SIFF Review: ‘Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton’

Some of us are born athletes, others achieve that label through hard work, and then there are people like me who cannot honestly ascribe the adjective “athletic” to their person.  Nevertheless, any of the above can watch this documentary film about one of the world’s top surfers and be amazed and astounded.  Laird Hamilton is equivalent to top chef, international artist, the American Idol of surfing.  Surprisingly he has not achieved his accolades through the normal avenues in this sport—through competitive events.  He eschews being judged in competition as for him it sullies the purity of the sport.  He has received his acclaim by the giant waves he has successfully surfed, by the innovations he has introduced to the sport of surfing, primary “big wave surfing,” and through his passion for the sea.

In Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton, we are first introduced to the young Laird, who, raised by his freedom-loving single mom in Hawaii, faces discrimination in the schools as one of the few white kids there at the time.  His mother, when not working, likes to hang with the surfer crowd.  Fatherless, he gains an early mentorship in surfing with a teen surfing pro who soon becomes his stepfather.

He is a wild rebellious child and the sea becomes his refuge, the only place he feels at home.  Through interviews with Laird, his younger brother, wife, and surfing mates we learn what drives him.  He has been used as a model in surfing magazines, has had many sponsors despite his stand on competition, even appeared in surfing movies and on the cover of National Geographic.

Sometimes his passion for the sea and the big wave, however, has overridden his loyalty to friends and even his love for family, but as viewers we are drawn into this obsession through the fantastic photography of Laird and his companions flying on, under, and through monstrous waves.  Those viewers who are themselves surfers can admire Laird’s art and mastery of his sport and revel in the action.  For those of us who will never have the talent to surf, we are invited here to vicariously experience the exhilaration of flying.  This experience at times is mystical as we ride within the silent caress of the wave; other times we are crushed by its violence.

As we leave the theater, we are thankful:  thankful to Laird Hamilton and his companions for sharing their passion, and to the photographers and those who made the film for capturing so well the essence of big wave surfing and the soul of this particular surfer.

Seen at Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) 2017.

By Karen Samdahl
Related categories: Documentaries, Movie Reviews