(I wrote this last year for fiftymissioncap.ca. Reposting it for the 12th anniversary of Laird taking on Teahupoo.)
Think of a 70-foot wave.
It rises out of the water like a possessed mountain. If you close your eyes to it, your mind still sees it because of the ferocious sound. It curls, creating a perfect temporary barrel that plunges towards the shore with the weight of the ocean behind it.
There’s a tiny dot on top of this giant wave.
It glides gracefully over the top and down into the barrel, a little white trail following it.
That dot is Laird Hamilton.
Part madman, part dolphin and part Achilles, big wave surfer Laird Hamilton was literally born into the environment that he spends most of his time in. His mother gave birth to him on March 2nd, 1964 at UCSF Medical Centre into an experimental salt-water tank that was designed to ease the pain of labour.
His watery entrance into the world was but the beginning of a life spent in the ocean. Growing up in Oahu, Hawaii, Laird took to surfing at a young age, with his stepfather, former pro surfer Bill Hamilton, teaching him the ropes. He was always an excellent surfer, but despite his obvious skill and natural talent, Laird never wanted to be on the professional surfing circuit.
Instead, he invented his own shtick.
In the early 90’s, Hamilton, along with friends like fellow big wave surfer Dave Kalama, frequently surfed the North Shore of the Island of Maui. Pe’hai, also known as Jaws, boasts some of the biggest and most powerful waves in the world. Spurred on by a longing to ride the massive breaks that they could see in the distance, but couldn’t paddle to with just their boards, Hamilton and Kalama began using a Jet Ski and a towrope to get onto those mammoth waves. This method, known as tow in surfing, would revolutionize big wave surfing.
What does it take to ride a wave bigger than your house? A blatant disregard for, or a superior understand of, fear? Yes. But it also takes brute strength. With a neck the size of a large bull’s and a muscly physique built to take on waves that could literally wipe out cities, Hamilton, save for his blonde Ken doll mane, is a scary looking dude.
He’s a scary looking dude who has ridden the world’s biggest wave.
Here’s a video from the movie Riding Giants of Laird riding Teahupoo, an insane break off the coast of Tahiti. (The money shot starts about 4:20 into the vid)
Most of us will never even see a wave that large in person, let alone be in the water when it breaks, so lucky for us, Laird’s there.
Another technique made popular by Laird, and one more accessible to us regular folk, is stand up paddle (SUP) surfing. It’s an ancient Hawaiian sport called Hoe he’e nalu in Hawaiian. Instead of lying tummy-down on the board to paddle out, the surfer stands up, balancing with his or her core strength and a long paddle. The paddle is used to propel the board forward on the water and later to balance as you ride the wave.
SUP surfing is fun because you can see everything in front of you as you paddle out to the waves. You can also do it in calm waters and lakes as a more tranquil water activity. If you take out the surfing bit, it’s basically canoeing for those who can’t sit down.
I think Laird Hamilton is the greatest, but he isn’t without his haters. Some people say tow in surfing pollutes the ocean and has corrupted the sport of big wave surfing. A lot of surfers are also bothered by Laird’s promotion of SUP surfing, mainly because it has turned into a trend of yogaesque proportions and is now a flavor of the week activity for rich businessmen and their spoiled kids to try while on vacation in Maui.
The “Blame Laird” movement was started by purest surfers as a way to accuse him of mainstreaming surfing and selling out.
He wasn’t opposed to being accused, though. Being the maverick that he is, Hamilton turned “Blame Laird” into his personal catchphrase (and business venture, as you can purchase Blame Laird merch from his website: www.lairdhamilton.com).
You surfed all day and forgot to call your wife? Blame Laird. You want to sell off all of your assets and move to a surfing village in Costa Rica? Blame Laird. You’re going to trade in the Armani suit for a wetsuit? Blame Laird. Go try your best to live the life you want, and if you get into trouble along the way, just Blame Laird
By branding Blame Laird onto stickers, T-Shirts, coffee mugs and the like, Laird’s giving us all permission to have fun at his expense.
My favourite part of the Laird video above is when he cries on his surfboard after riding that monster wave. Surfing is a sport where your strongest teammate is also your biggest opponent. Trusting yourself on waves that could kill you in an instant requires a zen-like understanding of both yourself and nature.
We’ve all had moments of this. I’ve cried while looking out at Rocky Mountains on a sunny day. I once had a spiritual moment with a goat farmer in the hills of Tuscany. I’ve felt totally embraced by and at peace with the ocean while swimming in it. I’m not totally a part of that world, though. To really be a part of it, you sort of have to live it and be it, full-bore.
This is why Laird Hamilton isn’t just a big wave surfer. He’s also a big wave.
I was thinking today about how I’ve all but abandoned this blog since moving back from Rome. Sure, Rome was a profound and unique experience for me, but it can’t stop there, right? Life can be profound and interesting elsewhere and I’m going to try to bring you profound and interesting things and keep this blog up better. Maybe I’ve been hesitant to blog because I know that nowhere can compete with Italy, at least for me.
In Rome, the beauty was in the buildings, the people, the trees, the air. You’re spoiled by it and haunted by it and most of all, mesmerized by it. I sometimes joke with people that living in Italy ruined me for life. All jokes are half true, you know? The experience of living in a place where Disney princess fairy dust floats through the air is indeed mind altering. In my old apartment in Trastevere, which is one of Rome’s oldest and illest areas, I’d work sitting by an open window. Everyday, like clockwork, the smell of fresh baked bread and the most delicious candy you can imagine would waft in on a gentle breeze. I’d look up at the little angel statue carved into the building across the street and the groups of ivy crawling up the wall beside her, and then I’d look down at those charming, uneven cobblestone streets and shake my head. how is this real?
I’m fully aware that Italy has more problems than not. Especially now. What I’m referring to has nothing to do with national debt crisis, or the backwards politics, or the illogical bureaucracy or the bunga bunga bullshit. It’s more the fabric of a culture that was built around living for pleasure. Once you’ve experienced living in a place where they want to enjoy everything they see, taste, smell and touch, it’s hard to come back to concrete sidewalks and frothy, burnt cappuccinos.
It’s also hard to compete with the pizza. Pizza is the best thing Italians ever invented, in my opinion, and I do enjoy it in all of its forms. But I’ve actually been thinking about Italian pizza all day. The thin crust, the simple punchy tomato sauce, the mozzarella. I’m officially salivating. I will return to Italy one day and the first thing I’m doing is getting myself a pizza.
Pizza Margherita, love of my life
Speaking of beauty and enjoying life, I just witnessed two construction workers have an uncontrollable giggle fit in my back alley. It was pretty beautiful.
In 1987, the world was a simpler place. The air was cleaner, the roads were emptier, and moms, dads, kids and cousins used to pack into the family Volvo to go see a double header at the drive in movie theatre on Saturday evenings.
My family did just that one fine Toronto summer night. The double bill was Back to the Future and Dirty Dancing. Back to the Future was not a new movie at the time, but Dirty Dancing was.
Even though I was only 5-years-old, even though I peed my pants halfway through the film and my mom forced me to put on one of my little sister’s diapers, even though my older cousin called me “Carla Smelly Diaper Pants” because of this for years to come, watching Dirty Dancing for the first time is one of my favorite childhood memories.
The movie is pure nostalgia. A movie about dancing because you want to. Dancing for money. Dancing for love. Dancing all sexy like in front of children and seniors even though the boss man tells you you’re not allowed.
But it’s not just a movie about dancing. It’s also a coming of age love story, and a film that was largely untroubled by Hollywood expectations. A simple, captivating story that no one knew would be a hit when they were making it.
This is why remaking Dirty Dancing 25 years later solely to make money will never work. You can’t recreate movie magic by ripping off a classic. Will you never learn, Hollywood?
I don’t want to see anyone else as Johnny Castle or Baby Houseman or Penny or even grumpy old Max Kellerman.
Children of the 80s, it’s time to stand up and REVOLT!
I have declared today Eddie Vedder day because I like to declare things and because every day should be Eddie Vedder day.
When I was 13, I had a poster on my bedroom wall of Vedder pulling up his shirt while singing. I was a little pervert, I guess.
Look I found it!
But more than a man with killer abs, Ed Ved has been a constant source, or voice, of comfort and inspiration throughout the years. He’s an insanely talented, passionate musician, and he has that silky but towering baritone that can tear you apart one minute and melt you like butta the next.
I took the above picture at Virgin Fest 2009 in Calgary where I got to be up close and personal with the band from the press pit. As I prepare to see Mr. Vedder this evening at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre, where he’s playing the second of two sold-out shows in support of his album Ukulele Songs, I’m telling the 13-year-old girl inside of me to calm down. This concert will be one of contained passion – just Ed and his uke, singing songs, sotto voce.
While the soulful crooner may no longer occupy any scandalous wall space in my bedroom, he’s made an indelible impression on my life. I sincerely thank him for what his music has given to me and I can’t wait to spend tonight singing along with him.
Here’s a video of Eddie singing Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town – one of the first songs that started off my lifelong love affair with Pearl Jam.
Ready? 1, 2, 3, 4, 2, 3 . . .
I just watched the film Blue Valentine starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. A terribly stark look at the sun-kissed glow of love at the beginning of a relationship contrasted with the souring stench of a love gone bad in that same relationship years later.
It was a sad, uncomfortable movie to watch, but one that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since it finished. So please excuse me while I get a little philosophical on you. Actually, let’s invite 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche into the conversation.
He was famous for his “God is dead” theory, but Nietzsche also said: ”There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”
We hunger for love, look for it, maybe even need it, and have the ability to feel it so profoundly. To intensely connect with another human on that level might be the most beautiful, fulfilling thing in life, and yet equally as great as our ability to love is our ability to hurt and devastate those same people we loved. No one wants to cause pain to someone they once loved so purely (well, usually not), but it happens. We take advantage of each other, we stop appreciating each other, we cheat on each other, we fall out of love with each other, we ruin each other.
Since we do this to each other over and over again knowing what we’re getting into, we’re all a little mad, no? Anyone who has ever had his or her heart broken knows full well the terrifying pain and torment it is to go through that loss, and yet, many of us can hide the scares of past hurt and jump right back in when the opportunity for love presents itself again. To me, this is a brave, courageous thing to do, and one I’m trying to be better at.
Dr. Maya Angelou, who is my guru of life unbeknownst to her, says: “Have enough courage to trust love one more time. And always one more time.”
In honor of living through love gone bad, here’s Arcade Fire’s Crown of Love:
Clarence Clemons passed away today. Love and condolences to his family and friends. RIP Big Man.
Springsteen’s songs can hit hard, but before that hurt can linger, Clarence’s sax always sweetens the sting & carries us home.
Right around my 10th birthday, I was obsessed with the following: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the Bryan Adams song from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, perms, puppies, Blossom, The Traveling Wilburys, trampolines, and the beautiful thought that I soon be the owner of a pair of rollerblades.
I had told all of the cool girls from school that I was getting rollerblades for my birthday and they had agreed that if I had rollerblades, I would finally be able to join their rollerblading posse. They all had really cool nicknames like Bo and Flo and Jo and, if I got in to the group, they would give me my very own nickname (Ho?) and we would rule the neighborhood.
The Dream of My Life:
On the morning of my 10th birthday, my mother walked into my room carrying a very large box.
I was so, SO excited that she had obviously gotten me the rollerblades I had been asking for all year.
I shredded the wrapping paper in a delirious fit of delight as my mom happily watched, perhaps slightly scared of my enthusiasm.
The moment of truth arrived as I lifted the box open.
And there it was…
A pink bathrobe.
I looked at my mother with the sort of serious disappointment one has when their life’s dreams are beaten down until barely recognizable and then murdered.
Like this, except although I was awkward looking as a child, I was still a human:
“Thank you,” I said to my mom, desperately trying to hide my heartbreak and suppressing the cry lump that was rising in my throat. Clearly my mother was intent on ruining my entire childhood.
I didn’t complain because when someone gives you a gift, you pretend you like it, no matter what. Even when you are expecting rollerblades and you get a really stupid, ugly, pink grandma robe.
The worst part about this was I now had to tell my friends who I had bragged to that I was going to have the coolest rollerblades in town, that I hadn’t gotten the rollerblades.
Upon hearing the news, those bitches swiftly kicked me out of the rollerblading club and I spent the summer riding my old, ugly bike.
I also fell off my bike that summer and still have an inch-long scar on my upper thigh from where the pedal cut me. I’m not saying this would’ve been avoided had I gotten rollerblades, but probably.
For months, every time I saw that pale pink bathrobe hanging on the back of my door, I cringed and secretly planned how I could light it on fire in my bathtub and then collect the ashes and leave them wrapped in a nice box for my mom as a present. I never did this, because I’m mostly only psychotic in thought, not action.
I avoided bathrobes for most of my adolescence and early 20s because of this event. I only recently bought one because when I first moved to Rome, I lived with a strange, hairy Romanian philosopher who would stare at me when I ran from the bathroom to my bedroom in a towel.
My 10th birthday taught me important life lessons. One should never expect anything! It seems the minute you start thinking “I’m the Rollarblading Queen of the World!!!” something will happen to remind you that you are, in fact, a pink-bathrobe-wearing plebeian.
In retrospect, being denied entrance into the cool kids club due to lack of rollerblades was probably for the best. Humiliation, disappointment and having your childhood dreams squashed builds character like nothing else can.
*Also, my mom bought me rollarblades the next year and I used them for two months before retiring them to the garage for good. I was a terrible child and she is actually the world’s greatest mother.
Everyday, I open up my laptop to this image:
Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen. The perfect rock pairing. Clemons is the smooth, soulful yin to Springsteen’s energetic, rocking yang. This picture makes me happy because it reminds me not only of a great album (Born to Run), but of great friendship as well.
Springsteen and Clemons adore each other, and their onstage interaction makes every concert with the E Street Band a little more playful.
Clemons is a big man. In fact, Bruce refers to him as the “big man” because he’s built like an oak tree. Tall, sturdy, lovely – a calm, sweet, big presence, even on a massive arena stage.
And like an oak tree, I’ve always thought of Clemons as an invincible and ever-present being. He was there at the beginning – an original member of the E Street Band, and it’s oldest at 69 – and he adds much of the soul to Bruce’s rock n’ roll.
His sax contributions to Lady Gaga’s latest album Born This Way have put Clemons on the map for millions of her “little monsters” who might have never heard of the great saxophonist save for from their parents, maybe.
Clemons has recently suffered a serious stroke and is said to be quite ill right now.
I’m praying for him and I hope you will too. Get better big man!