Laird Hamilton (born March 2, 1964) is an American big-wave surfer, co-inventor of tow-in surfing, and an occasional fashion and action-sports model. He is married to Gabrielle Reece, a professional volleyball player, television personality, and model. Hamilton and his family split their time between residences in Maui, Hawaii, and Malibu, California.
By the age of 17, Hamilton had become an accomplished surfer and could have left modeling to pursue a career on surfing's World Championship Tour. However, competitive surfing and contests never appealed to Hamilton, who had watched his father Bill endure the competitive surfing contest politics and the random luck of the waves in organized championship surfing events. Bill Hamilton regarded surfing more as a work of art, rather than based chiefly on wave-by-wave ride performance scored by judges.
In the 1987 movie North Shore, Hamilton played the violent, antagonistic role of "Lance Burkhart". Despite further success in modeling during the 1980s, Hamilton, with his professional surfing upbringing, always intended a life of surfing, but continued to reject the professional contest circuit.
In 1989 Laird featured in windsurfing movie "Moving Target" alongside Fred Haywood.
An early attempt at media recognition was his quest to be the first surfer to complete a 360 degree loop while strapped to his board. The attempt was chronicled in Greg Stump's 1990 ski film, Groove - Requiem in the key of Ski. In the early 1990s, Hamilton, along with a small group of friends collectively dubbed the "Strapped Crew" because their feet were strapped to their boards, pushed the boundaries of surfing at Jaws surf break off the north central coast of Maui. The Strapped Crew tackled bigger waves featuring stunts. Stunts included: launching 30-foot (9.1 m) jumps on sailboards, then mating the boards to paragliders to experiment with some of the earliest kiteboards.
In late 1992, Hamilton with two of his close friends, big wave riders Darrick Doerner and Buzzy Kerbox (also an occasional men's fashion model; Hamilton and Kerbox later lost their friendship over a property disagreement), started using inflatable boats to tow one another into waves which were too big to catch under paddle power alone. This innovation is chronicled in the documentary film, Riding Giants. The technique would later be modified to use personal water craft and become a popular innovation. Tow-in surfing, as it became known, pushed the confinements and possibilities of big wave surfing to a new level. Although met with mixed reactions from the surfing community, some of whom felt that it was cheating and polluting, Hamilton explained that tow-in surfing was the only way to catch the monstrous sized waves. Using tow-in surfing methods, Hamilton learned how to survive 70-foot (21 m) waves and carving arcs across walls of water.
In 1995 Hamilton met women's professional volleyball player and New York fashion model Gabrielle Reece in Los Angeles, California after a television interview. They later married on November 30, 1997. In 1996, People magazine named Hamilton one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, and in the same year Hamilton pushed for and took from his future wife the correspondent position for the syndicated cable series 'The Extremists'. In 1989 Reece had been named by Elle magazine as one of the Five Most Beautiful Women in the World.
By the late 1990s, Hamilton continued with windsurfing, waterskiing and kitesurfing. In 1996 Hamilton and Manu Bertin were instrumental in demonstrating and popularizing kitesurfing off the Hawaiian coast of Maui. In 1999 Hamilton sailed his windsurfer between the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Kauaʻi, some fifty miles away, in just under six hours.
Hamilton has also experimented with the foilboard, an innovative surfboard which incorporates hydrofoil technology allowing a higher degree of precision and effectiveness of aerial techniques within the water. He has become a proponent of Stand up paddle surfing, an ancient Hawaiian technique that requires a longboard and a long-handled paddle, as well as considerable skill, strength and agility. Purist surfers have blasted him for this, but Hamilton calls it a return to the traditional Hawaiian way of surfing, as practiced by King Kamehameha I and his queen Kaʻahumanu almost three hundred years ago.