You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton’

Rory Kennedy's latest documentary plays it safe as it profiles a living legend of surfing.

Laird Hamilton, Gabrielle Reece, Nick Carroll, Darrick Doerner, Sam George, Bill Hamilton, Dave Kalama, Buzzy Kerbox, Brett Lickle, Gerry Lopez.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6333092/

Though as famous as any surfer living or dead, Laird Hamilton has never competed in that sport professionally — which he attributes to disinterest in “being judged,” but a longtime pal says is probably more because he “can’t stand losing.”

Those contrasting comments provide a rare moment of more penetrating insight in veteran documentarian Rory Kennedy’s “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton.” This slick, entertaining portrait won’t provide many surprises for those who’ve followed the subject’s high-profile career — as pretty much anyone interested in surfing has — but should fascinate others for whom he’s a less familiar personality. And it almost goes without saying, but footage of his often-astounding wave-riding, which now stretches back nearly five decades, is golden whether you’ve seen its like before or not.

The film’s more or less chronological approach starts with his free-spirited late single mother Joann’s move to Hawaii in the mid-’60s. There, both she and little Laird took a shine to surfer/board maker Bill Hamilton, although getting the latter as a new dad did not prevent the child from becoming (as junior half-brother Lyon puts it) “100% disobedient.” Resulting discord at home and at school (where the siblings were bullied as minority whites) led Laird to find “equality in the ocean,” where he exhibited extraordinary athletic ability and seeming fearlessness from an early age.

Eventually dropping out, he drifted into modeling under the influence of longtime friend Buzzy Kerbox, who’d already discovered that a few hours’ posing paid for a lot of days on the water. But Hamilton wasn’t interested in pursuing that seriously, nor acting, though he did play the villain in cornball 1987 surf drama “North Shore” (and has done sporadic smaller roles and stunt work since).

Instead, he carved out a unique path innovating the sport outside the contest circuit, his affinity for big-wave surfing motivating a series of game-changing advances chronicled here in detail. Among them were the development of tow-in (usually via jet ski) and foilboard surfing, which enabled him to conquer seemingly “unridable” waves of stupendous size and risk. But these techniques have been controversial among surfing purists, while Hamilton’s willingness to maximize nearly every avenue of opportunity — he’s one of the most diversely self-branded athletes ever — has alienated some lesser-sung buddies who’ve shared in his achievements but not their rewards.

Though only 52, he’s already lived a life one suspects could fill more than one hefty volume of exhaustive biography. (And his exhaustively trained body has sustained more injuries than a dozen other athletes might hazard.) Even at two full hours, “Take Every Wave” must do a lot of condensing. Still, as ample and awesome as Hamilton’s exterior doings are, one gets something of a classic “authorized portrait” vibe here in that he’s not about to let us get too far into his head.

For the most part, conflicts of various types are mentioned but not probed (a first marriage barely rates even that), and the extent of his business empire, multimedia celebrity profile, and other factors are just glancingly noted to better preserve a “soul surfer” image. There’s some insight from wife of 20 years Gabrielle Reece, but she too is a major-league sports businesswoman with a brand to promote and protect.

If “Wave” ends up feeling just guardedly revealing on a personal level, there’s no quibbling with the exhilarating impact of the surfing footage here, culled from a variety of sources. Naturally, it includes the fabled “Strapped” crew’s experimental conquest of Maui’s Pe’ahi aka “Jaws” in the early ’90s, and Hamilton’s legendary drop into “the heaviest wave ever ridden” at Tahiti’s Teahupo’o in 2000.

Taking a break from her customary tough, frequently political themes (“Last Days in Vietnam,” “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib,” “Pandemic: Facing AIDS,” etc.), Kennedy revels in the fun and excitement of much of the material here, delivering a smoothly diverting package. In the tradition of more purely performance-focused surfing documentaries, Nathan Larson’s original score takes a backseat to a diverse mix tape of rock tracks by artists from the Ventures and Jack Nitzsche to the Pixies.

Film Review: 'Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 22, 2017. Running time: 117 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A HowTown presentation of a Moxie Firecracker Films production. (International sales: UTA, Los Angeles.) Producers: Rory Kennedy, Paul Speaker, Mark Bailey, Jack Youngelson. Executive producers: Jonathan S. Marshall, William Cawley. Co-producers: Patricia Bischetti, Jed Pearson IV, Jason Rem.

Crew: Director: Rory Kennedy. Writers: Mark Bailey, Jack Youngelson. Camera (color, HD): Alice Gu, Don King. Editor: Azin Samari. Music: Nathan Larson.

With: Laird Hamilton, Gabrielle Reece, Nick Carroll, Darrick Doerner, Sam George, Bill Hamilton, Dave Kalama, Buzzy Kerbox, Brett Lickle, Gerry Lopez.

More Film

  • On Eve of Oscars, Variety’s Film Experts Answer Three Pressing Questions

    On Eve of Oscars, Variety’s Film Experts Answer Three Pressing Questions

    We continue to live in a divided world, with the current political landscape in the United States a seemingly endless hotbed of tumult and acrimony. Issues of racism, bigotry, diversity and gender equality drive the creative players as well, with Oscar-nominated films parlaying said themes into compelling, thought-provoking cinema. To analyze 2018 in big-screen entertainment, [...]

  • Karl Lagerfeld'Lagerfeld Confidential' Photocall at the

    Karl Lagerfeld Remembered at Costume Designers Guild Awards

    The passing of fashion and costume designer Karl Lagerfeld cast somewhat of a shadow over the usually jubilant Costume Designers Guild Awards — the only award show where clothes literally steal the spotlight away from actors — which was held at the Beverly Hilton last night. Here it was obvious that Lagerfeld’s impact on Hollywood [...]

  • 'Captain Marvel' First Reactions: Early Reviews

    'Captain Marvel' First Reactions: 'The MCU Feels More Complete'

    “Captain Marvel” is soaring following advanced press screenings on Tuesday. Reactions from early showings have hit Twitter, and audiences are keen on Marvel’s first female-led standalone movie. Critics are praising Brie Larson’s performance as Carol Danvers, the nostalgic ’90s setting, and the cosmic sci-fi elements. Goose, Danvers’ cat, is also getting a lot of attention from [...]

  • Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Astrid (America

    Box Office: 'How to Train Your Dragon 3' Flying to $40 Million-Plus Debut

    Universal and DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” will soar to the top of the domestic box office when it debuts this weekend in over 4,000 North American theaters. The studio anticipates an opening around $40 million, which would fall just short of the debut of its predecessors, 2010’s “How to Train [...]

  • Times Up Inclusion Red Carpet Fashion

    Stars Like Lena Waithe, Rachel Brosnahan Support Issues Through Fashion

    On a Sunday morning in November 2017, Oscar-nominated costume designer and stylist Arianne Phillips pulled up to CAA for a meeting to which she’d been invited without receiving any other information. “Reese Witherspoon was there at that meeting, and I know her because we worked together on ‘Walk the Line,’” says Phillips, who’s also worked [...]

  • Black Panther

    Is it Time for Oscars to Add a Stunt Category?

    Every movie nominated this year for a best picture Oscar employed a stunt coordinator. Yet not one of these individuals will have the opportunity to receive Academy Award recognition. The Oscars acknowledge categories ranging across multiple disciplines that support a film’s story and visual dynamics. But the stunt department’s contributions remain unsung. This might be [...]

  • Laurene Powell Jobs

    Laurene Powell Jobs Invests in Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine

    Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine has received funding from Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective and a subsequent investment from Otter Media. The strategic investments, announced on Wednesday, are designed to support two-year-old Hello Sunshine’s growth in the creation of stories celebrating women and distributed across multiple platforms. The values of the investments were not disclosed. “We [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content