When you look at the impossibly tanned bodies of the super-humans that make a career out of nonchalantly cheating death, getting into their mindset might seem a bit of a stretch. And guess what: you’d be right. Their physique, however, is 100% attainable.
That’s not to say it’s easy, as Laird Hamilton, renowned surfer and big-wave pioneer, reminded us. But if you train like him, you’ve at least got a chance. 54 years old and still testing himself in both the worlds of business and action sport, Laird is a testament to what is possible given the right mindset.
That in mind, we did our best to suppress our inner fanboys and had a chat with him in San Francisco with Cartier earlier this year. We talked about his training routine, his diet and his business, as well as parenting and samurai swords. What remained evident throughout is his love for the ocean, his disdain for limits, and his canny knack of getting the best of both worlds—or at least the very best of this world (he spends winter in Hawaii and summer in California), and an insatiable appetite for self improvement.
Although we had assumed he must be going to California to chill, what with there being “no waves” (by his standards) in summer in Hawaii, Laird told us he actually trains harder than ever in the off-season. “You can be more disciplined,” he said, “Because you’re not going to need that energy for the ocean as much, there’s not as much going on.”
“And what does the training look like?”, we asked. “Depends on where I’m at physically. If I need to lift it will be more weight; if I’m tight I’ll stretch, I have a pretty holistic approach to training. There’s a certain amount of breath-work, which has to do with cardio stuff and hypoxia training and then there’s thermo regulating, which is heat and ice.”
“I’m always implementing a certain amount of heat and ice.”
“I have some pool training routines,” he told us, “And a thing called XPT life, and that is a training kind of health and wellness seminar that we bring people through in the summertime that we do for a three day experience. We take 25 people and we run them through a dietary and philosophical approach to health and wellness, and then a bunch of different modalities: whether it’s breath-work, mobility, lifting or pool training.”
“The pool training is my most unique because we made it up—we developed it and it’s a combination of weight training and swimming together.”
Everyone from navy seals to professional athletes, jiu jitsu fighters and international rugby players have made use of this program. But the question remains: what does it offer the average guy? “Well,” he is quick to point out, “The amount of work you can implement with no negative impact—that’s the point of difference.”
“We can push the system excessively hard without breaking it.”
“If you lifted that amount of weight outside the pool and did that kind of reps you’d be broken. So (this training program) helps you minimise injury, increase cardio capacity, then make you a lot cleaner—a better swimmer—in the water.”
If you are coming back fro an injury, you’re not alone: “I’ve got a fake hip, I’ve done my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), I broke my ankle 9 times… I have a bunch of stuff that I have inflammation in, but in a way my training is way more sophisticated, which makes up for the fact that I’m not 20 years old anymore.”
In order to thwart these old recurring injuries, and prevent new ones, Laird pays close attention to his diet and lifestyle training, which are specifically designed to implement recovery. “Everything is focussed on supporting the system instead of breaking it down. So I’m not just hammering it and going out and drinking all night, coming in and training all day—and just grinding on the thing. I’m giving it a little bit more respect by nurturing it a little more.”
How can the average 9-5 human implement this? By “Making sure you get your sleep, eating good food, reducing things that create inflammation, taking things that help with inflammation, and then breath-work and stretching and just more variety and maybe less try to stay away from high volumes of super repetitive motion.”
“I used to be super into cycling,” he reveals, “But I kind of geared it back a little because the posture was bad; there’s certain things that if you keep doing them they are going to create something that’s going to stop you.”
And what’s up with hydrofoiling? What happened to the humble surfboard? According to Laird, “I’m so focussed on hydrofoil surfing that my interest in conventional big wave riding has dissipated quite a bit. Unless I can do it with foils, I’m not interested.”
“I think that foiling is going to go ballistic. The fire is just kindling.”
There are a number of reasons he likes it so much, including, “The speed, the fact that you’re not affected by the surface texture, the fact that you can ride waves that are virtually unrideable on a surfboard—using the waves energy in a way that we’ve never been able to use before—so we can tap into it like what a glider does for flying.
“Foiling opens up a lot of territory in surfing that isn’t being surfed. Not only can you do stuff on waves that you’ve never been able to do, you can make waves that have been un-makeable.”
But does it really work in big waves? “In the back of my mind I’m always looking at it as a tool to ride bigger surf because that’s what I do, that’s what I gravitate towards, but yeah foils are amazing (at any size), as somebody who’s been surfing for almost 50 years, when you feel the sensation and you get to be on one, you feel like a kid again.”
“I see surfers who have surfed for a very long time going crazy. It’s going to explode.”
Laird also has an entrepreneurial side. In recent years he’s released a golf board, apparel, superfood and is currently planning on expanding operations to Australia. If that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he’s also got three daughters to keep him on his toes. “Girls are tough, especially teenagers, they’re like… I have one graduating from college, one’s a teenager and she’s… (let’s just say)… hormones are tough. It’s like mental jui jitsu.”
For Laird, parenting is like making a samurai sword. “If you wanna make a samurai sword you take steel, you heat it up, red hot, you pound it with a hammer and then you stick it in ice. And you just do that over and over and eventually it’s the strongest steel in the world.”
“Your kids—they take you, they heat you up, they beat you with a hammer and then they stick you in ice, and you become the strongest steel in the world. And by the end of it you’re like: I can’t wait until you have kids.”
Fortunately for Laird, he has a lifetime of stress-handling experience to draw from. After surfing big waves, he told us, the come-down from the adrenaline high can be hard to handle. The solution? “Become conscious that it has that effect on your system… nurture yourself a little bit… get good sleep, get massages, help yourself understand because half the solution is identifying the problem.
“The only thing after up is down.”
As for his favourite waves, he talks up the “stretch we had at Jaws” back when there were no crowds, but can’t go past the “magic moment” at Teahupoo, because of what it meant. The Millennium wave he rode in 2000, “Was proof of what I had believed to be true, what I had been implementing that meant we could ride the unrideable, and so that was evidence. That was a monumental one.”