There aren’t many activities that Laird Hamilton can’t handle in the ocean. Undoubtedly one of the most influential watermen on the planet, Hamilton’s knack for anything aquatic is beyond most mortal landlubbing comprehension. Still, the big-wave legend admits he’s trying to get a grip on tow-in hydrofoil surfing.
You wouldn’t be able to tell it from the athleticism on display when Hamilton, Terry Chung, Luca Padua, and Benny Ferris recently decided to take their custom hydrofoil builds—engineered by the experts at Lift Foils—to one of the most infamous and dangerous waves ever surfed: Nazaré, Portugal.
Foiling, as Hamilton breaks down in the video above, takes a certain type of wave to accommodate the unique physics of the craft—not the same type or even the same sweet spots of a “traditional surfing” wave. For the characteristics Hamilton and crew had in mind—specifically catering to speed and length of ride—the conditions, swell size and direction at Nazare were the perfect combination to showcase what a foil board is capable of.
“The great thing about the foil is that it opens up opportunities, and it opens up a playground,” Hamilton states in the video. “It opens up places that wouldn’t normally be looked at. And last Saturday we had some incredible conditions, but they weren’t great conditions for the conventional Nazaré spot. It was a different wave, and it was a wave that you wouldn’t really look at, unless you were a foiler … we had an incredible day.”
Generating speed where traditional surfboards typically would not, these Lift Foils propel the surfers at speeds almost unfathomable for any surf craft—which is absolutely necessary at a wave like Nazaré. Stalling out and getting caught by skyscraper-scale plumes of whitewater could quite literally create a deadly situation.
Fortunately, the crew had a couple first days in Portugal to calibrate the foil boards before a big surprise: the main Nazaré wave waking and the sleeping giant showing its teeth.
“We really didn’t think it was that big,” says Benny Ferris. “It wasn’t until we went down to the harbor and actually loaded up our stuff and launched the skis, we were driving out and Laird and I were talking, and you know, you come and you suss it out … The time to ride the big one will present itself, you can’t force it.”
“Exactly what we said before we saw it—’the opportunity will present itself when the time is right’—the waves came, and it was wave after wave for a few hours,” continues Ferris. “And there you go, you ride the big one.”
For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!