Full Frame Review: Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton

Aquaman dreams that he’s Laird Hamilton. The legendary surfer lives for the ocean and big waves. He has made his name over the decades not by winning various competitions, but by just executing sensational rides on monster waves. He figured out how to get out to the massive waves farther away from shore. He’s perfected a new surf board that allows him to ride above the waves. He married volleyball legend Gabrielle Reece. While he was featured among many in the documentary Riding Giants, Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton covers his legendary life. The film played at the Full Frame Documentary Film festival.

The surfing life has been praised, celebrated, mocked and feared over the decades. Whether if be Frankie and Annette in the Beach Party films, Endless Summer‘s documentary, Jeff Spicoli’s dream in Fast Times at Ridgemont High or the criminality of Point Break. Laird’s life has been all about surfing. His mother took him to Hawaii where he grew up near the breakers. His stepfather was Bill Hamilton, a major surfer during the ’60s. Laird discusses the hardship of growing up white kid when the locals happy he was at their school. What makes Laird’s star power unusual is that he completely bucked the concept of what it takes to be a famous surfer. Normally you win a lot of major competitions and people notice you from all the trophies piling up in the living room. Laird did his best to avoid having to be judged. His fame came through videographers and photographers that wanted to see what happens when a talent meets the perfect wave. Laird did play a jerk surfer in the film North Shore and modeling work to get a little cash. But he didn’t want to deal with acting and modeling auditions since that cut into his time on the waves. He hated to be stuck with dozens of other surfers waiting on a wave. This is what inspired him to figure out how to ride the waves that break beyond where the others paddled out. The film brings in all the various surfing pals that have helped him cement his legendary status including Buzzy Kerbox. There’s a break down of his group that had a secret surf sight that let them enjoy 30 foot waves for years. But then Laird and the others let out their secret spot when they made a series of videos. However this lead to everyone who thought they could be Laird to show up and ruin the spot.

It would be easy to call Laird the last cowboy, but he’s really the only Laird Hamilton. The takes of his death defying conquering of a wave in Tahiti’s Teahupoʻo break. This huge wave could have killed him if it crashed on top of him and pulverized him in the shallow basin. But he mastered it with cameras rolling. He created the image that all surfers dream about while rubbing wax on their boards. Director Rory Kennedy and crew are able to bring together Laird’s past with his current life. His 50 year old body is feeling its age, but he’s not ready to give up his surfing life. He deals with Oracle’s yacht team in order to improve his revolutionary
This is a documentary that demands to be seen on the big screen. Why? Because on your cellphone, all you will see if a normal sized wave with an ant in the middle of it. Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton makes me want to head off to Hawaii, hit the beach, and watch the big wave action through binoculars. I’ll let Laird do the superhero moves.

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