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Surf With a Legend: Learning How to Ride Life’s Waves With Bill Hamilton

Legendary Kauaʻi surfer and shaper Bill Hamilton shares his insights and inspirations, as well as excitement for his “Surf with a Legend” experience at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay.
 

Published on: March 16, 2023
Guests enjoying the ocean using paddleboards with a view of the beach and mountain ranges

The ways of the waterman are founded on deep respect for and synergy with the ocean. Legendary Kauaʻi surfer and shaper Bill Hamilton is an incredible example of this. Spending his days in the waves and on the sand since childhood, Bill feels as at home in the water as he does in his own home—a telltale sign of a true waterman.

Surfing became the centerpiece of his life from an early age, giving him an exhilarating outlet to study the waters and deepen his relationship with the ocean day in and day out. In time, his love for surfing began to transcend every aspect of his life, and soon enough, he began designing and crafting ultra-personalized surfboards with his own hands. Several decades later, he continues to embody this spirit, cherish his time in the water, and handshape custom surfboards with the highest attention to detail.

We sat down with Bill to discuss his unique journey as a surfer and shaper, his favorite surf spots around the world, the inspiration behind his designs, advice he would give to his younger self, and his incredible "Surf with a Legend" experience at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay. 

Interview with Legendary Kauaʻi Surfer and Shaper Bill Hamilton

You’ve said that your early lessons in life were taught to you by the great outdoors and watermen. How did nature help to carve your career path?

I continue to thank my parents for providing an awesome environment to grow up in. We moved to Laguna Beach, California in 1950 and settled into a small apartment above the beach with a grand view of the ocean. I had salt water and sand on my body from day one, and I continue to have that to this day nearly 75 years later. The ocean and its surroundings became my teacher as did the people who frequented it. Fortunately for me, the epicenter of surfboard building and wave riding was just a few miles to the south of Laguna, Dana Point. In 1959, at the age of 11, I purchased my first used surfboard from Joyce and Dick Pettit, who happened to be a resin and fiberglass salesman with surfboard and sailboat magnate Hobie Alter and some of the boat designers and builders in Newport Beach, like Joe Quigg. I was surrounded by ocean people and quite naturally became one myself. As a diver and a fisherman, I learned skills that I would later use as a commercial fisherman on Kauaʻi. Probably the most pivotal experience of my life was traveling to Hawaiʻi when I was 14 to surf in the Makaha International contest in December 1963. I fell head over heels for the environment of the islands and discovered at a very young age that I wanted to spend the rest of my life as a lifelong surfer and ocean-born man.

What is your favorite memory of surfing and your favorite place that you’ve surfed? 

Surfing has a magical, almost mystical, and spiritual presence in the sense that you exist purely in the present moment and it's very addicting. The feeling of having saltwater on your body for hours on end also has an electrifying effect on your entire being. Having mastered the surfing technique over many decades of time, I find myself flying over the water with the freedom of a bird. The surfing experience when you reach that level is all-encompassing. I have surfed in many beautiful places throughout the world and discovered a few notable surfing locations. One of them is in France, called Hossigor, and also Nazarre in Portugal in 1968. But the best surfing memories are on Kauaʻi and the queen of all surfing locations, Hanalei Bay.

You’re known as a legend within the surf community for both pioneering the world as a surfer, but also as a shaper. Can you share what inspires your designs?

Making surfboards for good surfers and being able to ride the designs with knowledge of how they work, from small to Mount Everest gigantic. Hydrodynamic theory is constantly being explored. Right now, I am shaping the old surfboard designs from the 14th to the 17th century in Hawaiʻi. The surfboards are incredibly designed and crafted from native wood like breadfruit (ʻulu) and koa and the very light wiliwili. It's amazing to me how advanced the early Hawaiian surfboard designs were. I’m sure they were traveling sideways and at very great speeds. The water ski thinness of the rails and their square hard edges, combined with modern-day thickness and width, made for an exceptional craft. It became a lost art at the turn of the 18th century but was rediscovered in 2006 by a pro surfer in South Africa, who copied one he had seen in a museum in England.

What advice would you give to a younger you? Similarly, what advice would you give to a surfer coming to Kauaʻi for the first time?

Ask me this question 50 years ago, I would say follow your heart. But with wisdom, I will add a bit more. It's important to find and pursue the things you love. It's also important to take inventory of yourself. Who are you? Why are you? The fact that we are given a lifetime with a body to make it well over seventy years on this planet, you need to take care of yourself and check the oil now and then. Remember that the choices you make sometimes will change your entire life, for better or worse. My motto has been to leave this a better place than I found it. Never create chaos in thought or action, and maintain a high degree of light and happiness.

What advice would you give to a younger you? Similarly, what advice would you give to a surfer coming to Kauaʻi for the first time?

Ask me this question 50 years ago, I would say follow your heart. But with wisdom, I will add a bit more. It's important to find and pursue the things you love. It's also important to take inventory of yourself. Who are you? Why are you? The fact that we are given a lifetime with a body to make it well over seventy years on this planet, you need to take care of yourself and check the oil now and then. Remember that the choices you make sometimes will change your entire life, for better or worse. My motto has been to leave this a better place than I found it. Never create chaos in thought or action, and maintain a high degree of light and happiness.

Tell us about your “Surf with a Legend” experience at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay and what makes this so unique.

I am a tailor in making personalized surfboards. I will talk you through all the details from your body size, weight, and water experience to what kind of waves you ride, your current surfboard measurements, what you're looking for in a surfboard, and your specific art wants (colors, designs, etc.). Depending on your skill level, I can take you to areas that are kind and stress-free, or to single-black or double-black diamond territory. Having been on Kauaʻi for 50 years and having founded the first surf school in Hanalei in 1974, I love to teach and have the experience to do so. 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay is providing a large menu of wellness offerings and all in all, weather permitting, it could be a memorable day. Mahalo!

Surf with a Legend 

Spend a memorable day with Bill Hamilton with our "Surf with a Legend" experience at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay. From a 90-minute private surf session to a private meal with Hamilton himself, you’re sure to gain invaluable wisdom that extends far beyond the depths of surfing.

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