Laird Hamilton describes himself as “full of testosterone and just obnoxious.” That may have been true during his 1980s heyday as the world’s best big wave surfer, but these days he has channelled those qualities into an obsession with the ocean that drives him to grow and evolve, personally and professionally, with the sport.
In surfing circles Hamilton is a household. Less so on dry land. A new documentary from Rory Kennedy, “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton,” aims to rectify that. Laird didn’t make his name the way other professional surfers did; he made his name by being innovative, moving away from mainstream surfing into the early days of wind surfing and acrobatic surf moves. “We all thought he was crazy,” says big wave surfer Terry Chung.
He did things no one else thought of. He put Velcro on his board, which allowed him to go airborne. He invented foil-boarding, a technique that allows him to glide above the water, as if he’s flying over the waves. It’s beautiful to behold but we get it, he’s an innovator. We don’t need to be told over and over.
There’s something that feels a bit too authorized about “Take Every Wave.” It feels like an exercise in legend building more than an in depth portrait of Hamilton. His early years as a troubled youth are detailed but once he hits the water the movie turns into a hagiography. Hamilton is a likeable subject, if a bit egomaniacal, but instead of digging deep and showing the consequence of his actions we’re given a Biography Channel level glimpse into his psyche.
On the upside the photography—both from director Kennedy and Hamilton’s Strapped Crew—is breathtaking. The primal power of the sea juxtaposed with one man’s notions of how to conquer it make for impressive visuals.
Also entertaining is the colourful lingo. “The ride after the ride,” is what happens when you wipe out and plummet to the bottom. Even better is the self-explanatory “wave of heaviest consequence.”
“Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton” has a few moments of intrigue, mostly from the first person tales of waves gone wrong. Other than that it’s a visually pleasing collection of Sport Illustrated style photography that offers little insight into Hamilton or the sport.