Big-Wave Surfer Laird Hamilton on SUP, Open-ocean Sailing, and the Psychology of Staying in Shape (Interview)

Hamilton paddles alongside the Mar Mostro. PUMA Photo/Meghan Sepe Photographer

This is the seventh and final piece in a series of articles following the Volvo Ocean Race. The nine month race around the planet is the world’s toughest sailing competition.

As the 11 men on board Puma’s Mar Mostro arrived in Auckland, New Zealand for a second-place finish in the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, their 12th and honorary crew member Laird Hamilton was on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Hamilton, whose resume includes professional surfer, co-inventor of tow-in surfing, James Bond stunt double and all around surfing icon/legend, has teamed up with Puma to develop a paddleboard that will bring the technology of world-class sailing to the sport he believes is going to be the next big thing.

Before heading to Auckland to meet up with the crew, Hamilton spoke with Discovery about his role as a sailing cheerleader, his fitness routine, and why paddle boarding is the sport of the future.

Discovery: Are you a sailor yourself?

Laird Hamilton: I am. Not, obviously, at the extent and the level of the team, with their experience and with their sophistication. My sailing was pretty limited, other than I broke some sailing records. When I first started windsurfing, we broke the European Straits speed record.

I’ve done some small dinghy sailing, but most of my sailing came through windsurfing. I was kind of involved in the creation of kite surfing as well, which is a form of sailing. I grew up around the wind, and obviously the wind plays a huge part of what we do in surfing. My understanding of it is pretty good, I just don’t have all the years of experience that all the guys on the boat would have.

WATCH: Surviving A Big Wave Wipe Out (Video)

D: Is it true that you helped the Puma crew get fit for the race?

LH: Well I think these guys are all pretty fit. I don’t think I had that big an impact, these guys are strong men. I definitely added some perspective of the stuff that I do that I shared with them. But they have a pretty intense routine that they do. All I did was maybe shed a new light on some of this stuff, and give them a new perspective and some knowledge of stuff that they hadn’t had before.

D: Did you recommend any specific exercises?

LH: I think a lot of what I do is pretty philosophical. There’s a part of it that’s the philosophy of mind, some of the fitness, and then some of the other trivial stuff that maybe people don’t know or realize is how beneficial it is. Nose breathing, types of nutrition, other types of knowledge.

Hamilton jumps of the Mar Mostro at the start of Leg 1 in Alicante. Photo: Chris Hill/PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG

D: What’s your fitness routine?

LH: My fitness is extremely diverse. I’m always doing new things. I avoid repetitive things other than things like running in the sand, where the repetition is part of the activity. But in general, my fitness is always changing, not stagnant, to keep me challenged.

A lot of mine is very seasonal. Like all athletes, I think that you have to have a buildup, a time to train, and a season for your sport. You can’t have a Super Bowl every Sunday, otherwise it wouldn’t be super.

I make up a lot of the stuff that I do, and implement new things that other people are doing, and it’s always evolving. Keep changing, and try to work on your weaknesses. A lot of it’s psychological, a lot of it’s neurological, and then there’s nutrition.

READ MORE: How Do You Prepare for the World’s Toughest Sailing Race? Volvo Ocean Race Sailors Explain

D: How’s your involvement been with the Volvo Ocean Race?

LH: I think a lot of it has to do with my admiration for what they have to go through. Part of my participation is to stay out of the way. There’s the danger of what they have to go through and what they’re doing. It’s a tough challenge that they have ahead and it’s over a long period of time.

I think I’m just spectating from a distance and if I can be of any help, I will be. But it seems like they pretty much know what they have to do. They’re in a similar business to what I’m in, that you’re at the mercy of the water. All the preparation, all the skill in the world, it can have nothing do with it when you’re relying on the wind to blow and the waves to break. A lot of it is being a morale booster, giving them support.

D: You’re headed out to New Zealand next week. What’s your plan?

LH: I’m not sure exactly. I was in Alicante , on the boat at the start of the race. I may get on for part of a leg, maybe to start in the harbor, or for some of the in-port race, depending on the conditions and what it looks like.

My favorite position ultimately is to act spontaneously. So if it looks like it’s going to be an exciting in-port race, maybe I’ll have a chance to get on. I’ll be spending a little time with the guys as they prepare for the next big leg. What they’re dealing with right now, I think a little enthusiasm goes a long way.

I have some other things I’m doing in New Zealand. I’ll be paddling the boards that we designed with Juan Kouyoumdjian, the designer of the Puma boat, which will be great. I’ll be spreading the standup paddle. There’s going to be a lot of enthusiastic people in New Zealand, they’re big ocean people, so I know it’s already down there.

Photo: Meghan Sepe/PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG

D: What draws you to paddle boarding, which on the surface, seems like a much less exciting sport than surfing?

LH: It’s a little like biking. If you want someone to just ride down the boardwalk, it’s not very exciting. But when you do downhill or BMX half pipe, it gets exciting real quick. I started paddling as a form of training initially, and now we’re riding giant waves, going down rivers and waterfalls, and racing. It’s as exciting as you want to make it, depending on what your personal needs and desires are.

In the summertime, when the surf’s flat, you’re strengthening all the muscles you need for surfing. It’s an incredible form of fitness training. It really represents a bicycle for the water. It’s not an activity for watching. You may say, what’s so great about that? But when you do it, you experience the sensation. It’s a lot like a bike — to see someone pedal by, what’s the big deal. But when you go ride a bike, the sensation is something enjoyable, and that’s what standup is.

It offers people an experience like surfing without needing all the years of experience and the athleticism, initially. It’s a lot more than it appears, but if you look at what’s happening worldwide with standup, how it’s continuing to grow, it will be the largest board sport in the world. It’ll probably be bigger than all other board sports combined. It came out of Hawaii just a few years ago, and now you have schools in Dubai.

READ MORE: Rain, Waves and Ice: Sailing through the World’s Worst Weather

D: Can you tell me about the design you’ve created with Puma? What sets this new paddle board apart?

LH: This was really an opportunity to take advantage of the Puma yacht design, which has a lot of experience and expertise and knowledge behind it as well as funding. What we tried to do was create something much like the boat and use the design of the boat.

It’s a way for someone to have the boat’s technology in the paddle board. There’s a bunch of tech in there that comes from Juan Kouyoumdjian, the designer. The board represents the technology in the boat, into something that’s easy to paddle. It’s an incredible paddling board.

Hamilton with Puma skipper Ken Read (left). Photo: Bizuayehu Tesfaye, HO/PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG

D: After you hit New Zealand, what do you have coming up?

LH: I may go to a couple of the other port calls, to meet these guys along the way. For me, there’s a ton of stuff going on, finishing the season here in the Northern Pacific and then the summertime starts and it becomes the southern hemisphere season.

I have a bunch of fitness projects that we’re working on, and there’s a whole bunch of TV stuff and obviously other challenges. And then my training season begins. I have a plethora of activities ahead of me.

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