×
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.

With:
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

  • Song Ge

    Beijing Culture's Song Ge Urges Mainstream Directors to Toe Government Line

    Publicity-shy Beijing Culture chairman Song Ge took to the stage at his company’s first-ever press conference to promote a film slate. He openly urged film directors to, for the sake of their investors, stick to material that would please the Chinese state. “I think if you’re shooting an art house or smaller budget films, it’s [...]

  • Iran presentation at Shanghai film festival

    Shanghai: China-Iran Heading Towards Co-Production Treaty

    “China has signed co-production agreements with 22 countries. Similar agreements between Iran and China are in the works, and will be signed by the end of this year,” said Miao Xiaotian, GM of the China Film Co-Production Corporation on Monday. Miao was speaking at the Shanghai International Film Festival, which is hosting a six-title Focus Iran section [...]

  • Roland Emmerich

    Shanghai: Roland Emmerich, Frant Gwo on China's Sci-fi Prospects

    Iconic Chinese and Hollywood directors Frant Gwo and Roland Emmerich did not take the stage together at the Shanghai International Film Festival, but on Monday they got the chance to praise each other’s movies and share insights into sci-fi. “I totally understand why it did well,” said “Independence Day” director Emmerich of Gwo’s recent “Wandering [...]

  • Beyond the Mountain

    ‘Beyond the Mountain,’ ‘Fireflies,’ ‘The Chambermaid’ Top Lleida Latin American Film Fest

    BARCELONA  — David R. Romay’s feature debut “Beyond the Mountain” snagged Best Feature at Lleida’s 25th Latin America Film Festival of Catalonia, hosted in the world’s culinary capital for grilled snails, 84 miles west of Barcelona. A dramatic thriller starring Benny Emmanuel (Gael García Bernal’s “Chicuarotes”), it follows Miguel, a young, solitary man whose routine [...]

  • shanghai skyline China Placeholder

    Shanghai: Tencent, Phoenix Win Rights to Taiwan Documentary 'Love Talk' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Tencent has acquired the online video streaming rights and Phoenix Hong Kong the TV rights to Taiwanese documentary “Love Talk,” which takes a deep dive into the topic of marriage. The film is currently working towards a mainland theatrical release. Directed by Shen Ko-Shang (“A Rolling Stone”), it is produced by CNEX Studio and 7th [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content