Against the grain is the only way Laird Hamilton knows how to go. A dynamic, dominating personality, he became one of surfing’s central figures despite refusing to compete professionally and he revolutionized the nature of the sport not once but twice by going in directions few people much cared about.
In fact, Hamilton’s story is so filled with dramatic incident and personal and psychological complexity, not to mention spectacular visuals of waves upward of 100 feet tall, that it compels attention whether surfing means anything to you or not.
Even more unlikely, “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton” is directed by Oscar-nominated Rory Kennedy, best known for committed social-issue documentaries like “Last Days In Vietnam,” “Shouting Fire” and the Emmy-winning “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.”
“Honestly, initially I said no,” Kennedy said when the film debuted at Sundance. “With the world falling apart, why would I be doing a film about a surfer?”
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What Kennedy came to see and what “Take Every Wave” demonstrates without doubt is that Hamilton’s personal journey is extraordinary enough in its scope and pushing-the-limits achievements that we feel privileged to have such an intimate glimpse into how it all went down.
Though sitting still appears to be close to unendurable for Hamilton, he completed hours of candid, emotional interviews as did his oldest friends (even those he is estranged from) and his wife, Gabrielle Reece, a fitness authority and former world class volleyball player.
In addition to footage shot for the film by Alice Gu and Don King, “Take Every Wave” had access to Hamilton’s personal visual archive, and the resulting imagery of him on the water — including his celebrated August 2000 ride at Teahupo’o, Tahiti, which is considered “the most intense wave ever surfed” — is simply astonishing.
As written by Mark Bailey and Jack Youngelson and expertly edited by Azin Samari, “Take Every Wave” has a sophisticated structure, starting with the near present and pulling back to reveal Hamilton’s restless past.
Hamilton is remarkably candid about all his activities, including the hard feelings some of his actions produced in his close friends. And both he and his wife are honest as well about the nature of and strains on their marriage.
“Take Every Wave” is named after the surfer’s philosophy of never passing up a chance. The film’s final scene has him on his foil board, riding one of those El Nino waves that seems to go on forever. Where Laird Hamilton is concerned, that seems just about right.
Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton
Rated: not rated. Starring: Laird Hamilton. Director: Rory Kennedy. Running time: 118 minutes. Theater: Flicks.