This spring in Malibu, Calif., nearly a century of wave-riding mastery came together when surf style icon Gerry Lopez and standup paddling innovator Laird Hamilton sat down for the SUP magazine interview. The exchange ranged from the origins of standup paddleboarding to the spiritual force of the ocean and the future of the standup game. During two hours of unguarded, flowing conversation, these two old friends shared a journey deep into the essence of the waterman philosophy. That passion pours out into the following pages. Enjoy the ride. —Joe Carberry
Gerry: Before you and your mom came to Hawaii, I ran into her right across the street from the Hansen shop in Encinitas, California, and she told me, ‘Oh, I gotta go do something, can you watch the baby?’ That was the first time I met you.
Laird: My first time I remember you would have to be Pipeline. You were the king of Pipeline, and I was on the beach, and I knew who the king of Pipeline was. I was probably your biggest fan.
Gerry: And then all those guys used to come to see your dad and get boards. Like Juan Harlow and Angel and Cole.
Laird: Yeah, everybody. Big wave riders.
Gerry: So that must’ve had an influence on you, too.
Laird: I think that shaped me. Those were the guys I was trying to mimic as a little kid. But Pipeline, obviously, being there and being exposed to you and my dad—the most beautiful surfers to watch.
Gerry: So everyone knows your accomplishments in big waves but let’s talk about standup. I think it’s the most fun thing I’ve almost ever done. I try to think back: Was regular surfing as fun as this?
Laird: When you were like, 12, maybe.
Gerry: I have a story to tell you because I’ve always thought you were the guy that started standup paddling. I remember telling you over the years that when I was in high school, there used to be this guy [standup paddling] at Tongg’s. Last month I was in Hawaii for the big swell, I asked George about it. And he goes, ‘Oh yeah, Zap.’ So we went over to [John Zapotacky’s] house, right above Tongg’s, Hibiscus Drive, right where I used to see him surfing when I was 13, 14 years old. Sweet, sweet man. Ninety-one years old. He came to Hawaii in 1940 from Philadelphia. He was in the Navy, mechanical engineer. He went to Waikiki and saw the guys surfing, and he got out there but he wasn’t having a lot of success. Then one day he saw a Hawaiian guy catching waves standing up the whole time with a big paddle. He followed the guy in and said, ‘Tell me about this.’ Guy says, ‘Yeah, get a paddle, get a big board.’ That guy was Duke Kahanamoku.
Laird: That’s what somebody said, that The Duke used to do it.
Gerry: The Duke.
Laird: Exactly. It’s an ancient discipline.
Gerry: Tell me about your first inclination to do this. What prompted you?
Laird: I don’t know if I was at Waikiki when I was 3 and I saw somebody do it or what—if there was some seed like that. I do know it started with having my first daughter and wanting to tandem surf with her. I thought, ‘If I’m gonna be surfing with the kid, I wanna get used to riding the board.’ I’d kick out of a wave, and Maui’s windy, so I’d just stand there on that big board and the wind would blow me back out. And [Dave] Kalama and I were out at Maalaea one day when it was one foot and I had the tandem board in the car and Dave had a couple outrigger paddles.