For Laird Hamilton, the globetrotting athlete who turned 51 this year, chasing his passions will shape his next half century. As told to Jennifer Flowers.

“I spent my 11th birthday in Afghanistan.

Photo by Nils Rinaldi, via Flickr.

Photo by Nils Rinaldi, via Flickr.

My mother, a big believer in travel as education, had taken me on my first of many epic trips with her: six weeks through India, Iran, Iraq, and the Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan–in 1976. Traveling in general is such an educational, humbling process. Those early trips shaped my mind-set: I’m always chasing what’s bigger, higher, faster, farther, always pursuing that next target that eludes me. Over the years, competing as a professional surfer, snowboarder, and windsurfer brought me to incredible places in every corner of the world, including Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Iceland, and French Polynesia.

I’ve seen so much that the novelty of travel has worn off. I still love to travel, but now it’s more about chasing my passions. My latest ambition is to surf the world’s longest wave using foilboard technology. As I track down my perfect wave, I’m monitoring storms in Morocco, Spain, Portugal, and the South of France, sometimes dropping everything to hop a plane if the conditions look promising. I know all these areas well, but now I’m looking at them with a different perspective.

Laird Hamilton. Photo by jai Mansson, via Flickr.

Laird Hamilton. Photo by jai Mansson, via Flickr.

Each place has the potential to bring us what we’re looking for, but at the same time, it might be just one of the steps along the way. That discovery and exploration is part of the challenge. And, as much as I want to achieve my goal, I’m at the point where I can just enjoy the journey. For example, I just got back from a recon trip to Chile. It turned out the waves weren’t exactly what I was looking for. But one evening, after a day of surfing, I had some of the best mussels I’ve ever tasted, prepared as a lemony ceviche by a local fisherman from a nearby village. Moments like these keep it all in perspective: If I achieve my goal, that’s great. If not, I’ve learned, sometimes you need to just hang on and enjoy the ride.”

Watch for Laird Hamilton in Point Break 2 this December, followed by his in-the-works documentary about his quest to foilboard the world’s longest wave.

Top photo by Joanna Poe.
This appeared in the August/September 2015 issue.