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Hanging Ten With Laird Hamilton

The big-wave surfer talks inspiration on the open water and hitting the Hamptons to “Paddle & Party for Pink”

Don’t tell hyphenate Laird Hamilton that he can’t do something. One look at his career and it’s clear that the surfer, inventor, actor, model, designer and philanthropist rarely slows down or sits still—unless it involves hanging out on a board.

This Saturday, August 17, Hamilton and his wife, pro-volleyball player and model Gabrielle Reece, will head to Sag Harbor for an early-morning paddle board race as part of The Breast Cancer Research Foundation‘s second annual Hamptons Paddle & Party for Pink co-hosted by Maria Baum. For the fundraiser, designers, artists and other creative types including Nicole Miller, Tory Burch (pictured left), Cynthia Rowley, Martha Stewart, Aerin Lauder, Ross Bleckner and J.Crew have designed one-of-a-kind paddle boards for auction on Charitybuzz now until August 16.

We called up Laird Hamilton and managed to get him to sit still—just for a moment—to chat about the healing powers of stand-up paddling, the art of surfing and his new clothing, equipment and nutrition lines, of course.

How are you doing?

I’m sitting down, so that’s the good part!

OK, we’ll go easy on you! How did you become involved with this project?

It started with Maria Baum, actually. Paddle boarding was part of her [breast cancer] recovery; she was on one of my boards. When I met her, she said that she felt like she knew me, like I was on the board with her when she was going through the most emotional parts of her recovery. I’m involved [in this project] because of stand-up paddling and the effect it has on people—Maria being one of them. Obviously, breast cancer affects a lot of families. I have friends and family members that have been affected by breast cancer. It’s almost impossible to not know someone that has had it. We all have moms.

You’re not into competitive surfing, but do you have a strategy for this “race”?

Oh, well I’m not going to race! I’m just going to paddle around with these guys and watch people get serious! [Laughs]

Anyone in particular you’re looking forward to seeing up on a board?

I think in general it’s always inspiring to see the impact that stand-up has on people, their relationship with the ocean, being in the water and the effect that it has on them. People are excited about doing it and for me, I get a reward from that.

For you, surfing is more of an artistic expression rather than a competitive sport.

The artistic aspect of it is that it’s freedom to just be. To not be restrained or governed by any opinions. At the end of the day, I think racing’s great, but I’m not inspired to be controlled. I think that’s a huge part of it, for me. I don’t like to be told what to do and I never have! [Laughs] I don’t want to be told the lineup. I don’t want to be told to go when the whistle blows. My challenges have to do more with myself, personally. It has to do with other things like giant waves, high cliffs, going fast—things that, for me, are clear and more understandable to judge. This is a big subject. [Laughs] You’ve got to get into my whole philosophy of things when you ask me these sorts of questions.

Where are some of your favorite places and waves to surf?

Surfing is best when no one’s out and there’s really good waves! There’s great surf all over the world, but again, the conditions are so temperamental. Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing, and I think there’s really phenomenal surf all over in Hawaii. My favorite spots are any of the great surf spots when they’re doing what makes them great, whether it’s Banzai Pipeline—where I learned how to surf—Teahupo’o in Tahiti, Jaws or other giant waves.

I’m assuming that there’s no comparison between the waves in Hawaii vs. the Hamptons, but what is surfing out east like?

The Hamptons are cool! The Hamptons have good energy. There are a lot of little secret spots, but at the end of the day, surfing isn’t always about some giant wave. It’s about an experience. Whether it’s a foot high—I really don’t discriminate—or one hundred feet, I like everything in between. It’s a lighter experience when the surf’s not big. It ends up being more light hearted, a lot more like a comedy instead of a drama or a horror film!

Do you have any tips for beginners or for parents hoping to teach their kids how to surf and stand-up?

My advice to any parent is to not be in a hurry. Obviously, if you’re teaching your kid how to surf, make sure that they swim well first! [Laughs] Get good equipment and avoid giving them a bad experience when they’re too young—so that you don’t frighten them away for a while.

So what’s next for you?

I have a bunch of different things that I’m working on! A clothing line, a line of stand-up boards and equipment; I have a nutrition line that I’m working on called Truition that I do on the website with my wife Gabby. Also, I have an electric golf board that we’re coming out with too!

What? A golf board?

Yeah! You ride your board on the golf course and then hit the ball if you want. Preferably, you just ride around on the board. It’s a lot more fun that way. I’ve got a few other tricks in my bag, but you can’t bring everything out at once. They have buildings with bars on the wall for guys like that.