Laird Hamilton

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Laird Hamilton
Personal information
Born 02-03-1964 (age 54)
Birth place San Francisco, California, USA
Birth name Laird John Zerfas
Residence Kauai, Malibu, California
Height 6'3"
Weight 215 lb
Surfing specifications
Stance Regular Foot
Sponsors Oxbow, Amway
Major achievements Co-invented Tow-in surfing. August 17, 2000 at Teahupo'o heaviest wave ever ridden successfully.
Quiver Long boards
Favorite waves Teahupo'o, Pipeline, Jaws

Laird Hamilton (born March 2, 1964) is an American big-wave surfer, co-inventor of tow-in surfing, and an occasional fashion and action-sports model. He is married to Gabrielle Reece, a professional volleyball player, television personality, and model. Hamilton and his family split their time between residences in Kauai, Hawaii, and Malibu, California.

Early life

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-born 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]

The family later moved to a remote valley on Kaua'i island. Joann and Bill had a second son, Lyon, Laird's half-brother, who also became a surfer. Laird's mother died of a brain aneurysm in 1997.[3]

Hamilton had a reputation for an aggressive demeanor around others of his age. This hostile attitude was in part due to Laird and his brother Lyon being bigger than their classmates, fair-skinned, and blonde: unusual in their predominantly Hawaiian-populated neighborhood. The role of the outsider profoundly affected Laird through to his teen years and early adult life. He became used to this role and was uncomfortable being in the center of anything. He was also known for his physical and mental toughness.[4] Young Laird is shown in early video footage jumping off a 60-foot cliff into deep water at 7 years of age.


When 16, Hamilton left eleventh grade at Kapaa High School to pursue a modeling career and work in construction. At 17, Hamilton was discovered on a beach in Kaua'i by a photographer from the Italian Men's Vogue magazine L'Uomo Vogue which landed him a modeling contract and later a 1983 photo shoot with the actress Brooke Shields.[2][5] Hamilton continued to do occasional men's action sportswear print modeling.

In 2008 Hamilton announced his own "Wonderwall" line of affordable clothing, sold through Steve & Barry's[6] until that retailer shut down at the end of January 2009. He has had long-time sponsorship from the French beachwear company Oxbow surfwear.[7]

Surfing career


By the age of 17, Hamilton had become an accomplished surfer and could have left modeling to pursue a career on surfing's World Championship Tour. However, competitive surfing and contests never appealed to Hamilton, who had watched his father Bill endure the competitive surfing contest politics and the random luck of the waves in organized championship surfing events. Bill Hamilton regarded surfing more as a work of art, rather than based chiefly on wave-by-wave ride performance scored by judges.

In the 1987 movie North Shore, Hamilton played the violent, antagonistic role of "Lance Burkhart". Despite further success in modeling during the 1980s, Hamilton, with his professional surfing upbringing, always intended a life of surfing, but continued to reject the professional contest circuit.

In 1989 Laird featured in windsurfing movie "Moving Target" alongside Fred Haywood.[8]


An early attempt at media recognition was his quest to be the first surfer to complete a 360 degree loop while strapped to his board. The attempt was chronicled in Greg Stump's 1990 ski film, Groove - Requiem in the key of Ski. In the early 1990s, Hamilton, along with a small group of friends collectively dubbed the "Strapped Crew" because their feet were strapped to their boards, pushed the boundaries of surfing at Jaws surf break off the north central coast of Maui. The Strapped Crew tackled bigger waves featuring stunts. Stunts included: launching 30ft jumps on sailboards, then mating the boards to paragliders to experiment with some of the earliest kiteboards.[9]

In late 1992, Hamilton with two of his close friends, big wave riders Darrick Doerner and Buzzy Kerbox (also an occasional men's fashion model; Hamilton and Kerbox later lost their friendship over a property disagreement),[3] started using inflatable boats to tow one another into waves which were too big to catch under paddle power alone. This innovation is chronicled in the documentary film, Riding Giants.[4] The technique would later be modified to use personal water craft and become a popular innovation. Tow-in surfing, as it became known, pushed the confinements and possibilities of big wave surfing to a new level. Although met with mixed reactions from the surfing community, some of whom felt that it was cheating and polluting, Hamilton explained that tow-in surfing was the only way to catch the monstrous sized waves. Using tow-in surfing methods, Hamilton learned how to survive 70ft waves and carving arcs across walls of water.

Hamilton appeared as Kevin Costner's stunt double during the 1995 filming of Waterworld. Reportedly, Hamilton was nearly lost at sea when his Kawasaki Jet Ski ran out of gas during a squall. He then drifted for hours before being rescued by Coast Guard off the Island of Maui. Hamilton commuted daily to the inclosed set between Maui and the Big Island by jet ski.

In 1995 Hamilton met women's professional volleyball player and New York fashion model Gabrielle Reece in Los Angeles, California after a television interview. They later married on November 30, 1997. In 1996, People magazine named Hamilton one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, and in the same year Hamilton pushed for and took from his future wife the correspondent position for the syndicated cable series 'The Extremists'.[5] In 1989 Reece had been named by Elle magazine as one of the Five Most Beautiful Women in the World.

By the late 1990s, Hamilton continued with windsurfing, waterskiing and kitesurfing. In 1996 Hamilton and Manu Bertin were instrumental in demonstrating and popularizing kitesurfing off the Hawaiian coast of Maui. In 1999 Hamilton sailed his windsurfer between the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Kaua'i, some fifty miles away, in just under six hours.

Hamilton has also experimented with the foilboard, an innovative surfboard which incorporates hydrofoil technology allowing a higher degree of precision and effectiveness of aerial techniques within the water.[10] He has become a proponent of Stand up paddle surfing, an ancient Hawaiian technique that requires a longboard and a long-handled paddle, as well as considerable skill, strength and agility. Purist surfers have blasted him for this, but Hamilton calls it a return to the traditional Hawaiian way of surfing, as practiced by King Kamehameha I and his queen Ka'ahumanu almost three hundred years ago.

Ride at Teahupo'o Reef

Hamilton's drop into Tahiti's Teahupo'o break on the morning of August 17, 2000 firmly established him in the recorded history of surfing. Teahupo'o is a particularly hazardous shallow-water reef break southeast of the Pacific Island of Tahiti.[11]

On that day, with a larger than normal ocean swell, Darrick Doerner piloted the watercraft, towing Hamilton. Pulling in and releasing the tow rope, Hamilton drove down into the well of the wave's enormous tunnel vortex, in full view of boat-based photographers' and videographers' cameras. With his signature artistic flair, Hamilton continued deeply carving water, emerging back over the wave's shoulder. A still photograph of him riding the wave made the cover of Surfer, with the caption: "oh my god..."[12] The wave became known as "the heaviest ever ridden".[11]

In the filmed coverage of this event in the motion picture Riding Giants, Doerner said "I towed him onto this wave. And it was to the point where I almost said 'Don't let go of the rope,' and when I looked back he was gone."[13]

Hamilton is regarded by surfing historians as the "all time best of the best" at big wave surfing, regularly surfing swells of 35 feet (11 m) tall, and moving at speeds in excess of 30 miles an hour and successfully riding other waves of up to 70ft high, at up to 50 mph (80 km/h). Hamilton prefers tow-in surfing the giant waves of Pe'ahi reef (known as the Jaws surf break) on the north central shore of the Island of Maui.


In 2007, when Brett Lickle was towing Hamilton into a wave on the Maui north shore, a wave knocked Lickle from the watercraft. The fin on a surfboard sliced Lickle, causing him to bleed into the sea, which he feared would attract sharks. Hamilton swam to recover the watercraft, found Lickle in the surf, fashioned his swimsuit into a cloth tourniquet, and applied it to Lickle to save his life. Hamilton then piloted the watercraft back to a landing, where Lickle was immediately taken to a hospital for treatment.[14]

In February 2008 Hamilton joined the board of directors of H2O Audio, a watersports music company in San Diego California. He had used H2O Audio products on many of his long distance paddling endeavors before joining the company.[15] Later in 2008 he published a book which he describes as not an autobiography, but discussing his philosophy of life.[16]

On August 27th, 2014, Hamilton was in the news again for riding waves, and boards few others dared. When Hurricane Marie caused Southern California to be hit with a swell of extreme size. Triple over head and larger waves could be found from San Diego to Los Angeles. Including Laird's home break at Malibu. Late in the day, on a stand-up paddle board, Hamilton dropped into one of the largest waves of the day, and proceeded to "shoot" the Mailbu beach pier at an extremely high rate of speed. [17]

Despite being one of the best known surfers since the time of Duke Kahanamoku, the matured Hamilton avoids self-promotion. He serves as an ambassador of surfing and watersports and occasional lifeguard to other tow-in surfers.

Hamilton is also an environmental activist. He joined a protest in Malibu against a proposed plant that was to be built in the area, which would affect the quality of the water. Other celebrities attended the event including Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry and Ted Danson.

Personal life

He has a daughter, Izabella (with his first wife, big-wave surfer and clothing designer Maria Souza) [18] born in 1995.

Hamilton and second wife Gabrielle Reece have two children together, daughters Reece Viola Hamilton (born in October 2003), and Brody Jo Hamilton (born January 1, 2008 in Hawaii). According to Reece, the Hamilton family splits time living in residences in Hawaii and California.[19] Sports Illustrated[20] describes Hamilton and wife Gabrielle as part of the "Malibu Mob", a celebrity group in the same vein as the Brat Pack. Other Malibu Mob members include Chris Chelios, John Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, John C. McGinley, Tony Danza, Justin Long, Ed O'Neill, Max Wright and tennis star John McEnroe.[21]

Other media appearances

Hamilton was featured in American Express credit card television commercials; an early 2000s commercial in the series "Hi, you probably wouldn't recognize my name . . . " and more recently in the American Express "My life, my card" commercial series.[22][23]

Hamilton was a central figure in the 2004 documentary Riding Giants about giant wave surfing; and the opening sequence of the 2002 James Bond movie Die Another Day, as Pierce Brosnan's big-wave surfing double (shared with Dave Kalama). He appeared in Waterworld, as Kevin Costner's stunt double in numerous water scenes.[1]

In October 2006, Hamilton and Dave Kalama biked and paddled the entire Hawaiian Island chain—more than 450 miles—in a week. The feat was featured on Don King's film, A Beautiful Son, in support of those afflicted with autism.[24] He appeared on the cover of the Men's Journal April 2006 issue.[25]

In 2007, Hamilton, along with his wife Gabrielle Reece, appeared in the ABC reality television series Fast Cars and Superstars: The Gillette Young Guns Celebrity Race, featuring a dozen celebrities in a stock car racing competition.[26] In the first round of competition, Hamilton matched up against tennis star Serena Williams and former NFL quarterback John Elway. Hamilton was eliminated in episode 5.

He appeared in the Sundance Channel television show Iconoclasts with Eddie Vedder from the popular American rock band Pearl Jam.[27]

Footage of Hamilton is used on the video for Dayvan Cowboy from Boards of Canada. In 2003, he was featured in Dana Brown's surf documentary Step Into Liquid. On January 13, 2010, Hamilton and wife Reece appeared as themselves on the episode "Gary Feels Tom Slipping Away" of the CBS television series Gary Unmarried.

He was a special guest star as himself in the animated television show Phineas and Ferb. He was also interviewed as part of the Australian documentary Bra Boys: Blood is Thicker than Water.

Hamilton had a minor role as Troy in The Descendants. His character was central to the story's plot.

Hamilton also was the Celebrity on the Volvo Ocean Race Boat Puma Powered by Berg. He did a spectacular exit off the boat by diving off it as it was at full speed.

In February, 2012, Hamilton was featured in Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)'s production of Oprah Presents Master Class, in which he shared his life and life philosophies with the audience.


  • Laird Hamilton (2010).Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul, And, of Course, SurfingRodale Books.ISBN 978-1-60961-102-6.
  • Appeared on the television show FitTVs "Insider Training" with his wife


  1. Miki Turner (July 9, 2004). 10 Burning Questions: Laird Hamilton. Page 3. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lesley Stahl, Rebecca Leung (July 25, 2004). Surf's Up!: Lesley Stahl Talks To Big-Wave Surfer Laird Hamilton. 60 Minutes. CBS News. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Duane , Daniel (July 2004). Last Man Standing - Surfer Laird Hamilton. Men's Journal. Archived from the original on 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2013-02-09.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Riding Giants motion picture, directed and produced by Stacey Peralta, distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, 2004.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Laird Hamilton Profiles and Biographies
  6. Ruibal , Sal (May 15, 2008). Surfing star Hamilton makes cool gear affordable. USA Today. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
  7. Riders. Oxbow surfwear. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
  8. Moving Target clip on stableroad
  9. Strapped: The Evolution of Tow-in Surfing DVD produced October 29, 2002
  10. Scott Bass . Laird Hamilton: A exclusive interview. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Jason Borte (January 2001). Teahupoo History. Surfing A-Z web site. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
  12. Cover. Surfer Magazine. Retrieved December 2, 2010. Photo of Teahupo'o August 17, 2000
  13. Riding Giants excerpt. Retrieved January 8, 2011.
  14. Surfing star Laird Hamilton aides fellow tow-in surfer. Maui News. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  15. Pioneering Surfer / Waterman Laird Hamilton joins H2O Audio's Board of Directors to help company "Ride With Giants". h2oaudio. H2O Audio. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  16. Rick Chatenever (November 20, 2008). The book of Laird. Maui News. Retrieved December 2, 2010.
  17. Housman , Justin (27 August 2014). Surfer Magazine. The Enthusiast Network. Retrieved 28 August 2014.
  18. John Brant (January 2007). Laird Hamilton Workout: Ultra-Fit at 40. Men's Health Magazine. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
  19. "The Chelsea Lately Show" E Channel interview of Reece.
  20. Old man Chelios and his Malibu Mob. CNN.
  21. Template:Cite news
  22. Laird Hamilton @ American Express
  23. Laird Hamilton @ American Express 2/ My Sherpa
  24. Template:Cite news
  25. Men's Journal - April 2006. Wenner Media. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
  26. Laird Hamilton: Photos. web site. TVGuide.Com. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
  27. Laird Hamilton: Surfer. Biography on Iconoclasts web site. Sundance Channel. Retrieved December 1, 2010.

Further reading

Jenkins , Bruce (Fall 1997). "Laird Hamilton: 20th Century Man". The Surfer's Journal 6 (3). .

Candus Thomson

   (November 29, 2004).

After shooting curls, he's chilling. The Baltimore Sun.

Retrieved December 2, 2010.

  • Matt Warshaw (2003).Maverick's: The Story of Big-Wave SurfingChronicle Books.ISBN 0-8118-4159-6.OCLC 223979881.
  • Susan Casey (September 14, 2010).The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the OceanRandom House.ISBN 978-0-7679-2884-7.

External links

Gabby Reece

   . Laird Hamilton Official web site.

Retrieved December 1, 2010.

Gabrielle Reece

   . Gabby and Laird's Official Health and Fitness web site.

Retrieved June 11, 2012.

Laird Hamilton Interview. Men's Journal.

Retrieved December 1, 2010.

Laird Hamilton: Biography. Celebrity biography web site. TVGuide.Com.

Retrieved December 1, 2010.

See also