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I have always been interested in the power of the individual, the notion that anybody—any man or woman with enough determination, talent, and courage—can strike out and, by his or her own doing, change things, make an impact.
This can happen in politics. It can happen in the arts—in music and painting and film. And it can happen in sports, in the physical world. An individual can decide that he or she is going to push beyond established boundaries—do it better, do it differently, try something no one else has ever tried before.
In my family, there was a huge value placed on athleticism—the willingness to compete. Fear, courage, focus—these were things to be confronted, explored, and harnessed. My mother insisted, even when we were very young, that my ten siblings and I learn to ski, sail, and play football. And it wasn’t just competency she was after—we were encouraged to push ourselves to the edge of our abilities and beyond. We were meant to fall hard and learn to get back up again. We were taught not just how to win but also how to earn each win.
These values and the rewards that come from that mind-set were also present in the real-life heroes whom I, as a child, was lucky enough to spend time with—family friends such as mountaineer Jim Whittaker, tennis champion Billie Jean King, and decathlete Rafer Johnson. These are athletes who broke records, erased boundaries, and shattered limits. They are individuals who carved out their own roads and forever changed the landscape of their respective sports. On the world stage, they were larger-than-life superheroes—cereal-box legends. And yet as they sat around our breakfast table, they seemed like ordinary individuals. They were courageous, to be sure, and focused. They had the talent and drive that can propel athletes to greatness. But they were also just people.
When I was a child, this apparent contradiction always intrigued me. What made these athletes want to accomplish the extraordinary feats they were known for? What made them think they could? What drove them, and what nourished them on that long, hard drive? Why did they succeed where so many others had failed, and how did they feel about that success? Was it worth the price they paid?
Laird Hamilton is one of the greatest big-wave surfers of all time. As an innovator, he has changed the sport more than any other figure in at least the last half century. Making a film about Laird gave me a chance to explore all these questions.
To me, Take Every Wave isn’t a sports documentary. It is a universal story about human potential—about striving, about the power of the individual to overcome limits, and about the power we all have to create our own destiny.
- Rory Kennedy, Director