Lance Burkart never did this, Laird is larger than fiction. Photo: Servais
THE GODFATHER OF TOW
On March 2, 1964, newborn baby Laird John Zerfas came charging into this world via an experimental salt- water sphere at the UCSF Medical Center. The sphere was designed to ease his mother’s birthing pains. A few years later he would have her best interest in mind again when he introduced her to Billy Hamilton. The two would wed and from their union would emerge Laird Hamilton. Like surfing’s chiseled superhero, Laird remains one of the most visible surfers in the world today. An enterprise unto himself, he was discovered by a Vogue photographer when he was 16, and thus a modeling career was born. But his biggest impact wouldn’t be on the catwalk, it would be in taming the formerly “unridden realm.” The inventor of tow-surfing, he pioneered riding the outer reefs of Oahu with friends Buzzy Kerbox and Darrick Doerner. Then they took their act to Maui and Peahi. Avid windsurfers, the “Strapt” crew as they’d come to be called, were aware of the potential that Peahi held, but until they started whipping each other the wave was considered too big and too fast to paddle into. “We started towing it for a reason,” noted Laird when criticized for not participating in the recent groundbreaking paddle sessions. “The waves we were after were simply too big to paddle into, there’s no way you could generate the power to get into them.” Laird also sites the boards they were experimenting with for breaking down the performance barrier in the biggest of surf. With tow boards measuring under seven feet long, Laird made it possible to pull into the meanest pits and carve giant arcs, whereas paddle-in surfing is primarily orientated around simply surviving the drop. A father and husband, Laird now lives on Kauai and takes pride in chasing big waves when nobody’s watching.