Hamilton, Bill


Fluid regularfooter from Hanalei, Kauai; regarded by many as surfing's definitive stylist from the mid-1960s to the mid-'70s; father of big-wave rider Laird Hamilton. Bill Hamilton was born (1948) in Long Beach, California, the son of a former big-band orchestra leader father and a commercial artist mother. He was raised in Laguna Beach, began surfing at age 11, and at 15 was invited to join the prestigious Windansea Surf Club.

In 1966, after graduating high school, Hamilton moved to the North Shore of Oahu, was featured on the cover of Surfer magazine, and had a star-making turn in the surf movie Free and Easy. Surfboards Hawaii introduced the Stylist, Hamilton's signature model, in 1967. Hamilton rode with a toreador's poise and refinement, his body moving quietly, almost formally, from one position to the next, panache radiating from his hands and fingers. He later said that his trademark frontside cutback, executed with symmetrically extended arms, elbows bent slightly, was based on an illustration of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

The broad-shouldered Hamilton (5' 11", 190 pounds) adapted smoothly to the new short surfboards introduced in late '60s, and was a model for the turn-of-the-decade surfer who chose to deemphasize competition surfing. Hamilton did in fact compete—in 1971 he placed fifth in the Pipeline Masters and finished runner-up in both the Duke Kahanamoku Classic and the Smirnoff Pro—but gave the appearance of being above the fray. He consolidated his position as soul-surfing guru with two or three popular if sophistic surf magazine articles. "Life to me is a constant movement," he noted in a 1974 essay, "an ever-changing, swirling mass of variables interconnecting with each other to create a whole, [and] if you're willing to compare them to riding a wave, then comprehension of the totalness of here and now is at least partially attained."

Hamilton began shaping surfboards in 1967; over the years he worked for Surfboards Hawaii, Country Surfboards, Chuck Dent Surfboards, Lightning Bolt, Bear Surfboards, and—from 1972 to present day—Bill Hamilton Custom Surfboards. He has also worked in construction and as a commercial fisherman.

Hamilton stunt-doubled Jan-Michael Vincent's surfing scenes in the 1978 Warner Brothers' film Big Wednesday, and producers paid him an additional $5,000 to pilot a jerry-rigged "Malibu lifeguard boat" into the jaws of a 15-foot wave at Sunset Beach. Hamilton also appeared in more than a dozen surf movies, including Golden Breed (1968), Waves of Change (1970), Pacific Vibrations (1970), and Five Summer Stories (1972). He was cited in a 1985 Surfer magazine article as one of "25 Surfers Whose Surfing Changed the Sport."

Hamilton has been married twice, has lived in Kauai since 1972, and has two children. Laird Hamilton, his adopted oldest son, helped invent tow-surfing in the early '90s, and for the next decade was regarded as the world's premier big-wave rider.