Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton
TAKE EVERY WAVE: THE LIFE OF LAIRD HAMILTON, documentary, not rated, Violet Crown Cinema, 3 chiles
Summer is over, but the surf’s up at Violet Crown. Beginning Friday, Nov. 3, the theater celebrates Laird Hamilton, the world’s most renowned big-wave surfer. Even though he never competed on the pro-surfing circuit, Hamilton has won global fame for his willingness to ride the biggest and most powerful waves anyone has seen on the planet — waves up to 100 feet tall, so far out from shore that Hamilton has to hitch a ride on a jet ski to reach them. He has surfed around the globe but is most recognized for being the first to ride the notorious Jaws waves of Pe’ahi on the north shore of Hawaii, where he lives.
The biographical documentary Take Every Wave anchors the celebration, capturing Hamilton’s grit, bravery, iconoclastic outlook, and the steadfast dedication that has left him fighting, though he’s now over fifty and starting to wear out, physically. You want to cheer him on, but you also see how his singular passions have wreaked havoc with his life, tearing at his marriage to former beach-volleyball star Gabrielle Reece as well as causing friction with his closest surf buddies, especially those who joined his team and sweated through his most grandiose adventures.
It’s said Hamilton suffers from a “fear defect,” meaning he absolutely disregards the risks and dangers associated with his style of tow-surfing. Hamilton acknowledges as much himself but says the ocean has always been his favorite hideaway. It’s the place he went as a child to recharge after getting into fights with his Hawaiian classmates, who resented him for being the only white kid in the neighborhood. Yes, he can be cocky and arrogant, but his aquatic skills are jaw- dropping and awesome, captured here by incredible drone-based camerawork.
This would seem an unusual subject for the director, Rory Kennedy, the youngest child of Robert F. and Ethel Kennedy. She is best known for making tough, political films, including Last Days in Vietnam and
Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. Then again, Hamilton makes for a rather towering and stoic profile in courage, so this isn’t an unfathomable reach by the director.
Leading up to the opening, three earlier films will be shown, all featuring Hamilton in what Violet Crown has dubbed the Big Wave film series. The most breathless photography can be found in Step Into
Liquid, a 2003 doc from Dana Brown that introduces several top-flight surfers who demonstrate their fearless moves, riding towering waves in their favorite “watering holes” around the globe. Stacy Peralta’s
Riding Giants offers a historical perspective. The 2004 film details the origins of surf culture in the 1950s and its explosive growth after the release of Gidget in 1959. We also meet the athletic titans of the sport — not just Hamilton but legendary daredevils like Buzzy Kerbox, Gerry Lopez, and Greg Noll as well.
The final selection is a rarity. North Shore is a 1987 drama about a young Arizona boy (Matt Adler) who comes to Hawaii to try his luck at competitive surfing. Gregory Harrison surfaces as his bohemian mentor, and Nia Peebles is his hot girlfriend. Hamilton appears in this one, playing against type — he’s a violent, cheating cad who will do anything to defeat Adler and take the prize in Hawaii’s biggest contest. This isn’t exactly Oscar-worthy material, but the action-filled twists are plenty of fun, backed by decent surfing stunts involving Hamilton and Gerry Lopez.
— Jon Bowman
Permanent waves: Laird Hamilton