Review: ‘Take Every Wave: The Life Of Laird Hamilton' Makes One Hell Of A Splash

I am going to be upfront and honest and say from the get-go – I knew very little about surfing before watching Take Every Wave. I did not know who Laird Hamilton was, I did not realize everything that went into surfing, and I was in the dark about surf culture. Pretty much aside from Batman and Joker going head-to-head in a surfing competition and a few ‘rads’ and ‘tubulars’, I was a complete surfing noob – and really still am. That being said, let me tell you, Take Every Wave knocked me on my ass.

The documentary tells the story of Laird Hamilton – whose skill and influence on surfing has been compared to the likes of Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and Lance Armstrong's influence on their respective sports (in the film these comparisons were made during video footage shot way before any scandals/falls from grace from some of the aforementioned athletes). Laird was born in California and raised by a single mother who had to work 16 hours a day for 6 days a week to support her family. She was a surfer herself, so Laird was exposed to surfing early and grew up surrounded by surf culture. Laird’s mom decided to move them to Hawaii, which forever changed Laird’s life.

In Hawaii, Laird would eventually be able to just surf and be free. I cannot envision a lifestyle such as the one described in the film where surfers timed their days based off of the tides. One day a professional surfer, Bill Hamilton, saw Laird playing in the water as a boy. He showed Laird how to body surf and took a liking to Laird. Bill met Laird’s mom shortly after and the two of them became romantically involved. Bill ended up marrying Laird’s mom and they had another son. Laird became resentful about going from being the only man of the house to having a father and brother. Laird began acting out, desperate for attention. Laird’s younger brother Lyon was worried that if Laird didn’t channel this frustration correctly, it could lead to drug abuse or jail time. Luckily for all of us, Laird was able to do just that - focus on surfing and the rest is history.

Laird found peace in the water. As a white kid in Hawaii, he would be picked on and bullied at school. His father had a temper and Laird tried to avoid home at times. By being in the water and surfing, Laird was able to escape all the negativity on land. Laird’s desire for attention led to him charging waves and trying to gain the respect of the locals. He was described as fearless and from the video footage shown throughout the film, he certainly did not let fear control him. It still completely blows my mind how surfers seek out the biggest waves they can find. Waves that I would do all I could to stay as far away from – these surfers are actively racing towards, canceling trips and paid appearances for, and simply dying to get a chance to ride.

Take Every Wave follows Laird’s life and career and director Rory Kennedy makes sure it is chalk full of interesting tidbits, amazing footage, great interviews, and fantastic stories. The stories of what Laird and his friends went through are dumbfounding and some of the life threatening ones are simply terrifying. The film spends a large chunk of time highlighting an incredibly important part of Laird’s life and that was him coming into his own with his close group of friends, named ‘Strapped.’ This group managed to find a giant wave that was mostly unknown to the general population. The main beaches and waves were very crowded and it prevented them from getting the chance to fully maximize their days. Finding this hidden wave, nicknamed ‘Jaws,’ led Laird and his friends to be able to get a whole season’s worth of wave riding out of just one week. It was at this wave where things really took off for Laird and his friends. Not only is Laird incredibly talented, but he is an innovator that completely changed surfing. 

Take Every Wave managed to surprise me and wow me over and over again. From multiple advances in surfing that I didn’t even know existed to Laird’s training regimen that blew me away, I was floored multiple times throughout the film. I’m still not getting anywhere near a surfboard, but I couldn’t be happier that Laird and his friends decided that they were going to take every wave.

Rating: 4 out of 5