Pretty soon, when you don't die, when you get sucked out the brain's like, “Well, I don't think I'm gonna die because I haven't died the last year.”
If we surfers, we grouchy locals, are all honest with ourselves then we must admit that Laird Hamilton has aged like fine cheese. Complex, pungent, well-ordered. A Gruyere, maybe or a Stilton blue. The big wave icon and coffee supplement scion has done it all. Launched a thousand paddles, conquered heretofore deemed unconquerable swells, made millions of dollars, acted in films and when he speaks it is always well worth a listen.
Thankfully, Men’s Health has just published a wide-ranging interview with the still-handsome 57-year-old. A plethora of topics are duly covered, from XPT training to exercise being a “moving meditation” to the value of extreme heat and cold to staying young forever, but I found his treatise on fear quite profound.
The author mentions the climber Alex Honnold and how, in a recent podcast, he declared he feels like he’s trained his mind to be desensitized to fear. What’s Laird’s take?
I have a theory about that! I saw that part about Alex, and this is my theory: When you’re exposed to danger, that’s a very taxing thing on the system. If every day I put you in front of a bear that was going to eat you, you’d be exhausted. And if I did that to you every day, pretty soon, the body would be like, “Well, I didn’t get eaten. And being scared is taking too much energy. It’s too taxing on the system emotionally and physically. So I’m going to stop being as scared, and see if I still don’t get eaten.”
You eventually get to a point where your system doesn’t have the same response. And somebody looking from the outside would say, “Why is he not scared?” He is! You’ve worked your way to it.
I grew up getting washed out to sea, right? So I’d be stuck in a rip current, and I thought, “I’m gonna die.” And then the next day, I thought, “’I’m gonna die.” After you go out and you get sucked out and you think you’re gonna die for a year straight … pretty soon, when you don’t die, when you get sucked out the brain’s like, “Well, I don’t think i’m gonna die because I haven’t died the last year.”
The restorative power of fear.
But when was the last time you were properly scared? Oh, I don’t mean about getting caught in some elaborate lie, I mean physically?
Also, what is your favorite cheese?
I’m a Roquefort man, myself.