As far back as he can remember, Laird Hamilton always wanted to be a surfer. For him, there was something spiritual that drew him to the water - something elemental. Perhaps it was the cleansing effect of the water, or perhaps it wasn't as complicated as that. Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton, director Rory Kennedy's surprisingly comprehensive documentary, takes us from the pro surfer's introduction to the sport at a young age to where he is now, resting amid fame and notoriety as a giant in the sport he loves. Some opening audio clips, broken and strung together at lightning speed, present a litany of descriptions of the man. Sticking out among a lot of positivity: "incorrigible."
Kennedy, wisely, does not approach her subject with empty hagiography. This is not a PowerPoint slideshow of Hamilton's career to this point, nor is it a study in the man's greatness that shies away from his ego. We get a sense of Hamilton's entire personality, which has, fortunately, been directed toward a positive energy until now. He reminisces a lot to Kennedy's camera here, and the conversation is surprisingly engaging. Hamilton makes for a willing witness to his own life, and that's really the best way to put it: He's been a witness as much as anyone.
Much of his success, for instance, is either by accident or by a natural disposition toward the sport of surfing, in which he never intended to go professional. A mentor from his childhood noticed something in him and offered to give him lessons one day. That would be the kernel of a motivation that got him in the water, and his eventual career would be spotted with attempts to ride the really tough waves - the ones that no one else would dare to attempt. One such attempt goes horribly wrong when the skin on a fellow surfer's legs is chafed right off during the wane of one, particularly strong wave.
In other words, Hamilton's ambition could easily have been confused for obsession. His reaction to failure regularly ended up actualizing itself in his behavior, which alienated him from his first wife and, after one such failure, threatened the stability of his second marriage almost to the point of divorce. The man fully accepts this about himself, and most importantly, so does the film. One does get the feeling with Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton that Kennedy is honey-glazing the surf culture in which her subject grew up. Where it counts, though, the film understands that subject.
A documentary directed by Rory Kennedy.
No MPAA rating.
Released in select cities on September 29, 2017.