Acclaimed Sundance director goes surfing | ParkRecord.com

Acclaimed Sundance director goes surfing

Rory Kennedy highlights the life of Laird Hamilton

Jay Meehan
The Park Record

With such seriously profound films as "Last Days in Vietnam," and "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," already in her Sundance rear-view mirror, filmmaker Rory Kennedy arrives at the 2017 Film Festival with a more personal tale.

"Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton," while certainly not your father's surfing movie, utilizes the iconic "Waterman's" passion for the ocean's forces to show a life that transcends competition in favor of almost off-scale personal accomplishment.

Speaking to The Park Record from her Los Angeles office, Kennedy characterized the shooting of the film as a "super fun break" from some of her other recent work. "I'd never really surfed before or rode a Jet Ski or flown in helicopters while shooting film with the helicopter actually flying beneath the wave," she explained.

Her excitement over the archival footage used in Laird's back-story also showed through as she spoke of "interweaving it with more recent footage shot during last year's highly impressive El Niño season." Ocean swells often increase dramatically in size during an El Niño pattern.

Principal photography followed the intensely committed Hamilton upon his never-ending quest for bigger waves and new challenges both on the water and in his multi-dimensional life.

Described as an "American athlete, surfer, author, inventor, stunt man, model, producer, TV host, fitness and nutrition expert, husband, father and adrenaline junkie," he truly attempts to "take every wave."

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An innovator without pretentions to the "purity" of the sport, his involvements in the birth and growth of both "tow-in surfing," where a surfer is able to access waves not available to the usual "paddle-in" practitioner, and "foil boarding," where a hydrofoil affixed to the base of the board raises it above the wave, differentiate him quite significantly from the norm.

And, of course, Laird Hamilton, almost since its inception, has become the worldwide poster child of "standup paddle boarding." A video of him "shooting the pier" at Malibu during hurricane force winds on a SUP immediately went viral.

Not much of a surprise there, as Surfer Magazine once anointed him thusly: "The sport's most complete surfer, displaying almost unnerving expertise in a multitude of disciplines, and flat out surfing's biggest, boldest, bravest, and the best big wave surfer in the world today, bar none."

Kennedy also spoke of Laird as not having the world handed to him. "Although his high-school quarterback good looks might make you think otherwise, Laird has a toughness born of the 'bullying' that comes with being a white kid growing up and going to school in Hawaii," she remarked.

Although the film is about Laird's personal journey, his wife, pro-volleyball player and TV personality Gabby Reece, and their children, also play large roles. Hamilton, you see, is a complex man with an insatiable appetite to challenge the future. Over the last decade or so, Laird has expanded his horizons beyond surfing, becoming an international fitness icon and nutrition expert and, it would seem, the family is never far out of the frame.

Carrying the distinction of "Waterman," is just about the highest honor that can be accorded someone in the surfing community. Only reserved for those with long-standing credentials and indisputably significant all-round achievements, Laird Hamilton wears the homage with both respect for its cultural history and with an ease born of the water.

Such an individual is worthy of a film tribute directed by the equally fabled documentarian Rory Kennedy. Takes one to know one, as it were.

In response to a final query, Kennedy stated she "hoped that people not just from the surfing world would take something away from her film. That Laird's story is relatable across the board, and that what drove him to be who he is, his personal story, goes well beyond the normal surf film.

"Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton will screen in the Sundance Film Festival's Documentary Premieres category at the following times and locations:

Sunday, Jan. 22 at 5:30 p.m. at The MARC
Monday, Jan. 23 at 9 a.m. the Temple Theatre
Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 9:30 p.m. at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center
Saturday, Jan. 28 at 9 p.m. at the Temple Theatre

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