t a lot law enforcement, I would describe. It was a little bit more like the law of the land. I had situations where I’d get in a fight in high school and then my dad would have to have an altercation with the guy’s dad. It was one of those things, everybody was related. If you had trouble with one guy, you’d probably going to have trouble with the next four cousins and the five uncles and that stuff. I think my stepdad had some pretty good techniques for surviving in that environment. One of them was when you’re wrong, you put your head down and you take your punishment like a man, but when you’re right, you stand up and you go to the end. If you’re a little bit crazy, that discourages probably half the people. Three quarters of the people will be discouraged by someone that’s a little bit crazy because you’re unpredictable. I call it the unpredictable dog. People don’t like that. They want to know what they’re going to get. I think being a little bit fearless and that also is a mechanism that you can use to survive. I think that was something that was probably helpful for me because I was naturally like that anyway.
So to cultivate that as something that I could use as a survival skill will seem natural. That was like, “I’m a little bit daredevilish by DNA. If I’m in an environment where I can really cultivate that and it can be helpful, I think I used that to my benefit. You know when to run. When you’re outnumbered and outsized, I’m never too proud to run and run fast away, but inevitably you run, you’re always going to run. At the end, it’s about facing the challenges. I always say that life is a formulaic process. Formula is you take for success, you can implement into any different field and the formulas that I use to survive are probably formulas that have been helpful in my life and to help me survive. It seems to be an idyllic environment when you talk about beautiful Hawaii. Hawaiians themselves were a pretty warrior culture. You’re talking about a war. Polynesians are warrior culture. The football players that are Polynesian, the success that they have and the Polynesians with the all blacks. This is a warrior culture so when you come into a warrior culture, you better be prepared to be a warrior. Like it’s just part of what you’re going to deal with it.
Playing in the NFL, you run into a lot of guys who were pretty violent, mean and everything else and the biggest thing you can do is stand up. Usually that bark is bigger than their bravado. When you turn, when you show weakness, they come after you. It’s really key to make sure that you stand your ground.
Dogs like to chase things that run. If you run, you’re just like bait. You just create bait where I know that if the guys realize this, it’s going to take some work and he might take some shots too. He might not be unsanitized. It’s too easy to chase something that doesn’t fight back. If you fight back and stand your ground and then be smart. I always talk about trying to be above reproach as best as you can. We all fall short in our lives from the glory but just try to conduct yourself above reproach. When I say that, I mean, don’t put yourself in a position where you’re going to be wrong and there’ll be an excuse to implement something to you. Don’t bring that stuff on. I think I learned that. You start to learn like don’t put yourself in positions and don’t do things that would justify somebody or multiple people pounding on your head.
One of the things that you mentioned before is, I look back on my life and I can say the same thing in certain areas, and that is there are certain qualities that I think have propelled you to some of these big wave scary, hairy situations that you’ve had to stand up and face these things when maybe adversity or odds were against you and it’s probably served you well in a lot of different circumstances.
[Tweet “One thing about the ocean, once you start to know it and understand it, it’s very reliable.”]
One thing about the ocean, at least for me, was a place that was predictable. It was very reliable. Once you are competent in that environment, once you’ve built competence and competence was built through trial and error and getting and getting to understand it. Once you start to know it and understand it, it’s very reliable. It’s very predictable and the land’s not. I always say, “You never know what a human will do. They do all kinds of crazy things with no rhyme or reason and there’s no distinguishable characteristics.” There’s just stuff people do that you cannot rely on, you cannot predict. Where the ocean for me, was a place that I could rely on. Waves come from the sea to the land and when you understand them, it’s a very predictable environment, which in a way I think that was a place I was looking for. I was looking for a place of consistency. Something that was consistent that I could rely on.
What the big waves represent for me, was the ultimate challenge. In my competency, the ultimate test of my knowledge, the ultimate test of my skill, the ultimate test of my courage. That was where I would get probably the greatest levels of fulfillment because I could go there in this environment and I could be fulfilled. I could go and accomplish something and then come back and feel like, “I was able to do that or I made it or I got pounded in and I paid for a mistake that I made,” but it was really reliable and I really appreciated that.
Do you think that Bill Hamilton, your stepdad, was a big influence in you originally getting into the surf and really going down that and finding that passion?
I was already on that road because he met me when I was three years old. The fact is that, my mom was from a surfing culture. One of her best friends was Linda Benson who was at the time a lot of stuff around Gidget was based on her, on these girls. My mom surfed when she was young. My blood father was a surfer. My mom’s friends were all surf filmmakers. I was already immersed in surf culture and looking at surfing. Bill just represented one of the guys that I was looking up to and then he became my father.
How did that connection happen between your mother and Bill?
The story goes and my knowledge of it is that he befriended me. I was at the beach. He looked like somebody that I thought would be like what my dad was supposed to look like because I didn’t know what my dad looked like or who my dad was. I went, “That guy would be cool guy to have as a dad.”He befriended me or I befriended him or something happened. Then he met my mom and fell in love with my mom. Had he known who my mom was before, maybe he befriended me so he could get to my mom. You never know what men are up to when it’s about a beautiful woman. As the story goes to my knowledge and my mom’s and Bill is that I introduced him to my mom to kind of like hopefully make him be my dad and then he ended up falling in love with my mom and then they got married and he became my dad.
This podcast is called Finding Your Summit. That’s all about people overcoming adversity and finding their way and I’ve had my share. I could go on and on and on and talk about that. I could interview me right and talk about that, but the bottom line is for you, I think I’m like in my case, playing in the NFL and starting these different multi-million dollar companies and now doing this mountaineering thing, sometimes people see me as a shiny object when behind the curtain there’s a lot of stuff going on just like everybody else. For you, certainly you’ve had a lot of successes in modeling and being involved in a lot of different movie projects and being sponsored and big wave surfing but starting right out of the gate, it sounded like your dad checked out on your family.
My mom was pregnant, ultimately. It was when I was in the womb which if you want to get into it, you could probably say the sensitivity of the fetus. I was inside my mom knowing that something wasn’t right. If my mom had the emotions of this guy splitting. I started in that environment. Now listen, what doesn’t hurt us, makes us stronger and we can look at all of those things. My mom had a couple of boyfriends before Bill. One of them used to slap me around a little bit when I was a kid because I had a fearlessness, a protectiveness about my mother from probably when I came out.
I was knowing almost like, “I don’t have a dad so I’m going to be the dad. I’m going to be the man of the house and be protective. I don’t care if you’re a year old. You probably already are intuitive enough to already sense that.” Then just be like three years old and there’s a guy that my mom dated that was a little bit aggressive and that story’s would go that I just put my head down and run full speed at him. He pushed me off because I was three years old or whatever, but I wasn’t scared of anybody. I wasn’t scared from when I was little in that way. Maybe I was scared of sharks and other things, scared of the dark or whatever, but I wasn’t scared of people. People weren’t going to scare me.
I think the other side of this, again, going through adversity and finding your way. The gift out of all this is that you have this wonderful influence, it sounds like, with Bill, that came into your life. He became her stepfather, but you saw him as your real father and just between his surfing and the way that you had a natural feel for the ocean, for the water, your love it, it seemed like it was just a natural progression.
I think what really made the dynamic with Bill and I unique and the relationship that really cultivated me but really motivated me is the competition of it, between him and I. It was more older brother, younger brother. It started pretty quickly like that and probably right when my brother came because my brother’s the real son of Bill and so it came like, “Now, I’m not the real son.” Now, I’m like, “Now, it’s going to be competition. I’m going to be competitive.” Our thing was more of a competition-driven thing. Him and I would duel and I think that drove me in a way that I probably might not have been driven had I not had that. I don’t think maybe I would be all that or have been able to do all that I’ve done had we not had a fair amount of that because we had that clash.
It sound like it was a positive competitive situation.
A little bit uneven because of the separation, the age, but definitely a motivator in a high bar. In his day, he was one of the greatest surfers and one of the most beautiful surfers in the world. To have that be your competition, like, “This your competition.”That definitely influenced my style, his style and his things drove me as well. I think there was a bunch of influences. As a parent now, you realize sometimes that some of the best parenting is really not how to be than it’s the how to be. You can be all cool and your kids are like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Then the one thing you do wrong, they look at it and they go, “I don’t want to do that.”
I’ve got two girls. I think you have two or three. I could have a hundred kids and they’ll be girls, I’d been blessed. I’m sure you see it the same way.
That means high metabolism. They say 90% of Top Gun pilots, most of the pro athletes, like 86% of all professional athletes all have daughters. It has to do with warm metabolism, killing male sperm and the female sperm being stronger and surviving and all that stuff. There’s a whole science behind that. That’s a real thing.
Is Bill still with us?
He is. My mom’s passed away. My mom has been gone for twenty years now. This is the 21st year. Bill’s still here. I still get to see him and keep him in the water because that’s our place of healing.
That’s your connection point. Your mother had an aneurism, correct?
She did, yeah.
My dad passed away about five or six years ago now of a stroke and it was just awful. I was close to my dad. It sounds like you were very protective and close with your mother and then those things happen and just out of the blue. I’m at the right field and all of a sudden, in my dad’s case, he lost his whole communication grid and three months later, it was done.
It’s just a reminder again that it’s a short sprint down here. You got to remember that. Sometimes we just think it’s forever and it just goes so quick. You go from being a kid to being an adult somewhat and then you see the kids and they just go, boom, and one day you’re holding them in the next day they’re looking at you in the eye and before you know it, they’re off in their own lives. It’s just a reminder that our stay here is a short one.
When my dad passed away six years ago, this is kind of the same moment in time when I was going through some other things too, personally with my ex. I needed to really refill my bucket and it took me awhile because I was in this low place. When that lightning bolt finally hit me, it was like, “I want to do something athletically great.” Unlike surfing where you can just surf until you fall over. That’s the way the sport is set up. I knew I couldn’t go back and play in the NFL and so growing up in the Northwest, I was just like, “I want to become the first NFL guy to climb the Seven Summits. I entered this whole mountaineering and a lot of friends came to me and they’re like, “Are you crazy?” You got a family, you’ve got this and that.
I saw this, great interview that you had about what do your kids think about going into this gigantic waves. You and I share the same philosophy around this, which is, I really believe and that you said this, so obviously you believe it, which is you’re really giving them that courage and that commitment about not giving up on your hopes and dreams and living your life through your kids, like a lot of parents do. You’re going to still can continue to go out there in the world and just kick butt in and make it happen. I love that. I’m not doing it for anybody besides myself because that’s what my love is, but I’m not going to give it up because you that’s what everybody else thinks I should do.
One thing that Gabby and I talk about all the time is and we both agree on that. At the end, I think it’s all about your values. What connects us with people or disconnects us is having similar values. Your kids didn’t ask to be brought into the world. You brought them in. The last thing you want to do is put the guilt of, well, “I used to do all these great things or I used to do these things that really were fulfilling, but now that you’re here, I don’t do those.” That’s not fair to your kids to put that on them because I hear that all the time. “Before I had kids, I used to be out there and I was doing all this great stuff and I loved it and the things I did, but I don’t do that now because I have kids.” I’m like, “That’s crazy.” First of all, I think it’s important for them to see you for all who you are. Like, who are you? Like, “Who is my dad? Who is my mom? Who are these people and what do they do and what does it bring to them?” I love to quote the movie The Jerk, “Find your special purpose.” I found my special purpose, it’s like, “Find the thing that brings you fulfillment,” and you can show your kids what it looks like if you have one because it’s very rare. Not a lot of people out there really have found the thing that brings them that real contentment. Whatever you’re driven in, whatever your passion is, it’s important for them to see what that looks like.
“That’s what it looks like when a person follows their dreams, follows their passions and is driven. This is what it looks like.” That’s the best way that humans learn is monkey see, monkey do. That’s how we operate. That’s like, the four-minute mile was broke and then the next year 27 people break it. It’s because we’re the monkey see monkey do species. If they don’t see it and identify with it, everywhere they look, they go, “Let me see, relationships. You have to be miserable because every relationship, people are miserable.” “Work? It has to be something that you despise because everybody who works does something they despise.” These are the examples and so everybody follows that train right into those things and goes, “Yeah. Here’s my relationship and it’s miserable because that’s what you’re supposed to do because that’s what relationships are.” “This is my profession. That’s what I do. This is what people do.” At least if you can go, “This is what a relationship would be like when people love each other and want to be together.” “This is what’s great about doing something that you love and that you’re passionate about.” If you’re fortunate enough to be able to actually do the thing that you’re passionate about for a living, congratulations.
If you have to subsidize it, that’s great too. I tell people, I go, “If I wasn’t able to earn or have a profession, modeling and movies and all that stuff, that was just subsidy for surfing.” I’m just like, “How can I continue to surf? I got to subsidize it.” If I’m not going to do it with that, then I got to dig ditches and run excavators and pour cement and build houses or whatever, high tree cutting, whatever it is, I’m going to do it, but that means I’m not going to be doing the thing that I love to do. I’m not going to be able to refine that art. If I can subsidize it, then I could refine the art. I think these are all examples for your kids and lead the life that you want your kids to be able to identify with as a potential for them to do. That’s what I’m trying to do as difficult as it can be at times. You don’t want to look back and be like, “I should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.” There’s a whole world full of that. It’s everywhere you look. I think that’s why there are so many people that are unhappy. At the end, they all have regrets.
One of the things that I’ve learned to do is really create that vision board. I think that’s one of the things you’re talking about. Literally, if you come to my place in Hermosa, you go into my refrigerator on it, it’s got all the mountains. It’s where I’ve been, where I’m going, all those things. It just helps me keep the goal alive. I think you mentioned something that’s very, purposeful, but I have to do other things and work also with a digital media company and I helped them out. That’s just what I have to do right now to pay the bills and make it happen as I fund my travels throughout the world. There’s a big divide between willing and want. Everybody wants to be the big wave surfer, Laird Hamilton, but are you willing to do every single thing you possibly can to make that thing happen? I just see this time and again, time and again and the ocean separates in those two areas.
[Tweet “You think the summit is the summit, it’s actually getting back down and heading home, that’s the real summit.”]
It’s always interesting to you have conversations with people. They desire the glory or what they think is the glory, they desire that, but at the end they are not willing to maybe pay it with the consequences. It’s like, “Yeah. You want to be the guy that rode that wave, but do you want to be the guy that that wave lands on? Do you want to be the guy that that wave it takes an old olds down on the bottom? Do you want to be the guy that is training to be the guy that’s the guy that gets held down by that wave? It’s like, everybody wants the ice cream at the top, but are you ready to milk the cow and make the milk and do the process?” I think it’s for a human in general. I think we love to look at you at the top of the mountain and go, “I want to do that,” but are you ready to take every step it takes up that ridge to get to that point? Or do you just want to go right to the top and be the guy standing on the top?
I think most people just want to go right to the top and stand there and they don’t realize that really the whole thing behind it is the steps. I did a little mountaineering. I got a couple of exposures, but you realize that the parking lot really is the final summit. You think the summit is the summit, it’s actually getting back down and heading home, that’s the real summit. Sometimes they misconstrue what the final destination is in any endeavor or any feat and really for me, I think ultimately to get through this life, to live this life and do all these things and to make it because living is so hard. It’s complicated. Dying is easy. Living is tough. Dying is really simple. It only takes about one second. You’re done and it’s over but living, if you’re lucky, a 100 years.
One of the things that you had said too is just about taking the necessary steps to get to a particular goal that you have out there. I’ve been put in some pretty hairy situations because guys didn’t do what they had to do to put themselves there. They were not physically ready. They weren’t mentally ready. This is sometimes down different mountains around the world and in this case, you are tethered to these people. It’s just like bad things happen and you’re that whole into thin air. Inexperienced people going into bad weather, just the whole thing.
That’s a human condition, that whole thing that people are trying to skip. They’re trying to skip the work and go to the glory. Skip the work. “Don’t do the work. Let’s just go right to the mountain top and let’s get the thing or let’s go right to the big wave.”It’s in every sport, in every endeavor, it’s in every aspect. Everybody wants to skip what it’s going to take to get to the thing. You see what that does. It’s like give somebody a bunch of money and watch how quick they lose it because they didn’t earn it. They didn’t work for it.
You mentioned one of your buddies, Bill Romanowski, a former Raider linebacker. A crazy guy and Steve Wright, another common buddy of ours who we were teammates at the Raider many years ago, and you’re in this category too. I can honestly say at least about Steve because I know him and we’ve worked out together, but we loved the workout process. I’m seen you in your pool and doing all this crazy stuff, which I want to get into, but it’s just like, to me, that’s where the fun is. The touchdown and all that stuff, that’s great.
That’s a byproduct of your love for the effort, your love for the work. That’s just a byproduct. It’s like glory, like fame and success and money, those are just byproducts of passion, of genuine work ethic. If you don’t love it, if you don’t love working out and you don’t love the training, you’re just not going to be able to do it enough. There’s just no other way around it. You won’t be able to do it enough. There are rare exceptions of people that are so talented, but how great would they be if they really did embrace all of that foundational stuff and really do the work that it takes? Who knows the potential? The fact is, is that if you don’t love that stuff, you better learn how to love it because otherwise, you’ll just never be able to do it enough to be successful.
I was in Sun Valley and interviewed a buddy of mine, Ed Viesturs, who’s certainly America’s greatest mountaineer that’s out there. He wrote a book called No Shortcuts to the Top. I think that says it all, everything we’ve been talking about. Let me try something that you talked about a bit ago and that was about subsidizing your passion to do the things that you want to do. In part of this research that I was doing over the last couple of days, I noticed that you decided to quit school when you were in 11th grade to pursue modeling or construction or something. As you look back on it, certainly you wouldn’t advocate to your daughters like, “Go quit high school to go,” what was going through your mind?
I just reached a point with the school system that I was in, the environment I was in, what I was doing. How do you know you’re at a point when you’re in 11th grade about anything? I knew well enough to know at that point that there was nothing good coming from it. That me going to this school that I was going to dealing with that environment, I wasn’t going to learn anything more that was going to help me, if anything, I was only going to get in more fights and more stuff. There was this darkness at the end of that tunnel. It was obvious to me. My mom was at that time, single again. I asked her to sign me out of school which was really I think heartbreaking for her because she really wanted me to have education and go to college. I think that meant a lot to her. It was heartbreaking on her, but she also knew that it was part school, part imprisonment and nothing productive coming out of it.
This is the real circumstances around it were that my elementary school principal who had been passing kids that weren’t educated up to grade, got kicked out and then went somewhere else and tenured. Then came back and was the principal of my high school and showed up at my high school. I had had a pretty tumultuous relationship with her in my elementary school. Then she was all of a sudden there and some guy smashed my face in a desk in a math class or something and then I slammed the guy and threw him out a first storey window in the class or something like self-defense, but then she suspended me. The new rule was both people in altercation will be to be suspended. I’m like, “So if I’m sitting at my desk and somebody slammed my face in my desk then I get suspended too? That was the mentality and so I was like, “Eleven-hour school days” and I was like, “I think I’m good. I think I’d rather go to work.”
Those reasons would make sense to me, but did you have a plan?
My plan was to go to work and then just keep surfing. Just keep focusing on the ocean. The plan was to work though. At the end of the day, if I was going to be the school, I had to earn money. I had to work and at that time, my mother’s boyfriend was a pretty amazing guy and he was a custom home builder. He built these incredible homes himself from scratch all the way through from the ground up. I would work under him. Really, what I went to do was go learn that I was going to try to avoid any way I could to not have to do that for the rest of my life unless it was for myself. Like, “How to do it? I want to do it.” I knew that that was going to be a long road to do that the rest of my life. To build homes is going to be tough.
Then you got a big break. Somebody saw you on the beach?
I had a multiple breaks along the way. My surfing brought me I would say in those days, it was like t-shirts and shorts salary and some equipment and brought me an opportunity. Then Men’s Vogue was shooting on the Island, and Walter Iooss, the famous Sports Illustrated photographer, Walter was shooting out of a helicopter, shot some surfing, me surfing out of a helicopter at a break on the island where I grew up here. Then the fashion photographer saw the photographs and said, “Who’s this guy?” They said, “That’s Laird,” and then that guy called me in and then they shot. He introduced me to Bruce Weber and then Bruce Weber had me shoot for GQ. That began that process.
It’s very cool that you’ve been able to survive it in that way and it’s really funded your lifestyle for many years.
I went from that. Wind surfing came around, I started windsurfing. Somebody heard about me, the guy flew over, I wind surfed with this guy. He said, “Do you want to be a speed sailor?” I said, “Sure.” I moved to Maui, trained for six months, went to Europe and I broke a European speed record in windsurfing and I got sponsored by Windsurf Company. I’ve had a fairy tale Cinderella story, ten different ways and again, always going back to my passion, which was all of this was meant really just to subsidize my surfing, to keep me in the ocean and ultimately focused on big wave riding. I can say, I just turned 54 and my focus hasn’t changed. I’m still focused on riding giant surf and ways I can ride it better and ways to train for it. I’ve started some companies. My creamer business is exploding right now and some of these other projects are exploding and they’re helping to subsidize and I’ll only be thankful and appreciative. I have a saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a sally,” like, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” It’s like when you really have a passion and really believe in it and live true to it and go after it, then it seems that in life, things happen to help support that.
[Tweet “When you have a passion and really believe in it and live true to it and go after it, things happen to help support that.”]
It seems that a lot of the time, the means will be made for you to be able to continue to pursue it. The means will be provided. You just have to believe. You have to have the faith of believing. I grew up around Hawaiians and with Hawaiians too, and I think that’s one of my things that I have. I have this you see me blonde haired surfer guy, but I grew up like a Hawaiian. I grew up with Hawaiians and like Hawaiians and I always say, looking white and thinking brown. I remember the old man telling me one day, he goes, “You know boy, you can’t eat your surfboard boy.” I just remember when he was saying that and I think that taught me one thing, is that you’re never going to not work. My mom was an incredibly hard worker, ridiculous. Sixteen hours a day, six days a week. I’ve never seen anyone with that output except that they’re one of the top CEOs in the biggest companies in the world where they just eat, drink and live the thing in a way that’s why they are where they are. I just realized like, “Never sit back on your laurels.” Never be comfortable with like, “That happened or this happened, or I got a sponsor.” When I had sponsors, I was still working and doing other stuff and I’m on machines. I’ll be on machines be always on the machines, all day yesterday. I’ll be in machines today. I’m going to be on machines tomorrow. I’m going to be digging. I’m never going to stop any of that because I feel that all of that feeds towards the ultimate mission. It’s all feeding towards that. I laugh because I say now, “Now I subsidize my excavating with surfing.”
A lot of what you’re talking about is when preparation meets opportunity. If I would jump on a surfboard right now, which I don’t know what I’m doing or wind surfing and I know a little bit about, I have done. The difference between you and me is a big gap and it’s because you’re out there every day working at your craft and then that has put you in a position of success where these people now want to go and be aligned with you and what you’re doing. It makes total sense to me. Getting into the waves, where did the whole big wave thing come in? There was nobody doing it and you were the pioneer around that. Where did that whole thing come from? By the way, I was flying back from somewhere a couple of weeks ago and I was on this plane. They had one of these little movie sets right in front of me. A movie called Chasing Mavericks, which I’m sure you’ve seen. I watched it and I didn’t know anything about Mavericks and I was a little teary at the end. It was a great movie. I loved it. I’m sure you’ve surfed up there. Some of these waves are just terrifying. Now, from you going in and you’re a little guy and you got little waves and then as you get bigger, you’re going to bigger waves. Is that what the purest surfers always after is where’s the biggest wave in the world go after?
No. Bill, my stepdad always said when I was growing up that big wave riders are born and not made. That you have that desire in you. Honestly, there are a percentage of guys that love to ride giant surfs but don’t even ride small surfs and some of them aren’t even very good surfers. They’re drawn to that power and that energy. I imagine it’s similar in climbing. It’s like, “Why do some guys loved downhill?” They do downhill. They don’t even want to do anything else to just go as fast as they can down a giant mountain. There are some people who love to do turns and some people are in the moguls. Everybody has a different discipline that they’re attracted to and I think big wave riding, from my perspective, represented the apex. That for me was the pinnacle and that everything else was just below that peak. It represented the biggest challenge and then ultimately, the biggest challenge represented the biggest skill through experience and fitness preparation.
When I was growing up, there was a group of big wave riders on the North shore of Oahu that I looked up to. There were a few men that were like the guys that rode the giant surf and I was like, “Those were the guys that I wanted to be like.” I’m like, “Jose Angel, Butch Van Artsdalen, Greg Noll, Eddie Aikau, Warren Harlow.” There’s like a group of guys that were like they were the guys and some of them wouldn’t even go out unless it was giant. These are the guys that go in the water when they’re evacuating the beach and they’re telling everybody, “The roads’ closed and the beach is closed.” That’s when they go out. They wait for that day to go out.
Big wave riding just represented the pinnacle of the whole thing and then watching the competitive aspect of surfing emerged. I was around when it was just emerging. A big portion of the great surfers when I was growing up, there was no contest, there was no tour. That didn’t even exist. They were known just because of their performances that they performed at a level that they were just automatically some of the best surfers in the world. I watched the World Championships at Huntington Beach and it’d be like a foot high and they’d give the title to the world champion to somebody riding a wave that was right up to my knee. That was confusing to me. I was like, “That’s the world champion and then you’re going to go out and it’s going to be knee-high.” That’d be a day I would probably not go surfing. I would be like, “Take a day off. It’s small.”
Is that the reason why you never really got into the surf contest?
A combination of a bunch of reasons stemming from my naturally aggressive, competitive nature. Not so great for the format, judgment, not so great. I’ve watched my dad, being a free surfer and then subjecting his performances to judgment and then seeing how devastating that was to him. Watching judgments that were so confusing that you were like, “How did you even decide that that guy won?” A combination of all of those things. Probably the most critical one is I just don’t like to be told what to do. The fact is, is that they tell you when to go out and they tell you when they come in and then they tell you how you did. I’m like, “I’d go out when I want,” and then when I come back, the people can tell me how I did or I’ll tell myself how I did. I’ll get in and I’ll be like, “Did I do good? I felt good. I did good or I didn’t do good,” and at the end, just the power and then the nature of giant surfs. I just love it.
What’s the biggest wave you’ve been in? Is it the one in Tahiti?
We’ve been in conditions that the surf was excess of 100 feet. It’s insane. I call that the giant. That’s like Jurassic Park stuff when you go out there and run with the dinosaurs. I always tell people I go, “Dinosaurs are dead but when the surf’s 100 feet and you’d go out in it, they’re alive because they’re like dinosaurs.”
Was it your idea that the only way you could get into those waves is by being towed in? Is that how that whole concept your own?
Yeah. We had been windsurfing and using the power of the wind to get on these giant waves but we were encumbered by the sail. When there wasn’t any wind you couldn’t do it and so we are figuring out trying to get around and that concept came from. It came from the whole concept of using power to get on the wave and then being able to ride that. That really has revolutionized what we can ride. It’s allowed people at this point to ride much bigger waves than anybody could physically paddle into, even though the paddling limit is being pushed and it’s being driven and part of what’s helping drive the paddle limit is also not only the talent of the athletes, but it’s also being driven by the fact that we’ve written bigger waves so we know it’s possible. The fact is, is that possibility, the monkey see monkey do thing where we’ve been on these giant waves. We can ride them so we know we can ride them. Now, we can try to manually catch them. It’s pretty cumbersome to use those big boards and do it the conventional way.
What’s the conversion point of where you can paddle in and then when you get to X amount of feet, there’s just no way you can paddle anymore and you need something mechanical power to tow you in?
That varies on the wave. If you go to Tahiti, because of the way that Tahiti wave is, it doesn’t really grow that much taller, but the fact is the way the way breaks, it just has so much water moving up the face that you’re not able to physically get yourself down it to catch it. As soon as you get you into if you just talk standard waves, standard procedure, as soon as you get into the 50-foot base which we call 25-foot to 30 foot, that’s the line. That’s the line where were 50-foot phase, 60-foot base, that becomes the line of no return, you just can’t. Then that’s only on the perfect day with the perfect conditions. If there’s any wind wrong or a bad chop or other variables it makes it so it happens even sooner.
You get in that way, how do you get out?
You complete the ride. You ride the waves until you get to an exit, which is part of the art of surfing obviously, is the ability to be able to maneuver yourself in a place where you can exit the wave. That’s the whole objective is to take it, ride it, and then finish it in the safe zone ultimately when it ends. Hopefully, all the power dissipated and then you can exit before it exits you.
Our common buddy, Steve Wright, a former Raider teammate of mine, I know he’s been out training with you in Malibu. We hooked up one night in Manhattan Beach and he was so excited about some of the training he’s been doing down there. One of the reasons why he thought it’d be applicable to me is because in the mountains, it’s all about breathing and regulating obviously your breath. It’s all about oxygen intake and so many people aren’t able to get to those higher levels, elevations just because their body, their chemistry. There are also a lot of things that you can do around that to reduce the risk of having any kind of issues when you get up high.
Fortunately for me, I have not had many issues, but I keep going higher and higher and higher just like some of these waves. We haven’t done it yet, but he was talking to me about breathing. In the case, relevant to your sport, I mean, it certainly makes sense that a lot of times you’re not always going to have that successful ride, that successful exit and so you end up at the bottom and you guys stay down there for a while. Is that why you started this whole breathing technique?
I’ve been so breath aware because of obviously the water from the ocean, there’s no air below. Your relationship with how important an area is pretty established quickly. Drowning is a very defining thing to make you aware of breath. I had been exposed to breath work and different breath techniques for years, but had never really pursued any real strict routine until I got exposed to The Iceman at Wim Hof. The Iceman Wim Hof’s work, I got exposed to his work that brought me into Tummo where a lot of his work came from. I’ve been doing a lot of hypoxic training and I’ve been training with resisted masked and some other stuff and then it just opened up from there and then I started going in all these different directions. The one thing about pool training that’s nice is you breathe when you’re up and you can’t breathe when you’re down. Depending on how long you’re down and how long you’re up that you just really get into these breathing patterns. All this breath work has just opened up my whole mind to breathing. There’s a bunch of great things that you can do with breath work that have a profound effect on your health and just on your life.
My plan is to head to Everest and it’s about a fourteen to seven day trek from Kathmandu all the way to the base camp. I’ve got some former NFL players, some Navy Seals are going to go and you need to be on that trip with us. To put that though that breathing to a test. It’s awesome. I’ll be up there for three months, fourteen days and nothing. Where do you go from here? You’ve accomplished so many different things in your life. I just remembered, something I want to jump into is this Superfood. I’m a really intrigued about that because so much of what I do in the mountains, it’s one thing about physically being ready, to mentally being ready, but I learned the hard way. Your diet and what you’re putting in and the higher altitude you go, your appetite is being suppressed, but you’re burning twice as many calories. It’s just this constant battle of trying to like ingest stuff right now. Tell me about your Superfood project you have going on.
Basically, the Laird Superfood started out of my love for coffee ultimately. That’s where it comes from. Then in choosing the ingredients that I have been playing with in my coffees over the years and then just trying to make up and then ultimately making a product around that, and then sharing it with people and people just loving it. It’s all about healthy fats basically and then high nutrient dense and the high mineral dense and high nutrient dense ingredients and all whole food ingredients. We have a certain kind of value system. We always use whole food ingredients. We try to do as minimal amount of processing as you have to but still make products that can last, that people can get and have it not be something that it’s great for five seconds and it vanishes and then you don’t have it. Or it goes bad in an hour. That’s the basis of it. Then, I have all these coffee creamers, and then I have these hydration products that I’ve been using. I use all the stuff authentically myself. It has a profound effect. It works very, very well.
I want to talk to you when we get done here about some of the things I can take up to Denali.
[Tweet “We think that to hydrate you need some water but the water doesn’t do anything because it doesn’t have the minerals in it.”]
There’s some great stuff for you. I got this new hydrate that we’re making. This coconut water calcified sea algae that’s pretty incredible. It helps you absorb oxygen coincidentally, which might be useful for you. Then a bunch of minerals and high potassium and calcium and some really highly absorbable minerals. I have a theory about dehydration being really related more to new mineral loss in actual water. Everybody thinks that to hydrate you need some water but the water doesn’t do anything because it doesn’t have the minerals in it and it’s all about the electrolytes and minerals. Really, at the end, this stuff’s real simple stuff. It’s not so complicated. It’s like everybody tries to make stuff so complicated. It’s not complicated. You just have to go get it in nature because nature got through the complication over millions of years before you.
Where do you go in the world of water? The surf and two in and hydrofoil surfing and things like that. Where do you want to go?
I’m in the hydrofoil right now. Right now, the foiling is just wide open. It just opened up the world for us because we’re able to use the waves energy unlike we’ve ever been able to. Now, we can tap into it in a way and use the power of a wave a lot. If you’re riding giant waves, you’re just spilling power everywhere. You’re just trying to scrub power. It’s like having a really inefficient motor, half fuel’s going out the exhaust. Now with foils, we are able to tap into the energy of the wave and really all the power. Now, we don’t really need much of a way to go fast. I always really enjoy goals that are real defined, fast, high, big, long. There’s nobody’s opinion there. There was nobody opinions in that’s 10,000 meters, or whatever. There’s no opinions I like those kinds of goals.
When I talk about that, I talk about fast. How fast can we go? How far? How long? How big? Those are those and those things just are always out there in my scope. Last summer I was able to go to Chile and ride. I was in Chile for snowboarding, but I was in Peru twice during the summer and we rode this wave. It’s said to be the longest wave in the world, but we were actually riding it twice as long as the actual wave because we could catch it earlier and ride it farther and we rode waves for six and a half minutes and more than two and a half miles in one ride. A mile-long ride in surfing would be a world record at a certain point. There’s a giant wave here that I wait for. We haven’t ridden it at one time only but we were 52 knots, 53 knots, 54 knots. We were able to do some of these scalable achievements that are keeping my enthusiasm.
Last question for you, and this is just my own interest in things in the water and that’s the little man in the gray suit. As much as you’ve spent in the water, have you had any issues with the sharks swimming around you?
They are ever present. I think I’d been in the ocean long enough to feel them. I know when they’re there, when they’re not there. If you said to me, “How many sharks have I seen in my life?” If I thought about how long have I been in the ocean? I might be in the ocean for 50,000 hours. I don’t even know the amount of time, it could be more. I’ve seen ten in my life. I’ve seen some big ones up close. I’ve seen a big hammerhead, beaten up with a giant Mama hammerhead. I’ve had huge a tiger come swim by me. A giant one, like my board fit between its tail and my twelve-foot boards fit between the middle fin and the back fin. You can just decide how long you want it to be. I’ve been around a cool little leopard ones and thresher sharks and black tips. I can count all those. I’m also not spearing fish in their turf and competing with them for food, but they are ever present. Maybe just a reminder which I think that we as a species have forgotten that we were prey at the end of the day, we were in the food chain at some point and we’re not good eating. That’s why they’re not eating more of us. They really don’t want to eat us, but it’s a good humble position to be in.
Believe me, nothing like a lonely, dark evening or someplace way out in the middle and you’re swimming back in from breaking your kite rig or your wind surfer in you’re a mile out and you’re out there swimming thinking, “I don’t know if I really love this.” I don’t want to subject myself to it, but I know that it’s probably pretty healthy sensation for us to feel vulnerable. I think it’s something that maybe realigns your priorities and puts everything in perspective. The sharks are an amazing creature. I’m in awe of them. They’re the cleaners of the sea and without them, we’re not here. There’s some statistics about sharks, like they’re older than trees and they got some stuff about them that we can’t even comprehend. What an amazing creature they are. They get a bad rap and there a murderer and hundreds of millions of them a year right now for shark fin soup just because they think it has some kind of aphrodisiac power or something. In a way, I become more protective and if you’ve ever met anybody who’s been attacked, which I have quite a few people I know. I know them. I met people that had been bitten and every single one, I don’t think I’ve ever met one that became more scared of them. They actually became less scary.
There’s a guy I had on the pod months ago, his name is Mike Coots and he’s a guy that lives in Hawaii and he was boogie boarding. He is about 300 yards off shore, wherever that is, and he was with a buddy and this tiger shark came up and just like a submarine emerge from deep and just took him. Now, he’s inside this gigantic 15-foot tiger and he’s punching his snout and he releases them. His was buddy of course was freaking out. He takes off and so he starts to paddle and he is not going anywhere. He turns around, and realizes that he just took off half from his knee down. It goes through that whole story, but he is now an advocate for shark safety. Everything you just said about, these other countries out there slaughtering millions of sharks for just the fin or something. He’s done actually some really good work around that.
All the biggest advocates that I know of for shark protection and shark preservation, there’s a huge group of people that had been attacked. At the end, we’re in their territory and why is it that when people are attacked, they become big advocates to protect them? Somewhere within there, they realized it wasn’t personal. I think that something happened. A giant animal with teeth that’s so efficient like that, if that doesn’t strike fear into your blood, nothing does. At the end of the day, it’s like, they are for real. Sometimes I’ll feel them and I’ll just go in and then somebody will go, “Did would happen?” I go, “What happened?””There was a giant shark.” I go, “I felt that thing out there that day. I just went in.” I can just feel them. Like, “I feel that guy is around here somewhere. It’s a big boy.”
You certainly appreciate what I would feel like when I had to go across the middle and Ronnie Lott was sitting in there. That’d be my shark on the other end waiting on me. Much appreciation to your lovely wife, Gabby Reece, who set this whole pod up, much appreciation to you. I know we’re cut from the same cloth in many different ways in terms of our workout. I think you’ve taken it to a different level in terms of more creativity. I’m still out there every day, but if ever the time where I can come and share the pool with you and we can work on the weights and I really want to get this continue to work towards this breathing thing because it’s going to help, especially in the next twelve months. I’d love to do it.
I think you need to get The Oxygen Advantage first thing and do that. If you haven’t read that book, I would do that right away. Work all that nose breathing stuff. It’s so critical. When you read the book, it just opens your whole mind around the way we work and how nose breathing is so important for the efficiency of our breath work and all that. It’d be great to have you up at the house and get Mr. Wright too drag you up and come play with us. Come do some ice and heat and stuff you’re used to at this point.
Where can people find you in and as important to, this whole Laird product line that you’ve developed.
The best place to look at the creamer stuff is just go to LairdSuperfood.com. We’ve got some great stuff and you can go to Amazon, but it’s easier just to order directly from our site. Just try those creamers out because even if you’re not a coffee drinker, you can use it. You’ve got the cow and turmeric and all this other great super foods. I’m on Facebook and all the other social sites. Then we have that XPT, it’s all our fitness program stuff, XPTLife.com. That’s another great spot. One will lead you to the other one we do have a presence on the internet.
I’ll let you know when this is coming and we ended the conversation with sharks and I can tell you the entire time, I was at peace because I heard all these beautiful birds chirping in the background.
I appreciate it. Aloha.
Thank you so much for listening to the Find Your Summit Podcast. We are so glad to have you along for this journey. If you enjoyed the show, please tell a friend, share it on iTunes, spread it to the planet. We are looking to broadcast this to every person that is out there because as you know, they really has their own summit that they’re going after. If you’re looking to follow my journey, you can find that through my social links on MarkPattisonNFL.com. Until the next podcast, just remember, clear eyes, full hear and remember, it takes a little more to make a champion so make it happen. Thank you.