Laird Hamilton has been cheating death on the world’s scariest waves since his teens and has inspired generations of surfers. At 48 he’s even fitter and healthier so he can keep searching for the biggest wave of all.
There are some people who climb Everest and still go looking for a higher mountain. Laird Hamilton redefined the most dangerous wave that could be surfed when, in 2000, he rode a roiling tube monster dubbed the Millennium wave at Teahupoo, Hawaii, a feat dubbed by many as the greatest surfing performance of all time. Now 51 and regarded among the watersports community as one of the greatest watermen ever, Laird tells 24Life he’s looking for even bigger waves and challenges.
Like his wife, Gabrielle Reece, Laird has evolved from being simply a great athlete to someone who’s showing his generation that there’s no slowing down when you get older. Quite the opposite — he’s doing the same physical stuff he did in his 20s, but with lots more personal and business interests on the side. Laird can do it because he has a mental outlook that makes him open to new ways of doing things.
It’s no surprise he’s helping redefine what’s possible at a stage in his life when most athletes are well and truly retired, because he’s always had a creative side that made him an innovator in surfing.
For instance, when just paddling out made it impossible for surfers to reach the really big, dangerous waves, Laird came up with new ways to cozy up to them, pioneering everything from using tows from jet skis to inventing foil-equipped surfboards that let him skim the surface of water monsters at breathtaking speeds. And when he wasn’t risking his life, he was pioneering the sport of stand-up paddle boarding.
Not governed by structure
“I feel like one of my objectives is to continue to evolve and to continue to do new things,” Laird says. “I’ve been able to do so many things up until this point, but I continue with the same philosophy. I haven’t reached a point where I’m on the downhill slide, because I feel that is more of an emotional decision and I’m not governed by a structure that dictates when you do that and when you don’t.”
“I’m inspired by innovation and that goes into every aspect of what I do. It goes into into nutrition, it goes into fitness and training, it goes into my relationships.”
So what’s changed over the years that’s allowed him to keep surfing the biggest waves and develop his other interests at an unrelenting pace?
He pays more attention to nutrition, for one. “I’m more aware of superfoods and things like turmeric, anti-inflammatories in herbs and other medicines or plants that help. I’m trying to eat more naturally and I’m probably eating a lot less meats and proteins than I used to when I was younger.”
Laird also avoids processed foods now and stays away from alcohol.
But just as important as eating healthier is having the right mental attitude, he says. That’s helped by creating the right mental environment that lets you thrive.
“It’s about getting along with your partner or your friends or your work people or whatever. You want to just create environments where you’re really breeding constructive positive energy and not undermining it with negativity. I think that’s a form of nutrition in a way. That feeds the body,” he says.
It’s also important to have goals that constantly challenge you, Laird adds.
He’s still developing the foilboards that let him ride in wave and swell conditions that ordinary boards can’t handle. He still wants to have another go at a life-or-death tube at Teahupoo. And he’ll keep going to Alaska to snowboard in some extreme mountains. Plus he continues to develop his pool-based training system and is releasing fitness machines (such as one that builds core strength by replicating the movements of wave and snowboarding).
Be like a kid
Laird takes inspiration from one of his best friends, 83-year-old Don Wildman, the founder of a fitness chain and now a fitness guru. “The guy just finished snowboarding 65 days this winter. You look at him and you go, ‘OK well I want to be like that,'” Laird says.
Ultimately, the secret to continuing to do the things you love at any age, says Laird, is an openness to always try new things. “Listen to new things and eat new things and just do new things. Be like a kid. That’s what youth is about. People want to know what’s the fountain of youth? It’s to be enthusiastic and like a kid.”