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At 52, Laird Hamilton has more than earned the right to reflect after a life full of risks taken and enormous waves surfed.
But to do so would betray his very nature as an innovator and big-wave riding legend still pushing the bar as far as it will go on the water and in his life on dry land.
"Sometimes I just shake my head when I think about when I was young and reckless, now I'm just older," he says with a deep laugh.
Hamilton, the subject of the Sundance documentary "Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton," has had his life well-chronicled by surf films to this point, but director Rory Kennedy took a new approach.
"The surfing aspect was something I wanted to embrace, but ultimately, I was less interested in making a film about surfing. I'm only so interested in it, frankly," Kennedy said. "What I am interested in is the character and what are the qualities in Laird whether you're interested in politics or business or sports just being the best in whatever your pursuit is, what's the difference?"
Hamilton has eschewed surfing competitions his whole life in favor of seeking his own thrills and fulfillment, but has pushed the sport forward by popularizing tow-in surfing, standup paddleboard surfing and foil boarding to take on much larger waves farther from the shore.
"I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone else who has changed the sport so significantly in the last 50 years," Kennedy said.
The director admits Hamilton was confused by her approach at first questioning why she asked him to sit down and answer interview questions over a 12-hour period rather than film him on the water like everyone else but that he came around and threw his whole support behind the project.
"There's an opportunity to tell a bigger story and it's not a surf film. A lot of what I've been able to do transcends surfing and is more about life," Hamilton said. "I feel this is a larger representation of that message and that concept."
Hamilton's biggest risk and biggest contribution to surfing lore came simultaneously on Aug. 17, 2000 his now-legendary ride of the "Millennium Wave" off the coast of Teahupoo, Tahiti.
But with nearly 17 years of hindsight, he says the wave serves as a reference point and a formula for what comes next rather than standing as a crowning achievement.
"It was the unknown, the thing that you'd only thought was in cartoons and then it was real and it happened. It reminds you that it can happen again and that's really the exciting and interesting part," Hamilton says. "I use that situation as a reference for other situations since then and others that haven't come yet."
That's the benefit of telling Hamilton's story now, Kennedy says, in a pursuit of "bigger and better" that simultaneously seems never-ending, but with plenty of past narrative punch from a rough childhood to vilification from the surfing community to his success and varied interests today.
"He is somebody who lives in the present, is very forward-thinking and continuing to try and push himself and the sport in new and innovative ways," Kennedy said. "So, sitting back and looking at your life isn't really where his energy is. I think that speaks to part of why he is the person he is."
The director hopes audiences grasp Hamilton as a "flawed hero," while the self-described "Waterman" said he hopes it'll encourage viewers to always push forward, embrace vulnerability and never "let memories be bigger than dreams."
"It's meant to inspire people to do as the film title is to catch every wave. That kind of sums it up in a way, to catch every opportunity, every moment," Hamilton said.
"Live a maximum life whatever that means to you given what your surroundings and your circumstances are."
Sports films at Sundance
Several films premiering at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival come from the sporting world. For a list of all screenings and ticket information, visit sundance.org.
"Icarus" (U.S. Documentary Competition) • A film to uncover the truth about doping in sports transforms into a geopolitical thriller involving the Olympic Games. Screenings: Friday, Jan. 20, at 11:30 a.m. at the MARC in Park City; Saturday, Jan. 21, at 3 p.m. at the Redstone Cinema 7; Sunday, Jan. 22, at 6:30 p.m. at the Rose Wagner Center; Wednesday, Jan. 25, at 2:30 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre; Thursday, Jan. 26, at 3 p.m. at the Sundance Mountain Resort screening room; Saturday, Jan. 28, at 2:30 p.m. at the Prospector Square Theatre
"Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton" (Documentary Premieres) • A portrait of the fears, courage, ambitions and more of the big-wave surfing legend. Screenings: Sunday, Jan. 22, at 5:30 p.m. at The MARC in Park City; Monday, Jan. 23, at 9 a.m. at the Temple Theatre; Tuesday, Jan. 24, at 9:30 p.m. at the Rose Wagner Center; Saturday, Jan. 28, at 9 p.m. at the Temple Theatre
"The Workers Cup" (World Cinema Documentary Competition) • Inside Qatar's 2022 World Cup labor camps, migrant workers stage a soccer tournament of their own. Screenings: Thursday, Jan. 19, at 9:30 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City; Friday, Jan. 20, at 8:30 a.m. at the Prospector Square Theatre; Friday, Jan. 20, at 6 p.m. at the Sundance Mountain Resort screening room; Monday, Jan. 23, at 9 p.m. at the Salt Lake City Library Theatre; Wednesday, Jan. 25, at 10 p.m. at Redstone Cinema 2; Friday, Jan 27, at 3 p.m. at the Temple Theatre.
"Trophy" (U.S. Documentary Competition) • An in-depth look at big-game hunting, breeding and wildlife conservation unravels the complexity of treating animals as commodities. Screenings: Friday, Jan. 20, at 5:15 p.m. at the Prospector Square Theatre in Park City; Saturday, Jan. 21, at noon at the Temple Theatre; Saturday, Jan. 21, at 9 p.m. at Broadway Centre Cinema 6; Sunday, Jan. 22, at noon at the Sundance Mountain Resort screening room; Wednesday, Jan. 25, at 6:30 p.m. at Redstone Cinema 1; Friday, Jan. 27, at 2:30 p.m. at the Prospector Square Theatre.