Episode #100: Laird Hamilton – Big Wave Surfer, Innovator
My guest today is renowned big wave surfer/watermen Laird Hamilton. Laird was kind enough to be the first guest for this podcast, and the guest for today’s 100th show. Oh, and did I mention Laird is my husband and I must say after almost 26 years together, a really interesting human. We talk about dealing with the known and unknown, and trusting yourself to chase that “feeling” you are looking for in your life. How can an outside person tell you how to follow your gut, or have an opinion on how you “should” do things?
Laird is one of the most loving people I know if you can understand his language. As a husband, father, or friend in need, Laird shows up. He is also one of the most contrarian and confrontational people I know. Such an exciting adventure to live with someone who is eternally restless to go into nature, but only wants to be at home with his family. This is a person on an intimate quest dictated by him.
Like a lot of couples we have been on top of each other during Covid, and have found new ways to navigate each other’s strong personality, our needs, the needs of our family, work together, and keep appreciating one another (which is sometimes code for not killing each other). You realize no matter how good someone is at anything we are all just living, learning, and fighting the good fight. I feel fortunate to know Laird and to have access to his perspective on things. It has helped me keep things more simple and clear when I was viewing the landscape of my personal or professional life.
Listen to the episode here:
- Approaching COVID [00:03:04]
- Reacting Best for the Situation [00:08:23]
- Powerful Females [00:10:06]
- Creative Approach to Surfing [00:19:59]
- Danger [00:27:59]
- Aging [00:32:10]
- Training and Health Practices [00:39:01]
- XPT Breathing 40:15
- Laird Superfood [00:47:34]
- Learning From Each Other [00:52:20]
Laird Hamilton – Big Wave Surfer, Innovator
Welcome to my 100th podcast and my first guest on this podcast was Laird Hamilton and Laird was kind enough to come back into his living room and do the 100th show with me. Laird is known for being a big wave rider. If you asked him, he would call himself a waterman. I think he really enjoys innovation. Laird also happens to be my husband. We have three daughters together.
I figured after all this time, I’ve known Laird over 25 years, I would have a real sense of knowing mostly what he was going to say about what his answers will be. One of the things I appreciate is his ability to articulate certain feelings, and not only to articulate them, his ability to trust himself. Laird is a person who doesn’t mind following his own path and listening to his gut.
He’s been involved with other athletes and innovating sports within surfing and they were, each one at their own time, was pretty highly criticized. That never bothers him. It doesn’t bother him to be a beginner, to look silly, or to keep at it. We talk a lot about that. We also talk about dealing with the known and the unknown. Laird does that a lot. We really drill down in the reactions to the known and maybe reacting less to some of the unknowns. I, as always, enjoyed this conversation and I am so grateful to all of you for joining me whenever you have time or interest. I look forward to learning for the next 100. Enjoy.
Laird, thank you for doing my 100th show. I asked people things that they were interested in learning about you. The first interview was for me so we should start there.
A hundred episodes later.
We’ve seen COVID take a lot of people down, either individually or couples. You hear about couples breaking up. What were some of the things that you’ve put in place to keep you sane? Were some of this conscious? Did some of this happen naturally? How did you approach this?
I have the luxury of having a decent relationship with fear that I cultivated over the years, which has been helpful. You always start with the unknown no matter what fear you have. It becomes known because you cultivate a relationship with it and you go and have these experiences. It always starts unknown, and then it becomes known over time. This is one of those situations that in the beginning, it was unknown. Two years in, we’re having quite a relationship with it so we start to know it, which changes the dynamic. Every known fear starts as an unknown fear. It’s part of the process.
Let’s say someone’s reading this and they think, “I have been feeling anxious and afraid.” A lot of people are having this, even if it’s isolation, too. There’s a bunch of things leading into this. What do you think some things people could do to get into that place of stillness?
Stillness means that you’re slowing it down, which gives us time to make a better assessment. When you slow it down, that gives you more time to look and see what’s going on, and then ultimately make decisions based on those assessments. Understanding something is helpful in dealing with it. You can’t close your eyes and think that’s going to be sufficient and you’re going to make it go away. Somehow, you’re going to block it out and it’s going to be all good. That never works out well.
Little kids try to do that. When they’re scared, they pretend like they’re not where they are and the situation isn’t happening. We have to continue to go. I know that that’s been something that’s been highly useful in this process that we’ve been in. It has been to continue to do what you do and continue to focus on your day-to-day living.
We seem to have a little bit of say in because this other thing, we don’t have a lot of say in. We seem like we have no say in it and we’re becoming victims to this thing that we don’t have. It’s dangerous to put yourself in a position where you’re anticipating what you’re going to do in a situation once something happens that may not even happen. That’s a lot of time. That’s a lot of energy that you’re going to put towards something that may not even happen. It doesn’t mean don’t be prepared.
Is there any trait that you have developed or is new to you because of this unusual experience of COVID? Is there something that you’ve cultivated new within yourself?
I feel like I’m less anxious. In a way, I don’t feel an urgency to be doing something else. Whatever that is, I don’t have the urgency to do that. I feel the presence of being okay a little bit more. “You’re okay. We’re okay. We’re good. We don’t need to do anything else. We don’t be anywhere else.”
Let’s say someone’s in a business or growing a business. Sometimes there’s a time to say, “We’re going to make a push now. We’re going for growth and thriving.” Sometimes it’s important to recognize, “That’s not what’s happening right now. What’s happening right now is if we can stay the course or be okay,” That is the success. That’s difficult because most of us are wired to say, “If I’m not going forward, something’s wrong.” This is true in life. We’ve all gone through experiences where you have hard times. Someone gets sick or you go through something with a kid and you think to yourself, “I would be totally fine if it was everything status quo.” You pray for those days.
[bctt tweet=”I always love the victory through attrition. It speaks to the dedication.”]
Sometimes the unfortunate thing is that usually, it takes a situation to put you in that state of mind. It’ll be nice to be there already and be part of being thankful and being appreciative that you’re okay and that the people you care about are okay. You’re thankful for what you have instead of what you haven’t gotten yet.
One of my favorite things is you get up early, go to bed early, and go hard all day long. You’re a person who doesn’t sit down. You’re fixing this and you’re training. There will be a window. It’s about 30 minutes usually. You might sit on the couch at the end of the night and throughout the course of the day, but you lock in at that time. You’ll be sitting at the counter if you’re eating and you’re looking at the weather constantly. You’re showing me like, “The wind is like this. Look at those intervals.” You’re always looking at the weather. It’s relentless.
One of the things you do that you do well is your ability to concentrate, focus on something. You also do that on us. You readjust your focus and it’s locked and loaded. I have learned to appreciate it and respect it because sometimes my tones bleed altogether. Do you feel sometimes like, “Is Gabby going to land and come over here and be here?” How do you also get what you need from the situation? You’re transparent. It’s all right there. Sometimes I’m in this different gear than you. How do you think we work that out?
It’s important that that gear of yours is not against me. If there are things about it that I’m provoked by, it’s not me doing it and it’s you doing it. I have to remember that there are so many things that you do that I’m so appreciative of and respectful of. With that will come some things that are going to be done in a way that seems like, “Why would you do it that way?” You’re a woman and you’re Gabby. You’re my wife and my partner. There are all these things that you do that I can’t fully understand because I’m not you doing that in that position.
Mine’s complex. I have said to the girls many times, “Your dad has never been like a teenage girl before.” We have three daughters so this extends into a lot of relationships in the house.
I’m learning. It’s back to that known and unknown. Here we go again. It’s becoming the known. In a way, that does change it. It helps you get through it or helps you understand it so you can maybe react in a way that is best for the situation.
I don’t want to say that I feel like your mom was your saving grace, but there was something about your deep respect and love for your mom. Only Bella was born and she was young when your mom passed. People say, “Why are your daughter’s dad is different than your son’s dad?” These are the people who haven’t had children. Do you ever wonder what is the lesson for you?
The list is too long. It must, in my particular situation, be the best use of my skills or it might be the best for my needs to grow and learn, so maybe both. It’s the best use of my skills and it’s also the place that I have the most opportunity to grow. My mom had a couple of great sayings but one of the things that she used to say was, “The way God punishes you is He gives you what you asked for.” A lot of times you ask for something, but you don’t know what comes with it. You go, “I want the such and such,” and then you’re like, “I didn’t know that all this other stuff came with it.”
When I was young, I always want to be surrounded by women. I didn’t realize that I was going to have a queen and a long string of princesses, that I was going to have strong females. By the way, they’re all powerful. My mom, Joann’s fashion, is highly amused by it. Not only amused but it would make sense coming from her. The woman that my mom was, the woman that you are, and the women these girls are and are becoming. I don’t like men that much.
That’s not true.
Maybe there are certain things about masculine traits. I have men that are my friends that I respect.
It brings out an aggressive side of you.
There’s a certain type of man that I love and then there are our masculine traits that I despise.
I always say if someone were to come on a bike ride with you, let’s say a guy comes and he’s like, “Let’s ride bikes,” you’d be like, “Let’s ride together.” If somebody bumps into you, it even reeks of a challenge.
Because it brings out the worst not only in me but also in the masculine thing, which is competition, which brings out aggression. I’m trying to avoid that because, in the end, the final thing of that is a dark, bad place. With feminine traits, I don’t have that because the feminine traits are naturally not that way.
Especially not for you.
It might be more the other way.
It’s different. I have seen it. It is an interesting contrast when I see you. You’re the most generous, helpful person or it’s to the death.
That brings out something that causes a lot of stuff. That causes things. The human species in society ad all the things that we deal with can be brought on by that because it’s not collaborative. When there’s not a collaboration, that’s where I have a thing. When it starts to become combative, then the end to that is death so that’s not cool.
Maybe that’s why you’re that way because, on that street, you have extreme elements to your personality.
It goes to the opposite place at the house with your family.
Loving the daughters. That brings me to innovation. A lot of times people look at you and they go, “Laird is this athlete.” You are certainly if there’s a physical athlete and a spiritual person, but there’s also this highly creative, artistic. The yearning for it to make sense to you. When you woke up, you look at the sun as it’s rising and you said to me, “Look at it. There’s a fireball in the sky right now. We’re talking about all this stuff here and it’s all so confusing, and there’s like a fireball in the sky.”
A big one and it’s hot.
You have this connection with nature that makes sense to you. It’s the place. It’s your church. It makes sense to you and your artistry is also connected to that. You’ve been involved with other people developing or redefining the ways people surf. Whether it was with Buzzy, Darrick, the Strapped Crew, Davy Kalama, Angulo, Mike Waltze, Pete Cabrinha, Rush Randle, Buzzy Kerbox, Brett Lickle, let’s not forget, George Dickel. Tow surfing. Then you’re like, “That’s right. It’s an interesting way you can break out things.”
Standup paddle came around and it was like, “I need to train.” “When it’s flying, what can I do?” “I’ll take my daughter on a board.” I have pictures of you with duct tape in a canoe paddle, standup surfing. You guys were always messing around. You cut the air chair off, Mike Murphy, and foiling. Of all of these things you’ve done, the standup paddle was the most lonely. You force lock in Jeff Sweet to go out because everyone would swear you guys. Jeff would do it in Ho‘okipa and everyone would swear at you like, “What are you idiots doing?” Much worse, I’m sure that you could do downwinders on Maui. It’s windy so you couldn’t surf. You had something to do.
This all led to this creative approach to surfing. Where do you have the courage to do that? Because there’s a lot of criticism. There was always criticism. Tow surfing was criticized. Standup paddling definitely was criticized and foiling is being criticized at the moment. You always say, “All you need is some stuff.”
Thomas Edison, “All you need is imagination and a pile of junk.”
Do you feel like you were always like that and it finally came out? How do you approach something when you’re innovating?
There are multiple contributing factors, not just accepting things for the way they are like. Just because we do it this way doesn’t mean this is the best way or there’s another way kind of mentality. There’s a boredom aspect to it of doing the same thing over and losing the inspiration, losing that thing that you have when things are new and fresh and you’re excited by it. I had it as a little kid.
My mom was helpful in helping me build my imagination. That came from no TV, no cell phones, no radio, no nothing, no sports places to go, no theatres, and minimal activities to go and do, having to be in your mind more, having to be in your head. That was a contributing factor. Growing up down a road and then also not being, if your bike broke, you’d try to fix it or make weird wagons or try to make things.
The environment was conducive for it because I was in the ‘60s. A lot of older people that were on drugs were friends of my mom or people that I live next door that I saw that were doing weird experiments with board design and how to make boards. I learned on these weird prototypes that were throw-aways, rejects, ideas that they would let me have. They’d be like, “Sure, you can have that one.” Because it’d been sitting in the back of the shop for a year or two and it didn’t work. They were like, “Give it to Larry.”
It becomes a formula. There’s a formulaic process where you have an idea, you tinker with it, make a prototype, break it, keep playing with it, then you get your buddy to try it, and then he likes it and you’re like, “This is cool.” You’re not completely insane. Maybe both of you are insane. It’s not you alone. Before you know it, the guy that saying bad things to you and calling you a kook is out trying to learn how to do it himself. You’re like, “Pretty stupid, isn’t it?”
[bctt tweet=”Every known fear starts as an unknown fear. It’s part of the process.”]
I’ve seen that process a few times, and then it becomes a little formulaic after that. You like that process where it starts as an idea. Maybe it’s on a napkin, maybe it’s on a piece of cardboard, from a box, or something. It’s a thought in your head. There’s something to seeing, too. Through the process of learning how to understand nature, it gives you this understanding that will allow you to see things a little like what other things can be. We’re influenced the same way. You see nature do something and you’re like, “If this thing did that, then this could occur and then that would happen.”
Then it becomes a satisfying process of idea to implementation. Learning is a great process, too because in the beginning is when you get the biggest increments of improvement. You go from 0 to 1, that’s 100% and then you go from 1 to 2. Before you know it, in increments of capability, you become more capable and more capable to the point where the learning slows down. Then you’re talking about refinement, then you’re talking about polishing and that becomes not as pleasurable.
It’s like building a house. You spend a year building a house, then you spend a year finishing a house and you’re like, “Did we even do anything?” You look and you’re like, “Did anything even happen?” When you’re putting little trim, polishing counters, and making things perfect, those increments of movement are small. Those are tiny, little remote things. When you’re putting up a wall, that’s satisfying. You put a giant wall and you’re like, “A wall,” and then you put a roof on and you’re like, “The roof.” You like that. You seek that out and you do it again. You’re like, “Here we go again. We’re at that part of the curve.”
You’re not on social media. I run your social media account because we have businesses like Laird Superfood or XPT. It seems to be the way you got to do it now. There’s a whole world there that you don’t care about and don’t know it’s existing. There are times that you’ve been criticized in that world. I’m not blaming Lance Burkhart. I am saying that when you were younger and you were aggro guy, and then coupled that you rolled right into that role in a surf culty movie where you were the bad guy, you do have a trait where you’re not here to make people feel comfortable.
It’s an interesting contrast because I find you to be one of the most generous, loving people but what you see truly is what you get. Usually, by the time someone’s had your level of notoriety or even your age, you know how to go out and do public speaking and be refined, but you’re still not here to make people feel comfortable. You’re on this mission.
We have this world online and you’re not part of it. I manage it to the best of my ability. I have a decent amount of independence. However, your ability to not care in a certain way is fascinating. The other thing that interests me is you have people who are frustrated that you are doing it differently. It amazes me because I’m like, “Here’s a guy who has dedicated over 50 years to this sport.” I don’t believe in mastery.
Let’s say you’re probably a subject matter expert and most of us want to do what we’re good at. Here you are, a highly competitive person, maybe the most, and yet simultaneously, you don’t care. You’re not interested in going out and being good at this thing. You’re trying to do all these new things. Why do you think that it makes people uncomfortable?
I’m doing it for myself. I’m doing it where I’m being led. I’m continuing to do what I’ve always done, which is go with my instinct and not be influenced by people that don’t care. At the end of the day, if I’m doing anything that’s provoking people, it probably has a lot to do with the fact that they’re not doing something that I’m reminding them that they’re not doing. It is maybe trying something new, for example. Somewhere in there, I’m not being obedient. It’s like, “You’re not being obedient. You’re not obeying the rules. You’re supposed to be this and this is what you do. That’s what we do when we do this.”
I don’t know what to say other than I’m just going off of what I’m interested in. What’s interesting to me at this point, after all the surfing that I’ve done, after all the waves I’ve ridden, after all the disciplines that I’ve been involved in, I’m just following the path that’s the most interesting to me. The feeling that I get, whatever that feeling is that we all search for, I’m just following this feeling. I’m getting it over here and I’m not getting it over there. If I’m not doing something, it’s because I’m not getting the feeling that I’m looking for. I’m getting the feeling that I’m looking for over here and I’m going to continue to follow that. It’s worked for me this far.
That feeling that I’m searching for that has brought me all the greatest experiences. I’m in this house with you with these beautiful daughters. Everything that I’ve done is because I’ve been following the feeling, so I’m not going to stop now. Just because I got people somehow thinking that they know what the feeling is that I’m looking for or that they have a better idea of the feeling that I need than I do, I can’t help you. I’m sorry, I have to go. I’m trying to stay honorable to that. Honor that feeling, intuition, instinct, draw, and mission. That’s the bone.
A lot of us never got the opportunity to develop that enough or you get to be an adult and you think, “You’re supposed to put that away.” It’s the opposite. How do we find the way to surround ourselves, whether it’s with people or the environment to keep cultivating that instinct so that we can find our own ways and purposes, not be constantly told how we’re supposed to be, think, and feel?
Quite frankly, I use you a lot as a source of built-in strength because you do that naturally. I have a bit of that, but you have it in spades. I will utilize being around you to try to get that more in my own life. I appreciate that. You’ve found a location that is new to you. You were doing homework and this and that. I do find it fascinating that you’re looking always for a new frontier where there’s nobody.
I was looking for nobody. I’m in search for nobody.
Especially surfing because it’s crowded.
I keep saying I’m going to have to go under the water because there’s no one out there, so that’s going to be the next. At some point, there’s going to be a time when it’s like, “The surface has got way too many people. We’re going to have to go habitate underground.” The humans are going to have to start living underground because there are too many people on top.
I have experienced receiving something special that you’ve intuitively sensed that you’ve needed and you didn’t know when and how it was going to happen. That wave in Tahiti, at that time with that technique, was one of those pressured moments. Some of the other ones are longer and extended over periods of time. You get somewhere within it because you can’t earn it. It’s like a blessing. You don’t earn it, you get it.
There’s something about when you continue to dedicate yourself towards something consistently over 50 years more or less depending, that you do get the opportunity to have those special things right when you need them. You have to be there. I always love the victory through attrition. I always thought that was a great thing. If you’re the last guy standing, you automatically win. I always love that.
You don’t even have to be any good. No one else left, you’re the winner. You’re like, “I didn’t do anything.” I know but you’re the only guy here so you get it. It speaks to the dedication, that discipline. At some point, if you weren’t the top 10-year-old, then you might be the top 20-year-old or you might be a top 30-year-old. If you were in none of those, you’ll be in the top 40, 50, 60-year-old. Eventually, you’re number one. You don’t even need to be number one. You’re numbered the one.
You’re the guy or girl. Speaking of dangerous, people are always intrigued. I know you often say that a lot of times you were scared so much before the age of 10. Is there something in surfing that you recognize as a heavy moment? Teahupoʻo, the Millennial wave, you knew in it and when you came out of it that it was a heavy and dangerous situation. Is there another time and location?
The day I spent on the ocean, I’m not sure if I would ever see land again. I was lost at sea. That was jet-skiing between Maui and the Big Island. There was bad vog so the visibility was bad. My fearless helicopter pilot, Don Shearer, I told him my compass bearing and he’s like, “That’s way too low. Go a little higher.”
I split the difference but the current was excessively strong, the visibility was bad, and I didn’t have instruments of any kind. I had nipper which saved my life. Ultimately, that was the thing that got me. I got pulled off course and I got to go out and sit and float. I was in my snowboard boots mounted to my foil board at the bottom of the ocean in Haena one time where I rode that long wave and take every wave. I was at the bottom of the ocean.
Connected to your board.
For people that don’t know, that shroud is maybe four feet long, and that rig weighs?
Thirty or forty pounds.
You have snowboard boots. They typically have a quick release.
I wasn’t able to get down to my feet and get them undone. I did eventually get them undone but I was down there at the bottom of the arc, a sea anchor attached to the bottom thinking about, “This might be not great.” I’ve got a few of those. I got stuck under a waterfall. I’ve been in an avalanche. There’s a long list of them. There’s been a lot of those.
They’re so different. In an avalanche, you’re tossing and turning on your pin at the river and your pin on the rock. When you’re sitting at the bottom of the ocean, is your gut saying, “This isn’t it,” or is it truly unknown?
Unknown. “Is this it?” That’s the question. “Is this how it’s going to be? Is this how it’s going? Is this how I’m going down right here?” We’re all going to have one. “How’s it going to go down? How did your departure go down?” There are more glamorous ways and there are some unglamorous ways. We’re all going. What’s yours going to look like? I don’t know. Those are the times that you get to think.
You have a thing about getting up back on the horse. If you’ve gotten hurt, you get back on the horse, and you’d go the opposite way because you believe that you don’t want that fear to bake in. You’re sitting at the bottom of the ocean, you have your anchor down, and it’s a close call. When you come up from that particular situation, do you ride another wave or do you call it for the day?
[bctt tweet=”There’s a formula that you use in the process of recovering. A big piece of that is the psychology around that, being okay with it.”]
The only way you don’t ride another wave is if you physically can’t. I broke my collarbone at Jaws at that time and I caught another wave. I wished after that I didn’t catch another wave as I was going down the wave. I was like, “This is a bad idea,” but you want to finish on a high note. You want to finish on a positive like, “I missed that one. Let me make one. Now I’m done.” I’ve had some injuries where it was like, “You’re not going to do another one,” but when you can, yeah.
How about Ho‘okipa? That windy day with that big board and then went punctured your cheek. I had the audacity to ask you after you had been at urgent care and come in, but you went and had a smoothie and an espresso before urgent care.
I knew it was going to take a while. I knew I was going to go sit there and I was going to be itchy, salty, and sandy, and be in a cold room waiting for somebody to stitch my face up.
That was my favorite because we met after. What did you do? Drink it from one side up?
It might have dripped out of the hole. Put a smoothie down your face.
My favorite is sometimes I ask you the most reasonable question and you’re incensed. I said, “Who helped you in after your fourteen-foot board put a straight hole in your cheek?” You’re like, “What do you mean? I rode another one in.” I was like, “Of course, that’s the way you do it.”
I didn’t need help in. I still have four working limbs.
Injuries and aging, let’s pump these together. I do have some areas that I want to cover.
Aging is one big injury that doesn’t get better.
We’re doing it together, mind you. It’s not like one of us is and one of us isn’t. Do you find it fascinating? As a couple, do you look over and then go, “My wife’s getting older.” Does that ever trip you out? Don’t act like, “Our vision gets fuzzier so we don’t see it quite as well. That’s a whole gift. That’s why God takes your eyesight.”
It’s a little bit like boiling the frog. It’s over such a long period of time and you don’t even notice. You’re not like, “You changed.” It’s a slow process of changing. When you’re with Brody and you leave for a month, you come back, and she’s six inches taller. If you’re there during the month, you’re like, “Your head is higher,” but it seems like nothing’s happened.
I have to be honest, I’m a person who when things are the way they are, the notion of it is what it is, I generally have a tendency to not spend too much time on it. Like aging, it’s going to happen. Some days I notice certain things and I’m like, “Whoa,” and then you go, “Are we doing everything we can do for the most part that is in our control, and then let the chips fall?”
That’s why I threw the mirror away.
Throw the mirrors away and then you’re like, “I’m young.”
I wonder sometimes if I experience life from my inside looking out, I feel good. I feel great, I am happy, and I feel productive. I’m busy and I have new challenges. The main thing is keeping yourself busy. You came into the room one time and you said to me, “This aging thing is a trip.” I was like, “That’s exactly right.”
You don’t have any references. The best thing is your children. You’re like, “I have an 18-year-old.” “I have a 25-year-old. I must be getting older.” You have that reference. Unless you got some gray going, then you’re like, “I got gray hairs. It’s more than one.”
It’s part of it.
Maybe I’m a little sore and more sore often, but I’m always sore. I’m always hurt and I’m always trying to get better. It’s not getting better as quickly or maybe that’s the nature of this injury anyway.
What you’re saying is key. I don’t read too much into it either because I feel like if you do that, then you move it in, you name it, and you’re like, “Because I’m 50 or I’m 40 or I’m 60, this is what’s happening,” versus, “This is what this is right now.” This is important but it’s also helpful to be around people that don’t complain about their health. They’re proactive and they don’t talk to you about what you should or shouldn’t do based on your age. You want to make good decisions. I’m not saying not. This is a key thing.
It has a lot to do with how you perceive yourself.
What’s your value?
Then how you perceived yourself ten years ago versus how you’re going to perceive yourself in ten years. If you have high standards of what you think you are and you have some real tangible measurements, you might be a little bit disappointed because part of the thing is that’s what’s happening with the cycle of life. That’s what’s going on. If you have all these like things that you’re set up as a reference to your life, then it’s going to haunt you. If you have a system in place of measurement like that, that’s going to constantly bombard you, your ego is going to be a big piece of that. It’s like, “I used to do those such.” You’re like, “Here we go. Never mind.”
It’s important not to compare yourself to yourself.
A big part of it is the ego and us wanting to be great at what we do. I know it and I’ve seen it where you get trapped by that. You get trapped by your skill at something because that’s your identity. That’s how you identify yourself. Maybe I’m hoping on a trajectory that doesn’t put me into a situation of disappointment. I’m like, “I’m starting from scratch, age zero. Let me put myself on a projectory in my life that doesn’t put me into a position of regret and disappointment.” The real game, when it’s all said and done, is this one over here called, don’t have any regrets and don’t put yourself on a projectory for disappointment.
Let’s talk about training because people are always fascinated by your training. Before I move on to that, one of the reasons you were driving the jet ski from the Big Island to Maui was because you were in the movie Waterworld and you were a Smoker.
I also doubled for Kevin Costner in a couple of scenes, but his clothes didn’t fit me too well. Now they’re like, “Sorry.”
What was the line he said to you when he said goodbye to you?
After I got lost at sea and then I got found on the last day shooting, he said, “Be as safe as you can be.” I was like, “That leaves it open,” because he didn’t say be as safe as possible.
What was that like with all these stunt guys when you had downtime?
Stunts Unlimited. There are 50 stuntmen and we would go crazy.
What do you mean?
Chad Randall, the stunt coordinator, would try to explain to the producers why we need to be out jumping waves on jet skis and doing all the stuff that we were doing, which was to keep us sharp and keep us in tune.
If the 50 guys weren’t working on the actual, you were going nuts off to the side?
Somewhat nuts. I would say yes. Severe.
You shot for a year, right?
Yeah, it was serious. I learned on that film that I didn’t have the capacity to wait on a set. I appreciate this film work. This film work is great, but I realized at that point it’s going to be a no-go because I’m not capable of waiting and waiting. I was like, “That’s bad.”
In training, you’re the most disciplined, systematic, freewheeling person I’ve ever seen. You train all the time, but then you don’t want to do the same things all the time. You do certain practices if it was possible. Somebody reading thinks, “I haven’t put this much time in as Laird.” Let’s start with health practices. Never mind actual physical training. For you in your mind, if you could curate for people from your experience, your point of view, things that feel like definitive pillars for health practices.
Let’s go survival. That’s the first thing. The most important thing there is you don’t live long without it, so we go air first. Air is the king. Within air is breathwork, cardio, swim, run, bike, row machine, something that induces good breathing, which usually is an activity because it’s hard to have the discipline to induce strict breathing on your own. Full relationship between CO2 and oxygen in your nose.
There’s a ton of tools. Patrick McKeown, James Nestor, and Belisa Vranich have books. For people reading, there are so many ways that you can do it but breathing, and doing it correctly, and being as much a nose breather as often as you can.
Even if you’re a runner or biker or swimmer, start working on breathing through your nose, new patterns, hypoxic training, or any of that stuff. We love that. We love the breathing but you know you got to have good sleep. If you’re not breathing, you don’t live but if you’re not sleeping, you’re hurt.
You go to bed early, you have intense hygiene, your room is cold, you’re on a chilly pad, everything is dark, you don’t look at screens before, and you get up early. On the other hand, I struggle with sleeping. I try to unwind at the end of the day. I will take magnesium or even edibles. We do it differently. I get up an hour later than you. I’m personally offended by waking up in the dark.
You have come a little bit over to the dark side. You’ve toned down the light at the end of the day, the light in the room, the light in the bathroom, all that light the stimulation. You also go into bed earlier now. I see it rubbing off on you. I would say diet but I’d say within that hydration consumption, it’s like, “What are you eating? What do you stick in them? What’s your fuel?” We got rest and we got air. What’s the fuel?
You don’t snack.
I like to be hungry when I eat. That’s an important thing.
I want to have a caveat on that. Let’s say you go surfing for three days. When you come home, you consume twice as many calories for multiple days that go towards your recovery. It’s also what are you doing in your life? Because when you’re active, you eat more than any person I’ve seen, and then you are typically in your day-to-day restrictive.
There’s a certain level of that like burning your calories, but it’s also the amount of energy you’re using. You’re exhausting yourself and you’re consuming all the energy in your system you got to rebuild. Hydration is a piece of that, having minerals, and playing with all these special ingredients.
What are the liquid drops that you like?
There’s a liquid mineral formula and all the Superfood stuff that we use, the coconut hydration, and all the good creamers. All this stuff is all part of that hydration and energy. I love caffeine. Caffeine is an incredible tool for training, like, “I’m going to go run. I’m going to go bike.” That’s part of fuel. We have air, fuel, fire, oxygen for the fire, recovery, and then we move into thermal regulating, which the chilly pad is part of that.
Wearing too many clothes and not being able to go in the cold water or sauna or being able to go out on a super hot day and work in the middle of the heat, having all that is environmental adaptability. The benefits that you get from that. We haven’t done a workout yet. Working out comes way down the list. It comes even below activity because it’s usually as a supplementation for the lack of, in my case, the right conditions and the right environment to be able to do what I want to do, which is these activities.
There also is the recovery of that, too. There are all those pieces of hardest things to do. All these little tedious exercises make no sense but they’re all about trying to strengthen you. All the weakness in your shoulder, the rotation, playing with the Turkish clubs, and Kenny Boyd wrestling. If you look at it, it’s all about the nurturing of the vehicle of the body so that it can go perform. Perform has a lot of faces.
If you line things up, flexibility is important to you. You do lift a bit of weight.
I’ve been doing your training.
Your lift circuit.
I’ve been doing this for over twelve years and with COVID, you must have been desperate.
I like to turn my brain off and do what I’m told. “Do it.” They don’t tell me what to do. Show me what to do, don’t tell me what to do.
Laird will come to work out. For example, your neck muscles and your back muscles are bigger than most people or certainly the people I train with. You’ll be doing something and I’m like, “For a normal person, that would be dangerous.” I look at the other people in the workout and I’m like, “You’re not doing it like that.” We have a rule that you’re like, “Don’t tell me what to do.”
I’ll follow you but don’t tell me what to do.
You’d have the XPT pool training because it’s a way to work hard without pounding yourself. It’s the long story.
The water is an amazing environment to work in. You deal with oxygen deprivation and hypoxia, and then you can beat yourself up good and not be hurt. That’s the problem with the lifting stuff. It’ll hurt you. Then there are the activities. There’s the paddling and riding on the mountain and back to variety.
You go to even bigger levels. You’ll say what you’re reading and what you’re watching. Your fitness, you’re talking about all of that and that’s an important part. You’ve had to navigate 1,000 non-surgical stitches, never mind broken bones. Let’s say you have a niggle. Something’s bothering you and you’re doing your detective work in trying to figure it out. It’s a bummer. If it lasts more than five days, it can wear on you. It can wear on a person’s spirit, especially if they’re an athlete. Where do you go within yourself to not get disenchanted to believe like, “I’m going to figure this out.”
One of the places I go is to the file cabinet and pull out those other 150 injuries that I’ve had that I got through. I have that treasure chest to go to. My support group is all injuries that I’ve had that I’ve recovered from or not recovered from and learned how to adapt with and learned how to deal with and work around them. I adapted to either the lack of mobility or the nature of the injury itself. That’s a helpful thing.
There’s a formula to recovery. There’s a formula that you use in the process of recovering. A big piece of that is the psychology around that, being okay with it, and knowing, “When you break something, it’s going to be a year before your brain goes, ‘I’m not going to even let you go to that place where you got hurt.’”
One thing I have observed is you’re one of the most compliant go beyond patients. The other thing is that you participate in your improvement. You don’t complain like, “This hurt.” You’re constantly like, “That didn’t work. Let’s try a new treatment. Let me ask this person.” There’s a lot of that as well. I watch you where you’ll keep going and moving. If something’s not feeling great, you’ll adapt until you can get that all the way worked out. It’s important for people to remember, if you do any type of activity, something’s always happening.
My compliance comes out of my success with it. I’m compliant with the things that I know that work. If I go to a doctor and they do something, I’m like, “I don’t think so and so saw that thing off.” I’ll go against the recommendations of a physician if I know it’s contrary to what I’ve had success with. When I had my hip surgery, I was talking to Mr. Vandenberg and he’s like, “Case study of one. Interesting.” I’m like, “Exactly.” I’ll take the case study of one and be like, “I’m doing it this way because I’ve had success.”
That goes back to instinct.
[bctt tweet=”If you can’t be true to yourself, you can’t be true to anyone else.”]
The instincts come out of all of those experiences that lead you to, “Every time I walk around the corner like that, there’s a giant barrier. I got a bad feeling about this corner.” You have the contrast to that, which is the success that you’ve had. What I’ve learned about wounds, I would take every 3/4 of all the wound medicine and throw it in the garbage can. I’m like, “You don’t need all that.” If anything, that’s going to slow the healing down.
Don’t keep your wounds wet. Laird, I could go on and on. People ask how Laird Superfood started. This is something you were doing for many years as a natural practice. A gentleman named Paul Hodge, who’s a friend, who’s an entrepreneur, you would give your friends these drinks before they would either train with you or go out and do their own training. Paul started messing around with that.
He had one of my concoctions and he’s like, “What is this? I need this in the morning.”
A lot of people are doing that. They’re like, “How much of this and how much of that?” He made the first powdered version of that original creamer.
The 3rd or 4th rendition was the original, which is the authenticity of the foundation of the brand. That’s where the brand came from. It’s back to the following the voice, following the feeling. I have this formulated plan that I didn’t learn that way. I would do another school.
You’ve talked about the fact that you used to drink Pinot Noir. I wouldn’t say it was easy. From my point of view, as somebody who lived with you for over eleven years, I always felt like you were working through something. I felt like you were dealing with some demons or something. I was always like, “Laird is a smart person.” I also know your inner health, meaning your spiritual health, if you will. I always felt like you were not a completely self-destructive person. I was always hoping that you would navigate into a different time, to be honest.
I often thought that it was confusing to you that you were having this success in your personal life and in your work life because you were raised a certain way and you were told certain things about yourself. I was like, “I feel like he’s navigating this weird thing of like, ‘Whose life is this?’” The Talking Heads, “That’s not my beautiful house.”
This fine life.
I often observe that and I was like, “Wow. Okay.” We went through some things and you decided, “This isn’t working.” Years ago, you stopped. What was interesting about your drinking was it was at night. You were still in bed by 8:00. You would get up and train like a crazy person. For the most part, you would be at home usually. It wasn’t like this is so obvious. It was a subtle thing. You decided to say, “This isn’t serving my life anymore.” There’s a curiosity about what was that for you.
First of all, like everybody doing something that they’re not proud of, you have a tendency to be like, “I got this under control,” or, “I can stop anytime I want to.” I went through those times, different ones, and stopped for a couple of weeks. My mom had another great parable for life, which is, “If you can’t be true to yourself, you can’t be true to anyone else.” I thought, “I’m full of crap if I say I can and I can’t.”
After doing it a few times and seeing that, and then realizing that first of all, nothing good was going to come of it but it was going to ruin my life. I felt like something was going to happen to me or something’s going to happen to you or something happens to the family or something going to happen all of it. There was nothing good coming out of it. I feel bad about it because you say you can but you can’t really or you don’t want to, more importantly.
It was an opportunity for the ultimate discipline, to see how disciplined I am. Say I’m disciplined, but how much discipline do I have? It was a combination of a few things that came together at the right time. The girls, you, and my mom’s voice came together. There was an opportunity to prove to myself that I could say and do something that I meant, which means that I could probably do that a lot more in other parts of my life.
In the process of doing it, I played all kinds of games. I replaced the wine bottle with a Pellegrino bottle. I had a wicked sweet tooth. I realized it was more of a sugar addiction than anything. It definitely impairs your motor skills and your judgment. We know that says it right on the bottle. It got down to that. “Did I have the discipline? Could I follow through? Who was that for?” It was for you guys. For me first because it has to be for me. What I realized is that if you can’t do it, you don’t want to. If you’re going to have any chance, you have to genuinely want to. It’s not like, “Yeah, I want to but I really don’t want to.”
Sometimes sober living is boring. I grew up around people that it was radical in the Caribbean, but I could see where it’s like, “That is boring.”
I have enough places in my life I can be unboring.
For anyone who’s reading this, the other thing is I heard a line that I thought was important when it comes to something like this, as well as approaching anything that we’re trying to improve in ourselves, which is to do it from a spiritual point of view so there’s no judgment. Kasey Crown said this. It’s only in love but then you have to be practical about how you’re going to do it. Somebody wanted to know what have you learned from me. This is not my question. Have you learned anything from me?
Absolutely. You continue to help me with one of the greatest things I’ve learned from the ocean. You continue to help me with that patience. I’ve learned patience. Being patient for the family and being patient for you is something that I’ve continued to learn. By being patient, I reap the rewards of being with you. I reap the rewards of the family. I reap the rewards of the whole situation. I’ve learned a lot of things from you.
Being patient is something like being okay with like, “I’m in the car. Whenever you guys are ready, I’m ready.” Things being done at a pace that might be foreign to me or might not be how I want it done. That’s all connected to that. In a way, maybe it’s a better way than what I want or it happens faster than I thought it could. Patience is part of stillness and stillness is usually where better decisions are made. It’s something that I have had an ongoing battle for my whole life. In traffic, I responded quickly instead of just taking it easy. Patience is a practical thing.
I’ll tell you what I’ve learned from you. I’ve learned not to take anything personally in that way and I’ve also learned not to be uncomfortable with momentary confrontation. I was a person who took being stoic to a far degree, but also that was connected to my fear of being confrontational or vulnerable. You taught me to put everything on the table all the time.
Another thing is that you clear the decks. People will say, “Why do you think your relationship works?” You’re a clear-the-decks person. There’s no sweeping anything under the rug and that used to make me uncomfortable. You’re comfortable with that, like, “No problem.” Sometimes I’m uncomfortable with other people. I start sweating and I’m like, “Here we go. Laird is going to be like, ‘What’s up.’ The willingness to be vulnerable, to be like, “I care. This is important. I’ll risk.” These are things that were hard for me. I did it but in a controlled way.
That’s connected to putting everything out there. It’s connected to laying it out.
You do that easier than most people. I will end this interview with the thing that you say to me. Because of the two of us, I’m the more fearful. I don’t mean in that, “He’s so brave. He rides big waves.” You have a lot of faith.
Part of it is the dynamics of our positions. I’m in the be-less-fearful position, “Send him out. He’s less fearful, go.” She’s more fearful. Stay, observe.
You say this to me a lot. We work together. We’re in our businesses together. You always say to me, “Gabby, it’s all going to be okay,” and it is okay. I appreciate that.
It’s my honor.
Thanks so much for being here. If you’d like, rate, subscribe and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me, @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.
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About Laird Hamilton
Laird Hamilton is best known as an American big-wave surfer and pioneer in the world of action water sports. In addition to his affinity for the water, Laird is labeled as an inventor, author, stunt man, model, producer, TV host, fitness and nutrition expert, husband, father and adrenaline junkie.
At 6’3” and 215 pounds, Laird is unique in the way that he balances flexibility and strength. A renowned innovator and guiding genius of crossover board sports including tow-in-surfing, stand-up paddle boarding and hydrofoil boarding, Laird is the essential Water Man, continuously pushing the limits and expanding all possibilities.