Quick Stats: Laird Hamilton, surfer, author, model
Daily Driver: 2009 Hummer H2 (Laird's rating: 9 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: See below
Favorite road trip: France to India on the Khyber Pass
Car he learned to drive in: 1972 VW Beetle
First car bought: 1972 VW Beetle
Laird Hamilton is one of the greatest big wave surfers in the world and one of a handful to have traversed giant 70-foot walls of water. As such, he's experience the ocean in ways most of us can only dream of.
That view of the world, coupled with a childhood spent living off the land in Hawaii, has given Hamilton a practical and deeply introspective approach to life -- something you might not expect from someone who was once included in People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in the World.
His contemplative side extends to how he thinks about what cars he drives. Hamilton spoke to Motor Trend at length about his take on life and cars, and his surprising philosophy on cars is almost existential in nature.
When Hamilton is in Malibu, California, he drives a 2009 Hummer H2, which he sees as a utilitarian vehicle. "I'm normally in four-wheel-drive vehicles," Hamilton says. "It's been modified, so it's got a whole different suspension and lifted up with giant tires and winches and fuel tanks and a spare tire in the back."
Hamilton gives the H2 a 9 rating because it does the job to haul the gear he needs to go surfing. "You're pulling trailers; you go places where cars can't go; you've got to go over stuff; you've got to help somebody pull their stuff out," he says. "It's a safe vehicle to put my kids in and be on dangerous roads. I don't drive far, so I don't need huge economy and I'm not on a regular commute for mile and miles, so I'm not looking for economic, fuel-efficient vehicles. I'm looking for things that can pull and drag and go up hills and over rocks and do things that I need."
Despite being able to afford any supercar, Hamilton calls himself the "anti-bling guy," so when he got the H2, he spray painted it, including the chrome. "As soon as I got it, I took it and sprayed it flat black. I don't want shiny. I don't want chrome. I want it to be the least obtrusive," he says.
Hamilton also wants a car that is sturdy enough to get him out of any situation. "I want to drive the vehicle I need on the last day of the earth," he laughs. "What vehicle are you going to use when you have an earthquake and all the freeways crack open and then you're like, 'Holy shit. Where am I going to take my car that has a 2-inch ground clearance!'"
Hamilton also loves trucks and he has a couple Ford F-250s at his Hawaii home. He also owns military vehicles including some giant deuce-and-a-halfs and an amphibious Gama Goat. He's been hankering to buy a truck for when he's at his Malibu house because he misses having one around.
2010 Ford F-250 Super Duty
While Hamilton loves this four-door turbo diesel F-250, his wife, professional volleyball player Gabby Reece, mostly drives this truck. "My wife usually takes it over and I don't get to run it. I've got a king cab, longbed F-250 that I run," he says. He says the only negative about this diesel F-250 is that in Hawaii, diesel isn't available at every gas station and it's more expensive.
"That particular truck, you wouldn't know it's a diesel," he says. "There's no delay; it's got a lot of power and moves quickly. Sometimes I'm pulling big boats, heavy trailers and dump trailers, and you can't beat the torque of a diesel." He says a similar gas-powered vehicle would need more fuel to give as much power. "So with better fuel efficiency you get greater torque and power and mileage, even though the fuel is more expensive," he says.
Hamilton has strong opinions about diesel, which he thinks shouldn't be more costly than gasoline. "It shouldn't be, because it's a less-processed fuel than gasoline. It's just that on the world economy, diesel is a lot more sought after because every tractor in the world is using it, so any developing nation like China, you're having to compete directly with them, so it's easier to charge more for it here and sell them more of it," he says.
2005 Ford F-250 Super Duty Crew Cab King Ranch
"I always have had trucks, either Chevy 2500's or F-250's," Hamilton says. "For me, without having a truck I feel naked and to have a truck that's not four-wheel drive, is not a truck. Most of my vehicle orientation is based around the utilitarian, things that you could carry stuff with and haul, put a lot of gear in. Things that you can beat up that are designed for that."
Car he learned to drive in
Where Hamilton grew up in Hawaii, the landlord had a pig farm and taro farm. While the farm-to-table lifestyle is trendy among today's foodies, Hamilton lived when it wasn't in fashion.
"I grew up killing pigs and feeding pigs and fishing, when I was a kid," he says. "You'd think I'm from southern California, but I grew up in a pretty remote place in Hawaii. That lifestyle doesn't exist anymore, in Hawaii at least. Maybe in some Third World countries they still have some aspects of it. We lived more by the land. Most of the food on the table came from harvesting of the land, either growing it, farming it, catching it."
He says being connected to the land helped shape his view on life. "People think of me as a surfer guy, but I still grew up on a pig farm and grew up fishing and pulling taro and driving trucks when I was 9 or 10 years old," he says.
He used to go to restaurants to collect slop in the morning and cook it to feed the pigs. Hamilton says everyone should experience seeing their food killed at least once, to understand where it comes from. "Steak doesn't come in a package prewrapped in the meat department," he says. "It's an animal that had to give its life, and it's important for every kid to be exposed to that experience. It definitely changes you. You realize that it's something sacred in that it had to give its life for you to eat it and it's just not this stuff that is chopped up, that's red that you cook and tastes good."
His upbringing shaped his feelings about cars. "I think you have a different value system, and that's probably why I look at cars the way I do," Hamilton reflects. "I see all these fancy cars and I'm like, 'What are they really for?' At the end of the day, if I'm going to be in traffic, I like being high up anyway. I can see more; it's safer. Why have a car that can go 150 mph when the speed limit is 50? If I want to go fast, I'll go to a track where they'll rent you a car where you can go 150."
As a young child, Hamilton was expected to help out on the farm. "We fished and so we had trailers and boats on the beach and trucks on the farm," he says. "So it's always about vehicles and work."
He learned to drive on farm trucks. "I could back trailers up when I was probably 9 or 10 years old," he says. "You become effective in a vehicle when you're young, and if you can be a 10-year-old boy and get in a truck and drive it around and help, you can do a lot. Where we lived, there's no police and nobody on the road and the only thing you would crash into were some bushes. So we learned how to drive really super young."
While the farm trucks all had stick shifts, Hamilton formally learned to drive on a red, manual 1972 Volkswagen Beetle, which he bought from his mom while in high school. "It was a beat-up one with rusted floor boards, but those things were bulletproof. It's amazing what a Bug can endure," he recalls.
His second or third car was a Honda Civic. "Those things were bulletproof too. The first Civics were Beetle-ish," he says, adding he later bought a Peugeot.