There are few big-wave surfers who’ve mad as much of a revolutionary impact on their own sport as Laird Hamilton has in a single career. Raised on Oahu by a single mother and later competitive surfer Bill Hamilton, Laird made his mark in the water at an early age. Aside from being credited with co-inventing tow-in surfing, he’s considered a pioneer of stand-up paddling and hydrofoiling, techniques once disregarded by surfer purists. His new documentary Take Every Wave chronicles his ascension to surfing legend and features insight he’s gained as the father of three girls. Laird took the Fatherly Questionnaire from his home in Hawai’i to talk about giving his kids the kind of upbringing he didn’t necessarily have and why getting caught in a riptide is a lifelong lesson.
What is your name?
I’m a water man and an innovator.
How many children do you have, and what are their names?
I have three daughters: Brody Jo, Izabella, and Reece.
How old are they?
Brody just turned 10, Reece is 14, and Bella is going to be 23.
Are they named after anyone in particular?
Brody’s not, but Reece is named after [my wife] Gabby’s family name. And then Viola has the middle name of my mother.
Do you have any nicknames for your kids?
I call Reece “Reecy.” I call Brody “Booty” or “Boaty.” I call her “Booduesca.” I’ve got a couple little names. And Izabella is “Bella.” We call her “Belly” or “Bella.”
What do they call you?
I’m just Dad.
How often do you see them?
Right now, unfortunately, they’ve all left [Hawaii] for a few days. But normally, every day I’m with them. I think because of my work and because of how my lifestyle is, we’re with them a lot. We homeschool. They’re with us in a way that probably 90 percent of all parents don’t have that amount of volume of time that we’re with our children.
Describe yourself as a father in three words.
Loving, affectionate, adventurous, and safe.
Describe your father in three words.
Then? Young, angry, and artistic. Now? Old, angry, and artistic.
What are your strengths as a father?
I think that one of strengths as a father is my understanding, my ability to be sympathetic, to be compassionate. I think at the end, when it’s really important, I think I’m pretty compassionate. I think I’m pretty understanding and that’s my strength I would say.
What are your weaknesses as a father?
My patience. I think sometimes my patience can be a little rough and my attitude.
What is your biggest regret as a father?
Not knowing if I’m doing the right thing all the time. Yeah, that’s my biggest regret, not knowing what to do sometimes.
What is your favorite activity to do with your kids? That’s your special father and daughter thing?
It’s nice to be in the ocean with them but also just to be with them. Brody’s into ponies. Actual ponies, like horses, like jumping. I’m not much of a jumper but we were playing tennis the other day, that was fun. They both can hit the snot out of the tennis ball.
What’s been the moment you’ve been most proud of, as a parent?
Each one’s different. I think there are things Bella’s doing right now that make me really proud of her. And Brody, because she’s younger. The thing about these girls is they’re really nurturing and loving, so when there’s other children around, they’re pretty kind. They’re great in that way.
What heirloom did your father leave you, if any?
I don’t really have one.
You learned how to surf with Bill Hamilton. That’s an heirloom.
Yeah. That’s an heirloom. We’ve had some pretty good experiences in the riptide and getting out of riptides. We had one when I was real young. I was caught in it and he came out to get me and then we were both caught in it and I was holding onto his neck and he swam for probably thirty minutes. And at which point, he was still going backwards so we decided to let it take us out. And when it took us out, it actually brought us back in, but it was an education.
What heirloom do you want to leave your children, if any?
I want to leave them with the concept that you can love what you do, like that you can actually love and enjoy what you do, and it’s all about work. It’s all about the effort. Just whatever it is. My mom left me with that. One thing about my mom, she just was an incredible worker. In this physical plane that we’re on, there’s just no way out of it. There’s just no way to avoid the effort. And you know, I think I want to leave them with that. But they’ll always, at the end, be rewarded with a good appetite and a good night’s sleep, at least. And you never look back. You’re never gonna feel bad. You’re never gonna look over your shoulder, and feel like you didn’t give it your all.
Describe the “Dad Special” for dinner.
It’s gonna probably involve scrambled eggs and something easy. My dad’s favorite dinner was breakfast. So, he would serve breakfast for dinner. Some kind of protein in a pan, and throw some veggies in a bowl, and the girls will probably scramble some alternatives, something else more their style. The dad special is you made something that they didn’t want, so they made pasta.
Are you religious, and are you raising your children in that tradition?
Well, I’m God-fearing and God-praising, if that’s religious, and they see that. They experience the reverence and the acknowledgement of something greater. In that way, I am, but I’m not following any real doctrine.
What’s a mistake you made growing up, that you want to ensure your children do not repeat?
I mean, unfortunately, all those mistakes I made were what shaped me. So, I don’t really want to change any of them. But I would like them to try to reduce any of the things that aren’t good for you as much as possible, whether it’s alcohol or drugs, or whatever it is. I probably want to save them from every single thing that I had to go through to get me to a point where I could start to actually believe, and put the effort in, and all those simple things that, once you get them and apply them, make life a lot easier.
Besides saying it, how do you make sure your children know that you love them?
Being present. Letting them know that they have access to you, that you’re there. It’s just all about what you present them with. I just show them by being there, and then, at the end of the day, I’m the gatekeeper of fun. So, I provide them with a lot of things that I didn’t necessarily have. On the material side, I make them have access to things that are fun and cool to use. Part of the way you show your kids you love them is to give them freedom, not to hold them down and to restrict them, but to give them freedom. The irony is that you show love by letting them go.