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The book of Laird
November 20, 2008 - Rick Chatenever
OK, so we already know Laird Hamilton can walk on water. He’s the best known of the chosen few surfers who ride those 70-foot mountains of water that sometimes roll into Pe‘ahi, or Jaws, at this time of year.
What we didn’t know is how good Laird is at writing about it. The 44-year-old, part-time Mauian has just written a book, “Force of Nature,” that he’ll be signing from 6 to 7 p.m. Friday at Borders Books Music Movies & Cafe in Kahului.
Subtitled “Mind, Body, Soul and, of course, Surfing,” he described the book during a recent phone interview, “a little bit like a service manual, like a manual for life.”
It’s not an autobiography, he added, although it does catch some high points. His parents, Bill and JoAnn, began teaching him to surf when he was 2. His career in adventure began when he was 8 and jumped off the 60-foot cliff at Waimea Falls. Now he’s hailed as the world’s greatest big wave surfer.
“The book isn’t we’re surfer dudes, we catch waves, aren’t we cool?’’’he notes. “We use giant waves to suck people in, but the surfing is just the backdrop for the life lessons.”
Riding big waves, for example, can be reduced to “little person, giant task.” While the book features plenty of photos of Laird surfing one impossible wave after another, it’s also got recipes, shopping lists, chapters on yoga and Hawaiian wisdom, illustrated exercise instructions and philosophical observations more at home on the spiritual shelves at the bookstore.
He calls them “Lairdisms.”
Like this one on fear: “Every so often in an article or an interview, someone describes me as ‘fearless.’ In my opinion, that’s like calling me an idiot. Fear is a natural response. Without it, we wouldn’t survive … It’s an energy source. Adrenaline and the natural hormones your body creates when you’re scared are more powerful than any drug.”
A chapter titled “The Joy of Being a Beginner. Or, Why It’s Good to Be Bad” echoes Suzuki Roshi’s seminal work of Eastern thought, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.”
The cosmic connections are pure coincidence, says Laird. The philosophy in the book is “totally organic. The ocean has been my teacher.”
Describing himself as “God-fearing, God-loving,” he believes there’s a single thread running through all religions. “When something’s the truth, you know it.”
In school, he says, he was always better at math than English. He reduces things to formulas. He had lots of collaboration on the handsome, lavishly illustrated Rodale publication, selling for $27.95. “I had somebody who’s professional helping me write it. The way it’s laid out, the photos, all the organization, it’s a reflection of all the people around me.”
But it’s his voice that you hear in the crisp, energetic writing, laced with humor and strategies for overcoming all those negative obstacles you’re liable to encounter in the space between your ears.
‘These are just the things that have worked for me. They’re not anything I made up and have to try to remember.”
The surfing sections include the latest developments in tow-in. standup paddling and foilboarding, with contributions from fellow surfers as well as experts in yoga, training and nutrition.
In the Family Matters chapter, you meet his wife, Gabby, and daughters, Izabela. Reece and Brody. “We only have girls around here. We’re balancing out the testosterone,” writes Gabby.
Clinical psychologists can measure what we think of as guts in terms of hormones, endorphins and neurotransmitters. Laird just seems to have a different equation from most of the rest of us.
And if you’re not 6-foot-3 and a buffed 215 pounds like him, no worries. Work with what you’ve got, he advises. There are always trade-offs. “Most geniuses can barely tie their shoes,. The best helicopter pilot I know almost can’t drive his car,” he says.
Having already done some modivational speaking, he’s hoping the coming months will bring him face to face with enormous waves named Oprah or Ellen. He seems as comfortable and natural in this new world of words as he is out there in the ocean.
“There’s something in it for everybody,” he concludes about his book. “You just have to get past the surfing.”
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com
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Laird Hamilton goes paddleboarding