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Surfer Hamilton keeps branching out

May 18, 2008|From the Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Laird Hamilton doesn't say "dude."

The groundbreaking big-wave surfer prefers not to be associated with the image that word projects. There is much else about the image of surfing that he proudly shares with the world -- and that appeals to folks who have never ridden a wave.

This fascination with the culture of surfing has allowed Hamilton to transcend his sport.

"The massiveness of the ocean, the power of the water -- something inside of everybody can relate to it," he said. "It's something very tangible and understandable. You could be from the middle of the country and never have even seen the ocean, but when you see a human on a giant wave, it just evokes a feeling.

"Maybe you're scared for them. Maybe you're in awe that there's waves that big. It evokes a feeling in every person no matter what shape, color or size."

Hamilton's current venture is his own clothing line at Steve & Barry's, the chain famous for selling apparel for under $10. It's the latest company to embrace Hamilton and his surfer image.

"Surfing offers a sense of freedom, a sense of no rules," Hamilton said Wednesday, a day before the official launch of the line, Wonderwall. "And of course where we are [in Hawaii], it's all about nature. It's the ocean, it's an island, it's a beach."

Kids who live far from any of those things have eagerly adopted the surfer look for years. Hamilton seems to embody the ideal with his tan and shaggy, bleached-blond hair and his marriage to pro volleyball player and model Gabrielle Reece.

"It makes a lot of sense to me," Hamilton said. "What people don't realize is that a lot of our clothing is very functional. It's comfortable. ... Function has an aesthetically pleasing value to it."

The 44-year-old Hamilton watches the thrill that riding a one-foot wave brings a novice surfer and wishes he could still experience that feeling. He can -- it just takes an 80-foot wave and happens only once or twice a year.

Hamilton pioneered "tow-in" surfing, using a friend on a personal watercraft to tow him into the biggest and strongest of waves. Always chasing new challenges, he's thinking about paddling across the Bering Strait this summer.

That desire to learn and discover contrasts with the stereotype of surfers Hamilton wants to avoid.

"We get typecasted as 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High': 'Hey, dude,' " Hamilton said of the 1982 film starring Sean Penn as dimwitted surfer Jeff Spicoli. "We're just some goofy guys that really aren't athletic, that we aren't intelligent. That's a misconception.

"There are surfers like that. But there are people like that in every facet of life. I think surfers are in tune with nature, because it provides us with our needs."

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