The Most Influential Surfers and Watermen in Hawaiian History Part II
It’s no secret that the Hawaiian Islands are home to the best waves and surfers on the planet. If you grow up surfing the waves here, you can likely hold your own anywhere. Last week on the JOB Surf Experience, we dove into the rich history of Hawaii’s original watermen and surfers in The Most Influential Surfers in Hawaiian History. This week, we’ll continue honoring the best surfers, watermen, and water women from the islands in The Most Influential Surfers in Hawaiian History Part II. Unlike the surfer mentioned in our previous post, these surfers reached their prime when surfing’s popularity was arguably at its highest. They pushed the sports to new limits riding big waves and overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles along the way. For The Most Influential Surfers in Hawaiian History Part II, continue reading below.
Bethany Hamilton’s inspiring story took the world by storm in 2003 and again in 2011 when her story was depicted in the movie Soul Surfer. In the early 2000s, Bethany Hamilton was a young teenager on Kauai and a rising star on the youth competitive surfing circuit. One morning in 2003, Bethany was surfing with the now-professional surfer Alana Blanchard and Alana’s family when she was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark. The shark immidiately bit off Bethany’s left arm just above the elbow.
A shark attack may keep most surfers out of the water, but not Hamilton. Within a month of her attack, she was back in the water relearning to surf with just one arm. Just a few months after returning to the water, Bethany was back competing. Within two years, Bethany won her first NSSA national title. Despite losing her arm, Bethany was able to realize her dream to surf professionally at just 17 years old and continues to compete today. Today, she’s a competitive surfer who regularly takes down the world’s best during WSL wild card events.
Also from Kauai, Andy Irons is now firmly part of Hawaii surf royalty. The Iron brothers, Andy and Bruce, grew up on Kauai, where they developed an intense passion for surfing along with an unsatiable competitive spirit. Andy surfed like he had nothing to lose and took power surfing to a new level. On the North Shore and on tour, Andy made a name for himself as a ferocious competitor and became surfing’s favorite anti-hero and rival to golden child Kelly Slater. The two superstars battled for years on tour, exchanging world titles, event wins, and tense heats.
Despite being from Kauai and the son of mainland parents, Andy became the pride and joy of Hawaiians everywhere. His intense personality and hard partying were actually symptoms of bipolar disorder. The disease plagued Andy Irons’ career and ultimately led to addiction and his untimely death in 2010. Andy is remembered as one of the fiercest competitors to ever paddle out with an unmatched style and warm heart. Andy’s struggle with mental health and addiction was beautifully documented in the 2018 documentary Andy Irons: Kissed by God.
While the core surfing world goes back and forth on their opinions of Laird Hamilton, there’s no denying that the man is a waterman. Like many great surfers, Laird Hamilton grew up splashing around in the waters of the North Shore of Oahu. Laird’s stepfather, legendary surfer Billy Hamilton, pushed Laird into the surf at an early age. After watching his stepfather lose events at the hands of the judges’ booth, Laird became dissatisfied with competitive surfing and instead chose to forge his own path. Laird pushed himself in big surf across multiple disciplines, which, at the time, was looked down upon. He became an accomplished Pipe surfer and a talented windsurfer. To fund his exploits in the water, Laird took the odd acting and modeling gig, appearing in magazine spreads alongside supermodels.
While in Maui with his windsurfing crew, Laird pioneered tow-in surfing and became one of the first surfers to ride the giant waves at Peahi AKA Jaws. Tow-in surfing allowed Laird and the Strapped Crew to ride waves previously deemed too big and too fast to surf. On August 17, 2000, in Teahupoo, Tahiti, Laird caught what is now known as the Millennium Wave. Before Laird and tow-in surfing, waves of this magnitude were considered too dangerous to ride. Laird would go on to pioneer big wave foil surfing, stand up paddle surfing, found several companies, and reinvent what it means to train for surfing.
To walk in the path of giants and experience the raw power of Hawaii’s fearsome surf, book your stay at the Turtle Bay Resort to stay close to the action on the North Shore. Book a North Shore Surf Lesson during your Hawaii vacation to learn to surf with the best surf coaches on the planet in the gentle waters of Turtle Bay.