Spotlight 2: “Let the board tow you” - Laird Hamilton
Every month we research one practical tip from the best in big wave surfing found online or in the line-up.
This month: How Laird Hamilton uses his leash to escape underwater.
In Spotlight #1, Frosty Hesson talked about the (widely used) technique of climbing your leash during a hold-down.
Spotlight #2 covers a different way to use your leash, as suggested by Laird Hamilton. He mentioned it in the uncut version of Surfline’s Big Wave Round Table Discussion. (Skip to 39 minutes and 24 seconds.)
Laird explains how during the early days of surfing Jaws’, he kept breaking his leash. So to avoid that, he would wrap his feet around the leash, put his arms above his head, and let the board tow him underwater, escaping the impact zone.
“You'll be like a bullet sometimes. It will shoot you, and it might take you 100 yards underwater, but when you pop up, the board is right there.” - Laird Hamilton
Here’s why it works:
Get you out of the impact zone. Being dragged out of the impact zone reduces the risk of a two-wave hold down or taking the next wave in the face as you surface for air.
Saves energy and helps you relax. The more you rest during a wipe-out, the less oxygen you burn, the longer you’ll last. Being physically relaxed makes it easier to relax mentally and go to your “Happy Place” while you’re being held down.
Gets you closer to the surface. With your legs extended and your arms above your head, you’ll be more streamlined. If you allow your body to follow the pull from your board, the buoyancy of the gun will ultimately drag you closer to the surface. It makes the distance to the surface shorter since you don’t have to swim/climb up the full length of your extended leash. The traditional “Roll-up-in-a-ball-and-protect-your-head-with-your-arms” works well to protect your limbs and skull, but it increases the chance of being pulled down and pushed deeper. Additionally, rolling up in a ball and grabbing your limbs, increases the muscle tension in your arms, legs, and face, burning through much-needed oxygen.
Something to realize:
Laird is talking about surfing big guns, heavy boards at deepwater big wave spots like Pe’ahi. Most big wave spots, like Jaws, are far from shore in deep water with plenty of distance from the beach.
For obvious reasons, this technique isn’t a smart choice when you’re being dragged close to rocks/cliffs or other obstacles.
It doesn’t work with lighter shortboards, as they tend to flutter underwater. They don’t have the same pull as heavy 10 ft+ big wave guns.
It’s debatable if this technique is a smart choice on super shallow, slab-like spots.
Credit where credit is due.
The mission of www.bigwavesurfing.com is to improve global line-up safety by sharing expert ocean safety knowledge online. We interview the best big wave surfers to record their personal approach so others can learn from it.
In return, every “Spotlight” article includes detailed information about the surfer’s personal business/product/service/cause. That way, Spotlight articles work both ways.
So here’s to Laird and Surfline: a curated overview of their most interesting products:
About Laird Hamilton
Laird Hamilton website
Laird Hamilton on Wikipedia
Laird Hamilton on the Encyclopedia Of Surfing
Laird Hamilton on the International Movie Data Base
Laird Hamilton is one of the few surfers who has made a successful career outside of competitive surfing. He has built a personal brand that appeals to a broader audience. In this GolfBoard video, he explains how all of his companies contribute to his mission, to his bigger goal: making the world a better place by stimulating people to have fun and live healthily.
Laird Hamilton and his wife Gabby Reese have been sharing fitness videos for years under the “Gabby and Laird” brand, some of which are still on YouTube.
A couple of years ago, Laird and Gabby created a new fitness brand: XPT, Extreme Performance Training™ offering multiple day training weekends, workshops and even instructor certifications.
The real deal is pretty pricey, but there are different, cheaper ways to get access:
$$$ - The Big Bucks
Their prime product is called “The Experience” which gets you into a small group setting for three days and face to face with Laird and Gabby.
If you can fork over the $5500, you will probably experience the most intense workout you’ve ever had. It includes lodging, food, transportation, and is held in some smashing locations.
$$ - The Day Tripper
A budget-friendlier option would be to attend one of the workshops starting at $150, but these are done by XPT’s certified trainers, and not Gabby and Laird.
$ - The Couch Surfer
Your best low-budget workaround is to combine your Amazon Prime account with an Outdoor TV account (7 days free) to access the 20-minute video’s (6 in total) that will take you through the $5500 work-out weekend from your couch. Not the real deal of course, but a great way to get a sense of the experience.
We would like to thank @lairdhamiltonsurf and @Surfline for sharing this extremely helpful big wave survival tip and bringing it online.
Laird’s tip was originally cut out of the 3 episode web series, but thankfully survived the “Uncut” video that Surfline released on their youtube channel.
Below is the transcript of the section of Surfline's Big Wave Roundtable Discussion where Laird Hamilton explains how he endures wipe-outs by letting the board tow him out of the impact zone.
"Another thing that I've learned is... to let the board tow you. That's probably the biggest thing I learned about riding big boards. I did it because of riding Jaws, and if you resist, you'll break the leash every time. So I'd started to let it tow me. I'd wrap my foot over the leash and the hands over the head and every time that thing was gonna pull, it'd pull me.
What would happen is: it pulls me, the board slacks, I slack, I pop up, I'm with it. 90% of the time I'm pulled out of the impact zone. Out of the zone, I'm way inside. Didn't use any energy. Because if you resist... just the staticness of trying to resist burns oxygen. And then you get that chicken thing where the board is towing, you're getting pulled, and you can't go up. That's the magic killer right there: when you're trying to get up, and you have that thing pulling you sideways.
So let the thing pull you. Wrap the feet over the leash and hands over the head. You'll be like a bullet sometimes. It will shoot you, and it might take you 100 yards underwater, but when you pop up, the board is right there. And you didn't use any energy because you've relaxed. And you're out of the zone.
That technique, I think is an incredible thing."
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