Riding Giants (2004) Script

The ancient Hawaiian sport of surfing can be traced back...

... as far as 1000 years ago, as men, women, children...

... and even Hawaii's great King Kamehameha...

... enjoyed the thrill of riding waves.

In the earliest description of the sport by a visiting European...

... Captain James Cook observed upon watching a surf rider...

... in the year of 1777:

"I could not help concluding this man felt the most supreme pleasure...

... while he was being driven on so fast and so smoothly by the sea. "

Then in the 1800s, the waves fell flat...

... with the arrival of the Calvinist missionaries.

Shocked and outraged by the state of undress...

... and the easy mixing of the sexes that surfing fostered...

... the missionaries banned the sport.

The extinct Polynesian pastime was then reintroduced...

... in the early 20th century by Alexander Hume Ford...

... a globetrotting promoter, who set about reviving island tourism...

... by romanticizing surfing at Waikiki.

In 1912 came surfing's first international icon...

... Waikiki beach boy and celebrated Olympic swimming champion...

... Duke Kahanamoku, the only surfer to ever appear on a U.S. Stamp.

While traveling the globe giving swimming demonstrations...

... Duke became surfing's Johnny Appleseed...

... introducing his favorite sport to far-flung places like California...

... New York and Australia.

One of the fans enthralled by the Duke was a young Wisconsin...

... swimming champion named Tom Blake.

Relocating to Hawaii, Blake would go on to become...

... one of the 20th century's most influential surfers...

... through his innovative surfboard design, but most importantly...

... through his advocacy of surfing as a way of life.

By 1948, surfing had taken root along the California coast...

... where a skinny 10-year-old from Hermosa Beach named Greg Noll...

... found himself immersed in the emerging subculture.

Following in the footsteps of pioneers like Pete Peterson...

... and Lorrin Harrison, Noll eagerly joined the ranks...

... of these eccentric sportsmen, carving out an entirely new...

... and free-spirited lifestyle.

Those guys were all kind of gentlemanly.

It was a different era.

Something went to hell in the early '50s.

It's like somebody threw a light switch. With the advent...

...of the lightweight longboard, something happened.

It was the introduction of lightweight balsa wood...

... and the newly discovered aerospace material, fiberglass...

... that cut the weight of surfboards and paved the way...

... for a younger generation to begin picking up the offbeat sport.

There was a feeling of individuality and freedom...

...from being able to ride this wave. It made us feel free...

...and I think almost rebellious.

The ride itself is such a bitchen deal, so rewarding...

It becomes so important to you that it becomes the object...

...around which you plan your life.

Everyone else is planning around money.

A bunch of guys come along and they go:

"Screw the money, I'm having all the fun I can possibly have.

Girls are loving it." Here we are...

...a bunch of scroungy surfers. The shittier you dress...

...and the funnier you talk... Which nobody understood the stuff...

...we were saying, because it was surf jargon...

...the more fun we had, the more it pissed off society.

With the devotion to riding waves came the creation of a new lifestyle...

... centered around all things beach.

This emerging lifestyle went in direct opposition to mainstream values...

... as surfers were often regarded as nothing more than beach bums.

My parents never saw me surf.

You know, they couldn't come to the game...

...they couldn't see the score up on the board...

...and couldn't understand what good it did.

Greg Noll's principal said, "What are you guys doing on the beach?

What exactly...?" Not just riding, not going out to surf.

But, "What are you doing on the beach?"

For the first time, they had a group of guys...

...that didn't give a rat's ass, dropping out of the basketball team...

...and just giving the whole thing the finger...

...going, "I don't give a shit. I wanna go surfing."

For this new generation of surfers...

... surfing wasn't just something you did, but something you became.

Not just a sport, but a statement.

I think getting radical was part of the culture at that time.

After a while it was expected of us...

...and therefore we fulfilled those expectations.

Some guy's dad had gotten back from the war...

...and he had a closet of Nazi stuff he brought back.

Then they went over and took Flexies and rode down a storm drain...

...for a mile underneath the town of Windansea.

And that was just having a good time.

But people see it and go, "What's this all about?"

That behavior wasn't mean-spirited. It was playful.

It was like turning a hearse into a surf-mobile.

Instead of dead bodies, it was all about living life to the fullest.

Amidst the mirth and mayhem of the fledging surf scenes...

... from Windansea to San Onofre, to Malibu, much homage...

... was given to the sport's Polynesian roots...

... with grass shacks, floral aloha shirts and the playing of ukuleles.

But on a winter morning in 1953, another Hawaiian import...

... landed like a bomb on the front porch of California.

I remember I was a 14-year-old paperboy...

...delivering the Evening Outlook.

I got to work... I had looked at the front page...

...and there it was: Buzzy Trent, George Downing...

...and Wally Froiseth coming down what looked like a 30-foot wave.

This simple image sent shock waves through California's surf culture...

... triggering the first migration of West Coast surfers...

... to the Hawaiian Islands and Oahu's Makaha Beach.

It was Makaha's combination of smooth...

... crystal-blue warm water, and large, gently tapered waves...

... that helped create surfing's first accessible big-wave riding paradise.

At Makaha, if we had 10 guys on a good day, that was a lot.

You knew every one. They were there every time.

To us, that was a crowd at the time.

You'd be out there for maybe about two, three hours...

...and you would only catch, like, five waves.

You don't wanna mess up. You don't have no leash...

...and you're way out there. When you get wiped out, there's nobody.

In the early days, we lived on the beach. We had tents.

Then later on, we all got together and rented a Quonset hut...

...for 25 or up to 50 bucks, and 10 guys would be in the Quonset hut.

It was cheap. That was an upgrade.

It was easygoing. No problems, no hassles.

And we used to leave our board on the beach there...

...go to Waikiki for two days, come back, it'd be there.

Nobody would touch it.


The Californians were mentored...

... by Makaha's first generation of big-wave riders.

Surfers like Woody Brown, along with Wally Froiseth...

... George Downing and Buzzy Trent, had spent much...

... of the previous decade challenging Makaha's giant surf.

They were the astronauts of their era.

They were conquering waves no one had.

To me, those guys were bigger than life.

That trio of guys were the first really hardcore...

...big-wave riders that set the blueprint for the next generation.

But it was 23-year-old George Downing...

... who carved the mold from which all other big-wave riders were cast.

I think George Downing, in a sense, is truly the original big-wave surfer.

Downing designed and built the first true big-wave surfboard...

... and was instrumental in exploring Oahu's other big-wave breaks.

They wanted to ride more big waves...

...and Makaha doesn't get big that often.

And we had heard these fabulous tales about, you know...

...this deep, dark, foreboding place called the North Shore.

Fifteen miles up the coast from Makaha was the North Shore...

... a remote 13-mile stretch of coastline backed up against...

... a patchwork of pineapple fields and taro farms.

I can remember coming out of the pineapple fields of Schofield...

...and getting my first glimpse of the North Shore.

Here's this magical place laid out in front of you.

Suddenly they get to a place where all those dreams live.

You'd go another couple hundred yards...

..."Shit, here's another place."

At first, we didn't have a clue we had stumbled...

...on something so fabulously magical and powerful.

They must have thought that they'd found nirvana.

The discovery of the North Shore was surfing's equivalent...

... of Columbus reaching the New World.

Nowhere else on Earth would there be found so many world-class...

... big-wave breaks in such close proximity.

What the Paris runways are to fashion...

...is what the North Shore is to the world of surfing.

We were among the first Californians to dedicate themselves to surfing.


We were spending eight, 10 hours a day in the water...

...doing nothing but surfing our guts out.

There wasn't any home life.

We spent our days on the beach. That's what we did.

We surfed all day, every day, no matter what.

In those days, we never saw girls.

If you brought a date and sat her in the car while you surfed...

...you never had that date again.

These guys came to surf.

And it was kind of unheard of. You don't have a job...

...you're gonna spend a couple of months here to surf.

No watch, no money, no car, no nothing.

Just shorts and a T-shirt.

There were no hotels. There was a place in Hale'iwa...

...that was a set of cubicles...

You'd have guys sharing the place and getting mattresses...

...from the Salvation Army and throwing them on the floor.

And, I mean, it was a scene to try to make ends meet.

There wasn't a lot of money, so if we wanted to eat...

...we had to go diving. We'd dive every day...

...and get fish and lobster, and turtle in those days.

They would pick coconuts and papayas, and go fishing.

In those days, you could live off the land.

Guys would come from the mainland...

...they'd patch our surfboards for a peanut-butter sandwich.

Pat Curren and I, we'd get in trouble. We'd steal chickens or something.

I mean, the whole thing was waiting for waves.

We would do anything to amuse ourselves and each other...

...so somewhere I had learned about how to put lighter fluid in your mouth...

...and torch it off. Actually, I did set the side of that house on fire.

They're just spending their days living in the sun...

...and living a life that's not the '50s, gray-flannel-suit thing.

It's like an alternative thing the way Kerouac was...

...and bikers were, except they're having fun.

That was the counterculture of its day.

You know, you were bucking the system...

...and you went to Hawaii, and you rode waves.

They were the pioneers, not only of riding big waves...

...but of the culture of surfing.

They set the pace, this kind of free-and-easy lifestyle.

That really was a unique period in history.

They were doing something so unique in the 20th century...

...and there was a handful of them.

It wasn't like jazz, where there was the Chicago scene...

...the New York scene. This was it. That tiny little epicenter...

...those two dozen intrepid men, and the women that went with them...

...living that life. It only lasted a few years.

What a remarkable time that must have been.


As these surfers rode more and more of the North Shore's fantastic waves...

... the biggest wave of all still eluded them.

The spot, Waimea Bay, which began to break...

... when the rest of the North Shore was too big to surf.

But Waimea Bay was riddled with taboos and fears...

... as surfers of the '50s were haunted by the memory of Dickie Cross...

... a young California surfer who, in December of 1943...

... became trapped by a fast-rising storm swell...

... while surfing Sunset Beach.

Unable to reach the shore, he and fellow-surfer Woody Brown...

... elected to paddle three miles to the safer, deep-water...

... Waimea Bay.

But 50-foot waves were closing out the bay...

... and while attempting to reach shore, both were caught...

... by mountains of white water and ripped from their boards.

Brown eventually washed up on shore naked...

... while 17-year-old Cross was never seen again.

It spooked everybody. They were like, "You can't ride there.

It's a killer. We're not gonna go out there. You're gonna die."

Along with the death of Dickie Cross, Waimea's reputation...

... was steeped in superstition and dread...

... with tales that ranged from haunted houses...

... to human sacrifices at the heiau...

... or Hawaiian burial ground, overlooking the bay.

All of these things were whizzing around...

...like a bunch of ghouls.

People really believed if you paddled out...

...there was gonna be this goddamn vortex.

It'd be like flushing a toilet, and there go the haoles.

People thought you couldn't ride Waimea Bay.

They watched it, and they said, "Can't be done."

You'd look at Waimea and wonder...

...can the human body survive the wipeout?

But the lure of riding Waimea was unrelenting...

... as during each swell, surfers would find themselves...

... standing spellbound on the shore, transfixed by the sight of the huge...

... perfectly shaped waves exploding off the point.

We'd go by there when it was breaking, and you're going:

"That looks like a ridable wave."

You could see that this had all the potential of being a great surf spot.

And at some point you just had to go, "To hell with it, we can do this thing."

On a fall day in October of 1957...

... a handful of surfers converged on Waimea...

... as a 20-foot swell began lighting up the bay.

Sitting on the point, watching the huge, empty waves...

... with his buddy Mike Stang, 19-year-old Greg Noll...

... had finally seen enough.

He unstrapped his board, and with Mike Stang in tow...

... walked down to the water's edge.

Moments later, they were joined by fellow-surfers Pat Curren...

... Mickey Munoz, Del Cannon, Fred Van Dyke, Harry Church...

... Bing Copeland and Bob Bermel...

... who with Noll and Stang...

... paddled out to attempt the impossible.

It was obvious where the waves were breaking...

...and we'd all had enough experience so that...

...you know, you knew pretty much where to paddle to.

I remember paddling into the lineup...

...and your balls were in your stomach, you know...

...thinking the bottom was gonna fall out...

...and something was gonna eat you alive.

I'm thinking, "I don't wanna get wiped out"...

...because I know there's sharks here...

...and I'm not into swimming with sharks, exactly.

We got out there, it was a big surprise.

It's, you know... It's not an easy takeoff.

I took off on a wave and went down the side...

...and popped out the other end and went:

"Shit, I'm still alive. Nothing's happened."

After we got a couple waves...

...we go, "Hey we can do this," you know.

They broke the taboo. They went and did it.

And once it was done, opened up the floodgates and it's like, "Okay...

...now how far do we take it?"

The following year of 1958...

... Waimea Bay blew big-wave surfing wide open as another migration...

... of surfers came charging onto Hawaii's North Shore...

... to campaign the huge surf.

They were out to ride the biggest swells...

... nature could produce. So they built what came to be known as "guns":

Long, narrow surfboards designed exclusively...

... for catching the fast-moving, 25-foot waves of Waimea.

I rode an 11-6.

It was first and foremost a wave-catching machine...

...because if you can't catch a wave, nothing else matters.

Unlike the somewhat easy takeoff of Makaha...

... Waimea was a fear-inducing, 25-foot elevator drop...

... sometimes requiring more faith than skill.

It almost doesn't help to know what you're doing out there.

If you know too much, it intimidates you.

Everything is moving. Nothing is constant.

It's so dynamic that you can't pre-plan it.

Not only are you riding this mountain, it's chasing you...

...and you have to use your skill and ability...

...to get away from this mountain...

...but at the same time, use it to your benefit.

When you come down the face of a mountain, you're on fire.

Your heart is exploding, endorphins are busting out in your brain...

...and you want to not just prove that you can do it...

...but discover what you're made out of.

Apart from the challenge of learning to ride Waimea...

... was the even greater challenge of surviving the horrifying wipeouts.

You feel like a piece of lint in a washing machine...

...because the force of nature you're in...

...is so quantum beyond comprehension.

I can remember fracturing my neck at Waimea.

I went over the falls. I hit the water and my neck went back...

...in a whiplash and fractured my neck.

Lost all feelings in my arms and legs.

I was like a seagull full of oil...

...just fluttering in the white water, out of control.

And some guys came over and helped me in.

I'm lucky to be alive. And I think every single big-wave surfer...

...could tell you a story like that.

We didn't have flotation devices, we didn't have leashes...

...we didn't have helicopters waiting to scoop you out...

...so if you fucked up, you were on your own.

By 1959, Waimea had become the epicenter of big-wave surfing...

... fostering a new crew of big-wave talents:

Pat Curren, Peter Cole, Ricky Grigg, Fred Van Dyke, Jose Angel...

... Kealoha Kaio and Greg Noll, whose big-wave obsession...

... and even bigger-wave personality, would forever link him...

... with Waimea Bay.

Waimea was my gal, man. She was like...

I mean, I surfed with this beautiful woman...

...who allowed me to get away with shit...

...as long as I didn't act too outrageously towards her.

There was times...

...where the surf would get perfect...

...and you'd go out and catch a wave:

You just make this thing and just have your adrenaline...

...dripping out of your ears. Paddle back out, do it again.

You get too cocky, you get your ass slapped a bit...

...she'd let you know it. But for the most part...

...there was just this full-on love affair that took place for 25 years.

Nicknamed "The Bull" for his charging style...

... and clothing himself in a pair of loud jailhouse-striped trunks...

... Noll emerged as surfing's first big-wave celebrity.

He looked like a big-wave rider with that big, thick neck...

...and he had the black-and-white striped trunks, which was genius.

Surfing needed Greg Noll. When you look at those surfers...

...they were a stoic bunch. Greg Noll introduced flamboyance...

...he introduced showmanship. He introduced that colorful aspect...

...that most people associated with hot-doggy Malibu.

Not just the way he surfed, but just the spirit of it.

He introduced that into big-wave riding.

He wanted to ride the biggest wave.

Greg made his reputation on taking off on the biggest, heaviest wave.

He stuffed himself into positions no one else would want.

He'd sit over deeper, take off later. He'd spin around at the last minute.

I mean, he was surfing's, like, first hell-man.

He just liked confrontation.

He sought it out, in human terms and in big-wave terms.

I was really a young, skinny kid...

...and I got my ass kicked from the time I can remember.

I went to school and had my ass kicked.

I went to high school and had my ass kicked. And in some ways...

...maybe there was something there that drove me to want...

...to pursue big-wave riding, to make a statement.

I'm not a psychologist, I don't know.

All I know is, once you get into it, there's an adrenaline, a stoke...

...and that high is so addictive that once you have a taste of it...

...it's very difficult to not want more.

But for Greg Noll, big-wave surfing became more...

... than just an adrenaline fix. It became his identity...

... his way of life and his business.

He was doing it to promote his surfboard business...

...and worked to promote himself.

Greg was a good hurdy-gurdy man. He knew how to self-promote himself.

As well as being a successful surf filmmaker...

... the surfboard business Noll began in his parents' garage...

... had, by 1965, become a 20,000-square-foot...

... surfboard factory built around his big-wave image.

I had a big building, I had 67 employees...

...I made 150 boards a week.

I was just turning money over because I was selling them so cheap.

We were all competing with each other.

He was a board designer. He was a really influential manufacturer.

He was the most complete surfer of the '50s and '60s, by far.

No one could come close.

Despite the dramatic exploits of Noll and the other Waimea Bay surfers...

... it was a naive 15-year-old girl from California...

... and her desire to join the Malibu surf set...

... that launched surfing into mainstream America.

Surfing is out of this world! You can't imagine the thrill...

...of shooting the curl. It surpasses every living emotion I've ever had!

Hey! This is the ultimate!

When you look at surfing's history...

...everything has to be perceived as either pre-Gidget or post-Gidget.

You can't mean... I'm a surf bum.

You know, ride the waves, eat, sleep, not a care in the world.

From the movie Gidget in '59, when there was fewer...

...than 5000 surfers, to 1963, there was probably 2 million surfers.

So in five years it went from 5000 to 2 or 3 million people doing it.

Following the film release of Gidget...

... surfing underwent a radical transformation.

Surf shops opened doors up and down...

... America's West and East coasts.

John Severson's Surfer Magazine began publication...

... and in 1962, surf-music pioneer Dick Dale sold 75,000 copies...

... of his album Surfers' Choice in Southern California alone.

Suddenly surfing was perceived as hip. People assumed surfers...

...were in the know. Look at the life they were leading.

The sun, the bikinis, that sort of aura of sex, beach blankets and fires...

...and then all that golden flesh in the sun.

Hollywood followed Gidget with a medley of surf exploitation films.

Then, in 1964, the Hollywood film Ride the Wild Surf turned its lens...

... on Hawaii's big-wave surfers challenging Waimea Bay.

Man, I've been hot to surf Waimea since I was 13.

But the question is, can we do it without winding up in traction?

The theme is all the same.

Chicks in bikinis wringing their hands that their boyfriends...

...are gonna go out and risk his life for some big wave. It just...

Man, it just makes me puke.

Man, is he getting creamed. He's taking gas.

They show the film.

A guy's sitting in a fish pond without a ripple.

A big flat-out is coming!

Then they cut to, you know, a 25-foot wave.

Guys are all pouring down the face of the wave.

Goddamn, man. Who can believe that shit, you know.

Hollywood's always had a misconstrued view of surfing.

So it was more or less offensive to the surfing community.

All these ancillary artistic pursuits that surrounded surfing...

...all came together in a rush.

All of it happening from 1960 to 1965.

On December 4th, 1969...

... big-wave surfing was hit with what would become known...

... as the greatest swell of the 20th century.

A massive low-pressure system metastasized...

... into one colossal storm system...

... that consumed the North Pacific Ocean basin...

... resulting in the largest waves ever recorded.

The super-size storm uprooted trees...

... dislodged boats onto Oahu's Kam Highway...

... and blew houses right off their foundations.

Oahu's 13-mile stretch of stunning, world-class surf breaks...

... became a morass of turbulent, six-story storm surf.

At first light, I was sitting at Waimea...

...Iooking in disbelief at what I was seeing.

It was breaking so big that Waimea was just full of white water.

So I decided to go around Ka'ena Point and look at Makaha...

...because that would be the last spot...

...that would still have some chance of holding up.

Noll set off west to Makaha...

... the birthplace of modern big-wave surfing...

... thinking the huge swells slamming into the North Shore...

... would be tempered...

... as they wrapped around the island's far western bend.

On the drive west, he stopped briefly at Ka'ena Point to snap this picture...

... which Surfer Magazine later claimed...

... was the largest wave ever photographed.

When we got to Makaha, the cops were going around...

...with blare horns on their cars telling people to evacuate...

...the homes on the point.

Makaha was the only big-wave break on Oahu considered ridable...

... as Noll and a handful of daring surfers attempted the huge swells.

As the morning progressed...

... the hundred-year swell surging out of the North Pacific...

... was giving rise to bigger and bigger waves.

Finally, everybody was out of the water. I was the only one left.

And I was having a real hard time trying to gear myself for this thing.

Because I knew that basically it was a situation...

...where your chances of surviving one of these waves was about fifty-fifty.

And I'm thinking to myself:

"Is it worth giving up the farm for a stupid wave?"

I finally had to just paddle outside the lineup a hundred yards...

...and sit on my board with my head down...

...and kind of go into another gear.

And the final decision was that I would never have forgiven myself...

...if I had allowed this day to go by...

...without at least trying for a wave.

Noll turned and paddled...

... for what was then considered the biggest wave ever attempted.

No photographers were on hand to capture his wave.

Not a single shot or a single frame of footage exists.

All that remains are the memories of the handful of surfers...

... who were there that day to witness his momentous ride.

Greg Noll starts to paddle, and we're all in our cars just going:

"Oh, my God, look at this."

He's starting to paddle into this thing. It's this huge, black, massive wall.

We watch him. He takes off, stands up.

He's this little speck, and you're going, "Oh, my God."

And he drops in, and he looks like a little tiny cartoon figure.

He gets that Greg Noll stance...

...where he gets into this thing and goes, "I'm going."

Drops down, drops down and gets to the bottom.

The whole thing's already starting to come over on top of him.

And he just kind of, like, stepped off the rail.

There was nowhere to go. That was it.

The fact that he made the drop, got to the bottom of the wave...

It was, like, oblivion after that. The whole thing just:

Along with the birth of my sons and my daughter...

...it was probably the most significant day of my life.

Even though it wasn't photographed and people have argued since then:

"How big was it?" It doesn't matter.

In our imaginations, it just was huge.

Because on that classic day of the biggest swell ever seen...

...he essentially rode alone and faced it when it came to him.

That's what every surfer does in their own life. Everyone can relate to that.

As Greg Noll's giant wave broke and vanished...

... so too did the popularity of traditional big-wave surfing...

... at Waimea Bay.

As it was broadsided by the late '60s shortboard revolution...

... where the longer, heavier big guns...

... were phased out in favor of shorter and more maneuverable surfboards.

By the early '70s...

... the great Waimea had been usurped by two spectacular...

... more performance-oriented North Shore breaks:

The Bonzai Pipeline, led by surfers like Gerry Lopez...

... and at Sunset Beach...

... by surfers like Jeff Hackman and Barry Kanaiaupuni.

All this changed in the mid-'80s...

... first with the emergence of Ken Bradshaw...

... and then Mark Foo.

Two professional big-wave riders...

... determined to reintroduce personality and showmanship...

... to the challenge of riding giant Waimea.

Then came The Eddie...

... Quiksilver's big-wave riding contest at Waimea Bay...

... held in memory of the late, great big-wave rider Eddie Aikau.

Together, Ken Bradshaw, Mark Foo and The Eddie...

... wrenched the surfing world's attention back to Waimea Bay...

... then still considered the Mount Everest of big-wave surfing.

Mavericks wasn't supposed to exist, it wasn't supposed to be there.

It was a mystery that it was just suddenly found in this area...

...that's 20-something miles away from San Francisco.

In Half Moon Bay, who's formerly famous for its annual pumpkin festival.

It's as if they discovered Mount Everest behind Mount Whitney.

Teenage surfer Jeff Clark grew up...

... along Half Moon Bay's secluded coast...

... riding homemade boards in the region's powerful, rugged waves...

... where he carved out a frontier existence...

... far removed from surfing's mainstream.

I was a freshman in high school.

You could see this place exploding from out behind the building...

...where we'd all congregate.

I was with my childhood friend, and I'd go:

"Brian, we've gotta go check that out."

We'd sit up on a cliff and watch this place go, and one day it was like:

"Brian, today's the day."

I go, "Bring your board." He's like:

"There's no way I'm paddling a half a mile offshore...

...to a place I've never been."

And so he sat here at the end of the cliff and said:

"I'll call the Coast Guard, tell them where I last saw you."

The year was 1975, and the wave Clark intended to ride...

... broke a half a mile offshore into a veritable graveyard of jagged rocks.

The wave was considered more a navigational hazard than a surf spot.

I just remember a wave jacking up, I'm in the vein, and total commitment.

If I eat it, I eat it. But I'm going.

And I hit my feet...

...and I've never felt water pass across the bottom of a surfboard so fast.

The fastest I've ever gone, and I made it.

And I just thought, "Man, I want another one of those."


Jeff went out there for the first time and rode it by himself...

...and couldn't get anyone to go back out with him.

There just weren't any takers around here.

People just didn't believe me.

They just thought, "He's out of his mind.

He doesn't know what he's talking about."

I said, "It's the best big wave you'll ever surf."

Jeff Clark was sitting out there, nobody in the bleachers...

...no helicopters flying over, no cheering crowds...

...doing his shit by himself.

He'd be like the equivalent of a mountain man...

...killing a grizzly in the Rockies, doing a three-day battle...

...sleeping inside the carcass, and not having anyone to tell about it.

My parents had no idea I was riding waves like this.

I believed in my ability to go out there and ride it.

It was my sanctuary. I could leave the shore...

...and go out there and be so focused...

...and so in tune and feel the ocean with every fiber in my body...

...and I was part of it.

Jeff Clark's greatest challenge was how he internalized...

...all that emotion and all that drama and all that adrenaline...

...surfing that place alone year after year after year.

Jeff Clark surfed Mavericks alone for 15 years.

Until finally, in 1990, he was able to convince two Santa Cruz surfers...

... Dave Schmidt and Tom Powers, to join him.

They went back to Santa Cruz with these tales of these waves.

And the next time it broke, there were photographers...

...there were 10 guys.

Suddenly it's like, "Wait a minute. California is a big-wave place."

The discovery of this monstrous wave in Northern California...

... produced an entirely new breed of big-wave surfer.

Once Mavericks came, it was in our backyard.

It really took time to figure out what we had.

It wasn't instantaneous, even though it was gnarly.

It took time for me to conceptualize.

It was taboo for us to say "20 feet."

It was like, "20-foot waves only happen in Hawaii."

The thought was, "It can't be as big and as gnarly as Waimea.

This can't be as hard as what they're doing there"...

...when in fact it was way harder, it was way more fearsome...

...and it was way gnarlier.

It's just so gnarly and rocky and just violent...

...and just hateful, it's hateful.

I jumped in. I had the worst ice-cream headache.

Within 30 seconds, I couldn't feel my hands or feet.

How are you supposed to ride 30- to 40- to 50-foot faces?

I'm out of here.

You got sharks, you got rocks, you got cold water, you got huge surf.

Five-millimeter wet suits, fog banks, you can't see two feet in front of you.

Oversized boulders from the Land of the Lost.

They extend across the length...

...of where the wave is breaking.

To reach the waves at Mavericks...

... surfers paddle over 45 minutes...

... through a maze of rocks, rip currents...

... and frigid open-ocean chop until they finally reach the lineup.

The sacred thing in big-wave surfing is: What are the lineups?

Lineups are a means of triangulating your position in the ocean.

So you find two reference points on land at about 90 degrees.

Mainly what I use is this positioning on hillsides.

I mean, there's a big mountain behind and a closer cliff.

There's a satellite dish you can line up.

Line them up so you know within a few feet...

...where you are in reference to the reef and the coastline.

Just looking at waves, you don't know the right spot.

It's very important to be in the right spot at Mavericks.

If you're too deep, you won't make it.

You're not just waiting for a wave.

You're constantly paddling, trying to maintain your position.

The worst thing that can happen out at Mavericks is getting caught inside.

There's sets that come that are on a regular basis...

...and people get used to that, sitting where those are coming.

Then a sneak set will come out of the blue.

It's literally just like in those beach-blanket movies.

There's nothing happening, you're sitting.

Sometimes, corny though it may sound...

...someone actually yells, "Outside!"

And you turn and you go, "Oh, my!"

Your adrenaline's running, everything is full rpm.

And you just wanna stroke as hard as you can.

Heart in your throat, paddling as if catching a wave...

...only you're trying to get out. It's just a total survival thing.

Nobody cares about the other guy at that point...

...you just wanna get over it.

Each successive wave will be bigger than the one before.

You pray the one you barely made it over is gonna get you to the next one.

The next one's twice as big as the wave you just saw.

It's gonna land right on you. Then the sinking feeling.

"I'm caught, I'm caught, and I'm not gonna get away."

Oh, that guy's in the impact zone.

There's a point where it gets so critical...

...you have to either commit, and you'll make it out the back...

...or you slide off your board and swim into a vertical face of water.

You feel like, "Oh, I made it." Then you're getting sucked back.

The feeling of going over backwards is horrifying.

It's the worst kind of beating.

Oh, shit.

There's a fiendish pleasure, though...

...of watching, one by one, the people you started with...

They get picked off, don't quite punch through right...

...and they're goners.

Not only is the takeoff the hardest part of big-wave surfing...

...it's the most fun.

It's entirely different than any kind of normal surf...

...because it's basically one burst of energy.

The wave comes out of deep water...

...but it just stops, and that whole mass of that wave jacks up.

The bottom of the wave becomes the top in half a second.

It rears up and pulls back and sucks up...

...and you really have to find your niche where you can be under that.

You thought you were paddling into something maybe 20 or 30 feet.

Now you're riding something 35 to 40 feet tall.

You gotta put everything you have into getting yourself...

...as far down the face before it picks you up.

You have to jump off the cliff right when the thing's about to jump on you.

If you make haste in a takeoff...

...your odds of you making that wave are very low.

The whole aspect is really more mental than physical.

You have to believe.

I know when I'm gonna make a wave or I'm not...

...before I even paddle for it.

I have to overcome that safety mechanism that wants to rise up...

...and to keep me from doing something that could kill me.

So this fear of the unknown becomes, like, something you have to confront.

Because there is no way to turn back your decision.

Because there is no way to turn back your decision.

I've just wiped out.

I'm getting just worked.

Fluttering down the face, getting sucked back over the face.

Then you basically become the lip.

Back flips, front flips, McTwists, every which way underwater...

...real fast over, like, a football field.

You don't know which direction is up or down or right or left.

It's black. It's dark. I can feel the pressure in my ears.

You're sure you're near the surface...

...then what you have perceived to be up is actually the bottom.

And the leash is pulling hard on you, the board is tombstoning up there.

And I realize that if there was another wave that was coming...

...I'm finished.

At one point, it started to stop, and I thought, "Okay...

...I'm gonna live," you know.

I started to swim up... And the next wave hit.

Then it started all over again, every bit as bad as the first part of it.

I remember feeling underwater, like going over a waterfall underwater.

Literally getting sucked into a hole.

Here I am 30 feet down, and now it takes me another 15, 20 feet down.

And I slam into the bottom down there. And you think:

"Oh, my God. I'm deeper than anyone's ever been."

You get to a point when you're down there, like:

"Okay, this is not happening anymore."

You know, you gotta get to the surface to get air.

Finally, when I come up to the surface, I remember it being so bright.

It was like being in a dream and all of a sudden:

Back to, "Okay, this is real. This is live now."


Almost every traumatic thing that can happen to you at Mavericks...

...is due to the leash.

Leashes are a dangerous thing in any surf spot over 20 feet.

There's those few critical situations where leashes are a hindrance.

After the first wave, Flea found himself on the wrong end of his leash.

When entangled in a crevice...

... the urethane cord held him in place...

... while he was repeatedly battered by incoming white water.

The leash wrapped around rocks. I was stuck for eight waves.

How come you couldn't get it off? The water current was so strong...

...it's like doing a sit-up with 200 pounds on your chest.

Flea eventually worked himself loose. But in a more dramatic incident...

... Jeff Clark was hurled into Mavericks' rocky Boneyard...

... and was trapped when his leash became hooked onto Sail Rock.

I can't get the leash off my ankle.

The broken half of my board is dragging me into the rocks.

Finally, I'm getting swirled around, I got my hands out, and I feel the rock.

I'm hanging onto the side of this rock.

I'm underwater and the water starts to drain, and I am high and dry.

Next thing you know, another wave came over the rock.

I'm underwater again. The tension from my leg rope relieved.

I climbed on the rock, and I got rid of that damn anchor...

...that was around my leg.

It's funny that Mavericks surfers value their surfboards more than their lives.

It's like a lifeline.

If you get held down, the only thing that I know...

...is at the end of this is something that floats more than I do.

So if I wait and hold onto it, that's up.

So I reach around and grab my leash...

...and climb it back to the top, back to the surface.

I know, in my experience, there were times when...

...if I didn't have a leash, I'm not sure I would have lived.

In May of 1992...

... two years after Clark shared his spot with Powers and Schmidt...

...Surfer Magazine took Mavericks public...

... with a cover story titled "Cold Sweat."

As if to back up the front-page headline...

... in 1994, California was bombarded by a series of epic north swells...

... announcing to surfing's big-wave fraternity Mavericks was the real deal.

That's when the entire, you know, surf world...

...converged on Mavericks, like, "Okay, this place is legitimate.

We're gonna really see what it's worth here."

On December 23rd, the sudden arrival of three of Hawaii's...

... most famous Waimea Bay surfers...

... Ken Bradshaw, Brock Little and Mark Foo...

... created the biggest stir and gave the impression...

... that something momentous was taking place.

That day was amazing...

...to have the Hawaiians paddling out: Brock Little, Mark Foo, Ken Bradshaw.

My gosh, I was like a proud parent or something like that, you know...

...because they gave the spot that I've surfed for so many years...

...the credibility to actually come and surf it.

Helicopters were hovering, and photographers...

...from all the mags were there, and it was just crazy.

We knew it was the day.

This was one of the best days of surfing I've ever had out there.

Then at approximately 11:20 a.m., during a beautiful medium-sized set...

... Mark Foo paddled, hopped to his feet...

... and dropped into his second wave of the day.


I went to lunch. I came back out to the point.

I saw Brock in the parking lot, and there was this guy, Greg, eerily:

"Have you seen Mark Foo?"

And that was just...

We were headed back in the boat toward the harbor, and I saw some...

It kind of looked just like a big clump of something...

...as we were, you know, passing it.

And I pointed it out and said:

"Hey, that looks like a body," you know.

And, you know, sure enough, we stopped the boat...

...and just realized that it was, you know, Mark Foo.

I dove off and grabbed him and just rushed to the harbor.

It was a...

It was a really eerie, eerie, you know, experience...

...and just so chilling.

It went from the most pleasant, beautiful, plate-glass sunshiny day...

...to the clouds moved in, it got dark...

...the wind came up and it was just, you know...

...like we lost a great warrior.

One of our surfers, one of our own, was gone.

To have that winter when Mark Foo passed away, that was...

That was a heavy hit to everybody.

That was a heavy hit to everybody.

What added to the shock of Foo's death were its circumstances.

An innocuous wipeout on a less-than-death-defying wave...

... in the middle of a crowded lineup.

I think he fell on his stomach, knocked the wind out of himself...

...and was fatigued from the flight the night before, you know.

I think he got caught on the bottom.

The reason I think his leg rope got caught in the rocks...

...is that on the next wave...

...Brock Little and Mike Parsons wipe out.

Parsons comes up, and Brock was behind him.

In later interviews, Parsons said:

"I felt Brock trying to get to the surface."

But what he didn't realize at the time...

...Brock was up and, you know...

...it was Foo trying to get to the surface.

Which kind of...

It kind of confirms that he was being held down by something.

I went and examined his body, actually.

There really wasn't any discernible injury.

He had a slight scratch on his forehead.

His countenance, actually...

...was not that of one who had sort of struggled...

...or who had been in anguish.

I felt, surfing at Mavericks the years prior to that...

...that someone would die. I didn't think it would be Mark Foo...

...but somebody who didn't know what they were in for.

Mark Foo was this guy who was larger than life to us, you know.

A guy more invincible than any of us, with more experience than any of us.

He's the guy that said, "To catch the ultimate thrill...

...you gotta be willing to pay the ultimate price."

Everyone wanted to understand what killed him. That was important.

Because they were trying to assess the risk...

...in the face of their sudden mortality.

As it sunk in, I didn't think that could happen.

I didn't think that could happen. I thought I was invincible.

You know, I didn't think... I thought I could huck myself over any ledge...

...and pop back up laughing, you know.

And I think a lot of big-wave riders have that belief.

When it comes down to it, it's up to me whether I live or die.

It's up to me whether I go on a wave or not.

While an extravagant funeral was planned for Foo in Hawaii...

... surfers from up and down the California coast...

... gathered at Mavericks for a quiet tribute to their fallen comrade.

It turned the clocks back to 10 years before...

...when I'm sitting out there at the peak, by myself...

...with my own thoughts.

I wasn't sure I wanted to surf Mavericks.

So when I went back out there, I wasn't sure if I'd be spooked or not.

I ended up... You know, the wave came to me and it was like, "Yes."

Mavericks said, "You wanna be here, here's your wave."

I caught a great one, everything was good.

It's the way I thought it was. But I always knew it could kill me.

That it can kill anyone.

A year to the day after Foo's death, during a memorial tribute session...

... held in Foo's honor at Waimea Bay...

... California surfer Donny Solomon was caught by a close-out set...

... and drowned.

Then in February of 1997...

... well-known big-wave rider Todd Chesser...

... perished in 30-foot surf at a remote North Shore outer-reef break.

In 1968, in the thick of that era's shortboard revolution...

... a fatherless 4-year-old boy named Laird Zerfas...

... accompanied his mother, Joann, on a chance visit...

... to Hawaii's North Shore.

He couldn't have known at the time, but he'd grow up to become...

... the greatest big-wave rider of his generation.

Perhaps the greatest the world has ever known.

After my dad left my mom, before I could even remember...

...I was in search for a masculine figure in my life.

And my mom needed a husband, but I needed a dad.

My friend Greg MacGillivray...

...who is, like, the father of the IMAX films...

...he was making a surfing movie at the time.

I was helping him make movies.

So I was walking down the beach to see him.

Here's this little kid playing around the ocean, so I dove in.

I said, "What's your name?" "My name's Laird."

I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "Bodysurfing.

You wanna bodysurf?"

I said, "Sure."

I said, "Why don't you hang onto my neck, we'll bodysurf."

It was love at first sight with him and I.

We had this physical connection instantly.

It was a physical, spiritual, mental...

It was, like, "I love this child" thing.

It was just, "I love this child."

And we were just, like, partners.

When we finished, he grabbed my hand, he says:

"I want you to come up and meet my mom."

I don't know if he had a choice. "You're coming with me."

And there was his mother, beautiful brown-haired, brown-eyed gal.

I went, "Oh, my God."

Mom was like, "Who's this?" "This is Bill."

You know, give him the nudge, you know.

Shortly thereafter, Billy Hamilton, who was known...

... as one of the sport's most popular and stylish surfers...

... married Joann, becoming Laird's adopted father...

... and giving him his name.

I was known for being the kid that ran around and said:

"My dad's Bill Hamilton. Know who he is?"

These guys are like... Guys like Gerry Lopez.

"I know who your dad is. I see him every day."

"No, but do you know now it's my dad?"

Like, you know, they knew who he was...

...but I wanted them to know he was connected to me. This is my dad.

Because if you don't, you might get a soda can full of sand...

...in the side of your head or...

The young Hamilton family set about making a life in Hawaii...

... where, despite the paradisiacal island setting...

... the initial years took on a rough edge.

Being a blond Caucasian...

...I kind of represented the stereotypical person...

...that destroyed the culture of Hawaii.

A lot of people hated me, wanted to fight...

...because of my skin color.

The way he learned to fight, because he was so big and powerful...

...was he'd slap an opponent so hard it would shock and embarrass them.

It wouldn't injure them, but it would hurt so bad mentally and physically...

...that he won the fight right at that minute.

The reputation was, "Don't f*** around with Laird."

So he looked after you as well? Of course, I was his brother.

He took care of me. I mean, he was the only one giving me beatings.

Let's put it that way. It was a privilege deal.

He wanted to be Hawaiian.

He used to dream of wishing that he had brown skin, to be Hawaiian.

Because for him, that was what was sort of beautiful and strong.

That's what was around him.

Couldn't get girlfriends, didn't have a lot of friends.

What did he do?

He spent and put all that energy into the water.

In the face of this youthful alienation...

... Laird precociously turned to an older generation...

... for inspiration and camaraderie.

Laird Hamilton was around the legendary big-wave riders of the '60s...

...who were moving into the '70s, his dad being one of them.

During that time period, Pipeline Beach was the mecca of surfing...

...and anybody who was anybody in surfing came and surfed Pipeline.

So I got to see all the guys.

His dad was making boards for Peter Cole, Warren Harlow...

...Jose Angel, the pioneers of big-wave surfing.

And Laird was just this little sponge soaking all this stuff up.

I aspired to be like these pioneers of big-wave riding.

They were going out on days when people were evacuating.

Considering his pedigree, a traditional pro surfing career...

... was Laird's for the taking.

But from a young age, his imagination was captured...

... by the mythic canvas of riding giant waves.

I was young and impressionable in 1969.

So I understood the volume of what was possible.

I understood there was stuff out there that hadn't been tapped...

...and that the ocean was capable of producing places and things...

...that no one had really done.

What Laird and the other big-wave riders...

... from as far back as the '50s knew...

... is that lying far beyond the traditional breaks like Waimea...

... were another set of remote offshore reefs...

...capable of producing waves of unimaginable size.

Even before 1969...

... the amazing third-reef Pipeline broke once in 1963...

...as a result of a freak storm that awoke the sleeping giant.

It took Greg Noll and Mike Stang two hours to make the long paddle out.

They waited another two hours, until Greg finally caught...

... one of the most epic rides in North Shore history.


Another ambitious attempt occurred 30 years later, in 1993...

... when North Shore surfer Alec Cook...

... armed with an 11-foot board...

... an emergency scuba tank and a helicopter...

...had himself dropped in the path of a six-story swell...

...off Oahu's Ka'ena Point.

He made a valiant effort, actually making the drop...

... on one massive wall, before being swallowed.

Episodes like this made it clear that when it came to riding...

... giant outer-reef waves...

... traditional paddle-in surfing had its limits.

Any time they talked about the limitations of big-wave riding...

...it wasn't riding the wave, it was catching the wave.

Because as waves increase in size...

...they also increase in speed.

So the bigger the wave, the faster it's moving...

...the faster you need to be going to catch it.

Having already established himself as a dominant force...

... in traditional Hawaiian breaks, Laird Hamilton continued to explore...

... the boundaries of extreme ocean sports...

...developing into a world-class windsurfer.

Powered by the wind, Laird and his fellow sailboarders...

... discovered the speed and mobility necessary to access the outer reefs...

... and sail into waves previously impossible to catch by hand.

But you had this sail. You weren't surfing, you were windsurfing.

And it was so restrictive that you lost the freedom that surfing had.

I had just done a GQ shoot with Laird.

We both liked surfing.

So we started hanging out.

Buzzy and I had been playing around in the Zodiac all summer...

...doing flat-water freeboarding.

We were freeboarding in the summer, and there was a swell.

We were using swells for ramps, and then we started...

...taking speed, catching waves, and the light went off...

...and we were like:

"Oh, wow, we can catch waves. We might be able to ride bigger waves."


In December of 1992, Laird Hamilton, along with pro-surfer Buzzy Kerbox...

... and legendary North Shore lifeguard...

... and Waimea Bay rider Darrick Doerner...

...launched the surf at Sunset Beach...

... in a 16-foot inflatable Zodiac.

Neither of the three could've imagined that by the time they got back...

... big-wave surfing would be changed forever.


They weren't riding waves that were significantly bigger...

...than guys had ridden. It was how they were surfing the wave.

This radical new approach of being whipped into a wave...

... came to be called "tow-in surfing."

You get the slingshot from the tow rope, you let go...

...and there you are, on this beautiful wave with no one anywhere near you...

...on this big, giant board, there's no crowd there.

Bingo.

Progress came quick, as the trio swapped the clumsy inflatable...

... for the faster and more agile Jet Ski.

With the Jet Ski, you can catch waves and not even get your hair wet.

Back in 1987, North Shore veteran Herbie Fletcher...

... who for years had been exploring the outer reefs on a Jet Ski...

... towed pro-surfer Martin Potter into a wave at second-reef Pipeline.

An innovative idea that, surprisingly, failed to inspire others...

...until five years later, when Hamilton, Kerbox and Doerner...

... revealed tow-in surfing's true potential.

In traditional big-wave surfing, the boards were very large.

And the reason for the size of the boards was to catch the wave.

Once you were in, you didn't need a big board, you were fine.

We didn't visualize what actually was gonna take place...

...until we went snowboarding.

And if we could ride these giant mountains...

...on this tiny little board...

...well, why couldn't we do that surfing?

Aided by renowned board-builders Dick Brewer, Billy Hamilton...

... and Gerry Lopez...

...the trio chopped their boards by three feet.

Then, drawing inspiration from windsurfing and snowboarding...

... they strapped themselves to their boards...

... providing control in the heightened speed and turbulence...

... of riding waves over 30 feet.

The small board was really the big breakthrough.

I think that's really where we shifted gears.

All of a sudden, now we really had the speed.

The liberation of paddling by motor...

... suddenly opened up big-wave surfing's next frontier.

Now it seemed that riding any wave...

...breaking anywhere, at any size, was possible.

Then came the idea...

...of this thing on Maui...

...where Gerry sat down with Laird and said:

"I got something you might wanna see."

When he understood what we had going...

...he was like: "Hey," you know, "young man, come over here.

I got something to show you."


We knew that we had discovered...

...the real un-ridden realm.

Located on Maui's remote North Coast...

... and requiring a long, dangerous approach by sea, is Peahi...

... also known as Jaws.

Peahi revealed itself as the big wave of the future.

And within its awesome size and power...

... tow-in surfing came of age.

The difference between this wave and Waimea is this is about five Waimeas.

You take Makaha, Waimea, Sunset, Pipeline, Ka'ena Point, Mavericks...

...put them together in a pot, that's what you get.

Like Waimea and Mavericks...

... Peahi featured its own crew of groundbreaking pioneers.

In addition to Hamilton, Doerner and Kerbox...

...were windsurfing champion Dave Kalama...

... then Mike Waltze, Pete Cabrinha, Mark Angulo...

... Rush Randle and Brett Lickle. Known as "The Strap Crew"...

... these boys rewrote the rules of big-wave surfing by riding waves...

... in a manner that was once the realm of sheer fantasy.

Things that, previously, they only dreamed of doing.

Things we only saw in animation, suddenly, surfers were doing.

Now you're riding waves...

...with greater speed than you ever dreamed of.

I mean, it's like a dream. It's just like, "Oh, my God.

I'm on the perfect wave, I'm going 35 miles an hour."

It's so fun that it's just... l...

I better shut up.

Coming up on the Ski and seeing plumes of water 100 feet in the air.

You can hear the drone of the Skis in the distance.

You have these things in your head, like, "What's going on?

What waves are guys riding? What have people done?

How bad were wipeouts? Is anyone dead yet?"

The first time that I surfed at Peahi...

...I remember getting so uptight on the way out...

...just going, "Oh, man," you know, so much anxiety...

...that I was thinking:

"Jesus, I'm just... I'm not gonna be able to surf."

And I remember finally having to go, "Okay.

Shit.

I guess this is a good day to die."

Challenging waves in the 50- and 60-foot range...

... obliterated the concept of surfing as a solitary pursuit...

... and rewired the rules of engagement.

You gotta have eyes in the back of your head.

I got eyes, Dave and Darrick. They see what I need to see.

I'll just kind of balance right on the crest of the shoulder...

...so I can see what Laird's doing and what's behind us.

It's a three-man operation.

Laird and Kalama will be paired up.

I'll be in the channel for safety.

Performing as a team is the key to survival in 50-foot-plus waves...

... where every wipeout becomes life-threatening.

When things go wrong, they go wrong real quick.

You're getting brutalized so severely, you don't know when it's gonna end.

You're an insignificant little rag doll...

...trying to keep your limbs in so that nothing gets ripped off.

Anybody who looks at that shit goes: "How can that guy live through that?"

The greatest threat is getting trapped...

... in the impact zone and held underwater...

... as successive 10-story waves explode overhead.

Out of sheer necessity of survival...

... tow-in surfing introduced the big-wave rescue...

... with the Ski driver ready and willing to put himself in harm's way...

... to come to the aid of his fallen partner.

I'm thinking about the next wave that's gonna hit him.

And how much time I have from where I am to get to him...

...get him on the Ski and get out of there.

Sometimes you're not able to get him immediately.

He might have to take two or three on the head.

You've gotta dash in there, and hopefully the timing is right...

...that the guy's gonna pop up just as you're coming by, and you get him.

Otherwise, you gotta get out, and the guy's gotta take another on the head.

Because, you know, if you lose a Ski, then both of you are screwed.

You can rush into a situation where a person is drowning.

Now there's two persons drowning.

On a rescue situation where you're really in peril, and it's a real situation...

...there's that connection.

You can see it in the eyes, where, "We need to do this.

And we need to do it right now. Nothing else matters."

But as soon as that moment passes, it's pure love.

It is pure love: "Thank you, buddy.

I love you. Thank you for getting me out of here."

If one of those guys go down, I will put myself on the line every time.

And each of those guys, they'll put themselves on the line...

...for guys they don't even know, or might not like.

But it's part of their personality, it's part of their nature.

So when they go home at night...

...they sleep well because they don't think, "I could have, why didn't I?"

They do it.

When you're underwater, you know:

"Okay, I'm here by myself right now, underwater.

But I know there's somebody up there doing everything they can to help me."

Even if he can't help you, the confidence that's instilled...

...by believing in that person...

...buys you time.

It gives you confidence to just make it to the surface.

It really makes survival a whole different story...

...than if you're out there on your own, swimming around in the water...

...with no one but yourself.

The experiences that you have there, the friendships that are formed...

...going through those experiences...

...are ones that are very deep because there's times where...

...you call upon or you experience...

...the most... Deepest sense of who you are.


There's something about riding a 60- to 80-foot-face wave...

...that draws something out of you.

The wave commands so much focus, so much attention.

It's the only thing that matters for a few seconds, and it's very purifying...

...because as far as you're concerned, nothing else exists.

You're not doing this for your own glory.

You're caught up in this great act of nature.

Ironically, the biggest challenge...

... facing these professional big-wave riders is not the wave itself.

You can't just go get it on Sunday at 12:00...

...like you can most anything else.

When the ocean is not making the waves available...

...Laird suffers, like a lot of the other guys do.

Oh, I get so depressed, it's like:

We get frustrated, depressed and bitchy...

...and grouchy and... You know.

You really don't wanna be around us like that.

Laird was trying to explain what it was like when there was no waves.

And he said, you know, "It would sort of be like...

...if you were a dragon slayer, and there were no dragons.

Then you wonder, like, who am I and what am I doing here?"

And I question that all year long...

...except when it's 30 feet and I'm out surfing.


Laird's the king out there.

I mean, he was the one that, like Greg at Waimea...

...you know, dragged the guys out there.

You just watch him surf, and there's no one...

...that comes close to his abilities.

He has the ability to actually slow himself down...

...where everybody else just wants to run like hell.

The reason why I'm able to ride waves the way I do...

...is because I have partners like Dave and Darrick.

I'm only arriving at this level...

...because I'm being driven by these guys to this level.

There's no question this guy is the best big-wave rider the world has seen.

In August of 2000...

... Hamilton took another giant leap by riding a wave so treacherous...

... and so outrageous...

... that it affected the course of big-wave surfing history.

The wave broke 3000 miles south of Maui...

... on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti...

... at a reef pass known simply as Teahupoo.

Who ever thought that a wave could suck so much water off the reef?

That a wave could be so powerful and cylindrical?

The wave Laird encountered at Teahupoo...

...is a freak of hydrodynamics.

Unlike the deep-water big-wave breaks of Waimea...

... Mavericks and Peahi...

... Teahupoo explodes laterally...

... onto an extremely shallow, razor-sharp reef.

The result is an extraordinary wave...

... that, while not as high as Peahi...

... is almost unfathomable in its mass, power and ferocity.

Teahupoo's reputation was fearsome, but neither Laird nor Doerner...

...could've imagined the once-in-a-lifetime wave...

... that eventually appeared on the horizon.

I towed him onto this wave.

It was to the point where I almost said:

"Don't let go of the rope."

When I looked back, he was gone.


I think it's the single heaviest thing I've ever seen in surfing.

What could be heavier?

Laird's wave at Teahupoo was the most...

...amazing, single most significant ride in surfing history.

More than any other ride.

Because what it did is it completely restructured, collectively...

...our entire perception of what was possible.

Go through a surf magazine, you've seen Pipeline, Off the Wall, Waimea.

You've seen everything, and none of it has any impact.

But when that photo came out...

...it stopped everyone's heart, and they went:

"Where and what is that?"

I remember picking up that magazine, and looking and just going:

"Man, that shit's impossible.

You don't do that."

In my absolute prime, there's absolutely no way...

...I could ride a wave like that.

Normally, surfers are dragging this hand along the face.

Laird had to drag his right, his back hand...

...on the opposite side of his board...

...to keep himself from getting sucked up in that hydraulic.

You know, in the middle of that maelstrom...

...how did his mind say, "This is what I have to do."

No one had ever ridden as Laird rode on that wave before.

And so it was the imagination...

...of dealing with that unimaginable energy...

...and coming up with the plan spontaneously.

He couldn't practice.

I asked Laird, I said, "Laird, why do you ride waves like this?

Why do you risk your life riding waves like this?" He looked at me...

This is a week after he did this, and he was drained from the experience.

He was very mellow and very...

I think he was humbled by the experience, and he goes:

"Dad, I've trained my whole life for this.

I don't wanna miss an opportunity like that."

I don't wanna not live because of my fear of what could happen.

It softened some hard corners in my life, I would say.

And I felt honored to be awarded...

...with something so...

...magnificent that it just made me appreciate...

...what I've been able to have, experience, do.


One of the things I love about my work as a physician...

...and I work with cancer patients, people with life-threatening illnesses...

...is to see what often takes place, which is, literally, transformation.

Where they just begin to, sort of, eliminate the bullshit...

...and they begin to actually live, truly live, almost for the first time.

And those kind of life-changing events...

...can come from illness...

...they can come from revelation...

...they can actually come from, for me, anyway, big-wave surfing.

That's the thing about it, it's that ultimate big wave that you ride...

...that you remember for the rest of your life.

They're engrained in your brain, just like your child being born.

I haven't missed a swell in 55 years.

I'm still as excited about surfing as I've ever been.

I literally run to the water with my board, hooting, laughing and giggling.

Centuries ago, a young Hawaiian stood up on his surfboard...

... and slid gently across the face of a breaking wave.

That same wave has rolled through time...

... crossing many oceans, bearing the giants of surfing...

... from King Kamehameha to Duke Kahanamoku...

... from George Downing to Greg Noll...

... from Jeff Clark to Laird Hamilton...

... sweeping them all toward that most supreme pleasure...

... driven on so fast and smoothly by the sea.


Scene one, take one. Here we go.

When I was in school, I was flunking French.

Then my French teacher said, "What are you gonna do...

...when you graduate school? You have to pass this.

What are you gonna do, go to college?"

I says, "No, I'm gonna go surfing, to the North Shore.

I'm gonna make my pilgrimage to the North Shore.

And if I don't die...

...then I'll figure out what I do. This is a noble thing I'm doing.

I'm going there to ride big waves, to find out who I am."

The big waves are more fascinating to me...

...than all the other natural wonders in the world.

And I wanna see the biggest swells every year.

Is this a natural wonder...

...as much as, say, the Grand Canyon is?

To me, I mean, the Grand Canyon pales compared to, like, Mavericks.

The Grand Canyon is just this sort of erosion gully.

People accuse us of having ego, but it's not all about ego.

It's too thrilling to be an egocentric thing.

Sam George, reel one.

If you applied the same amount of devotion...

...to a religious pursuit...

...do you think anyone would call you a religious bum? Probably not.

When you consider that surfing really is, more than anything else, a faith...

...and devotion to that faith becomes paramount in your life...

...there's no such thing as a surf bum.

At Teahupoo, I had the little voice going:

"Jump off right now. You're not gonna make this wave."

And another side of me going:

"Well, I can't make it unless I just stay on."

What is it inside him that lets him do that?

It was the third testicle we had added at birth.

Cut. Roll them.

Action.

The main thing is, you need to be able to get rid of the leash...

...if you get wrapped up on the bottom or on somebody else.

So we've dealt with it, with having a quick-release.

Before 1994, it wasn't really widely used.

After Mark Foo, everybody out there has adapted to this...

...and we all use leashes, and we all have a quick-release.

Even today, when I go over there, to Waimea...

...you know, it just blows me away. It's like...

...here she is, the same beautiful woman...

...only now, she's snuggling up to the next generation...

...and the next generation.

But l... Last time I went, I swear to God...

...I looked out, man, and I could...

I think she winked at me.

You know, when one of them big sets came...

...and the sun was dancing off...

...the face of that wave, and...

...the wind was blowing the top up, some guy was streaking, she went:

"Hey, Greg Noll. I remember you."

It makes me almost goddamn cry...

...and I'm not a very emotional guy,