Surf Legend Laird Hamilton Reveals the Workout and Diet Secrets Keeping Him Ripped at 57

Laird Hamilton knows a little something about scary stuff: In his mid-50s, the legendary surfer is still surfing 60-foot waves that look like special effects from a disaster movie. When he goes down, he has to struggle against his urge to breathe in water before reaching the surface—and he thinks that being scared has helped make him a better surfer and a better man. “It just makes you appreciate other things, and it has a tendency to make people more kind,” he says. “It would be good if everybody scared themselves once a day.”

But that’s not all that’s helped him stay ripped well into his fifties. Hamilton shared his tips for training as you age, how he fuels his workouts, and what it took to find a like-minded fitness tribe to share in his ongoing adventures.

(This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

I’d like to start with how you start your day: You’re famously an early riser and passionate about having a morning routine. And part of that is extreme thermal experiences—super-hot showers and ice baths. What are the benefits you get from that?

I’m not a scientist. They talk about endorphins and epinephrine and all these chemicals. And there’s things called heat-shock proteins that are said to help restore damaged cells and get rid of dead cells. But I mostly go by how it makes me feel.

It’s like a warm-up: If you feel a little achy in the morning, and you’re a little bit busted up, you go take yourself a real hot shower. You know you’ll come out of there [feeling great]. We even sauna early. I’ll go out in the morning in the dark and sauna to start the day, a really hot one. I’ll do something really hot, or you could also just jump in an ice tub and get the opposite of that. Either one of those kind of extreme thermal exposures is gonna boost the system. It’s gonna rev you up. I would take a cold shower, but the problem is most people’s showers don’t get cold enough. But the heat gives you a good kick.

Also, it’s hard. And something about the difficulty has a psychological effect on you. There’s a thing about discomfort. Maybe if we lived in a different universe, maybe discomfort wouldn’t be so beneficial. But the universe that we live in at this point, we benefit from discomfort. If you want your rose bush to bloom, you prune it. There’s just no way around it.

A post shared by Laird Hamilton (@lairdhamiltonsurf)

Speaking of bouncing back from discomfort, you also talk about the resilience you build from surfing big waves—bouncing back after being smashed by a wave before your breath runs out.

That’s the apex of discomfort—it’s death, right? Nothing is more uncomfortable than if you think you’re going to die. Whether it’s jumping out of a plane, driving a fast car, or doing something where you’re under threat, the apex of being under threat is death.

You know, you’re going to get post-traumatic stress from feeling like you’re going to die, that’s just part of the bright light/dark shadow. But I think that that there’s a line of course right that where it’s a little more honest way to to experience life, to be threatened by death at times. That’s really the world that we live in.

We’ve changed that pretty substantially by kind of getting rid of everything that’s really a threat. And everything that is a threat, we’ve made less threatening. And we’ve been able to kind of reduce our exposure to that kind of threat to the point where it’s almost non-existent for a lot of people.

That’s why I’ll say at times that it would be good if everybody scared themselves once a day, just had a little, “Whoa!” Then they can recalibrate. It just makes you appreciate other things, and it has a tendency to make people more kind.

Fear is something I wanted to ask you about. In Free Solo, there’s a lot of talk about climber Alex Honnold’s brain not allowing him to feel fear. But in interviews—like this podcast with Whoop—he says he feels like he trained his mind to be desensitized to it. As someone who also tackles, big scary natural obstacles, do you still get scared? Or do you think you’ve trained your mind not to feel it?

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.”

A post shared by Laird Hamilton (@lairdhamiltonsurf)

I watched the film and I saw the segment where they said [he doesn’t feel fear], and I could relate to people saying, “Oh, you’re not scared and this and that.” It’s not that you’re not scared. There’s a whole system that’s designed to keep us alive—it’s a primal part of the brain. Even single-celled organisms have “fear.” If you put them near heat, they’ll run away.

It’s just that you you have a different relation, you have a different reaction. Your system can’t can’t react that powerfully to that situation because it you do it too often, you’ve done it too much. The system would be like, “Hey, I don’t have enough calories. I don’t have enough emotional capacity. I just can’t do it.” So that’s my theory.

[Alex] said it in another way. He said he desensitized or trained himself to do it. But I don’t think you trained yourself to do it—in a way, you did, because you continually expose yourself. It’s not a conscious thing. It’s subconscious learning. The conscious mind moves too slow. It couldn’t actually pull it off.

One of the ways you train yourself for those extremes underwater is with your XPT training system. [At XPT training camps, people undergo intense conditioning workouts underwater, combining lifting and swimming.] Is there a safe way someone can try an XPT-style exercise or workout at home to get a taste of that training?

We’re reluctant to promote [pool work] without having supervision because of the nature [and danger] of what water represents. That’s why the breath work on land is so great: If you want to experience what it would be like to do the pool work, you can do that through other cardio devices out of the water.

Get on a rowing machine or an Assault bike, and every minute—on the minute—hold your breath for 10 seconds and try to keep up your pace. Perform a workout session that way, and that will simulate what we’re experiencing in the water.

For something a little more detached—In your book, Liferider, you also talk about exercise as being a moving meditation. How can someone try to get that training effect?

An active meditation workout has got to be something that you could detach from, something that you don’t have to consciously engage with the movement itself. It’s not something you’re not good at—you have to be kind of good at it so you can let go. So normally it’s going to be some kind of cardio—rowing, biking, running, swimming. For me, it’s paddling.

We talk about flow state: You kind of detach from the immediacy of what you’re doing, and you’re looking to the distance. You’re not just looking at the thing you’re doing right now. You’re able to just kind of do it. To get to that place while meditating, you’d have to be very good, or you’d have to be meditation for a long time.

That’s why I love surfing so much. Riding waves, for me, there’s a detachment. That’s probably the apex of my active meditation.

A post shared by Laird Hamilton (@lairdhamiltonsurf)

We talked a little about your morning routine. Another part of that for you—and for many of our readers—is coffee. Whether it’s with your Laird Superfood creamers or ghee, you’re adding fats to your coffee. Why?

You know, my sustained energy is crazy [when I have fat in my coffee]. Lately, we’ve been just having one meal a day. I’ll definitely not eat anything until the afternoon, and I can run or ride or swim or surf for six, eight hours, and not need anything.

Not everybody’s suited for that particular thing, but everybody benefits from good fats. And a lot of people use caffeine. It’s interesting because I’ll consume a fair amount of caffeine, but because the caffeine and the fat are together, you time-release it. I can’t really drink straight black coffee from a French press because it’s just too much. So even though i’m consuming more caffeine in my morning ritual, I don’t experience that. I get this time-released effect. For me, that’s kind of like using that as my breakfast. I can just work harder for longer.

As we age, we’re supposed to have to slow down—but you don’t seem to care about that. What should guys be doing differently in their training, or thinking about differently, as they hit their thirties, forties, and fifties?

I think you have to be aware of the damage you’ve taken from the repetitive motions in your training, but I think we put too much value in getting old. You’re seeing it now in a lot of sports‚ guys being older and still performing well. Part of it is taking better care of ourselves, more sophisticated information, better training food. That’s part of it. But we also have so many examples of, hey, you can just keep going. I think it’s really more connected to desire.

A lot of it is people are burnt out, and they’re like, “Hey, I’m old now.” The organism is looking for an easy way out. So now, if I say “I’m old” and that gets me off having to work, train, eat, get a bruise, fall down. I think that’s where the unconscious part of the organism plays into it. It says, “Hey, you’re old now. You don’t need to go do that thing because it’s going to be hard and it’s going to hurt.” So we’re trying to avoid the discomfort.

People talk about not being 100 percent. There’s no such thing as 100 percent—I don’t think you’ve been 100 percent since you stepped into this world and took the first breath of exhaust from a car. It’s your ability to operate in discomfort. Can you just keep rolling broken? [My friend Don] Wildman, [founder of Bally’s and a Malibu legend who worked out into his 80s,] was the king of that. He’d have a broken leg and he’s be on a stationary bike with a crutch on the other pedal riding with one leg. You just have to bite down on the strap and deal with it.

That’s just part of being human. You’re here and stuff’s broken. Stuff doesn’t work. I think [men in their forties and fifties] have to find fun, too. That’s a big piece of it. Look for things that interest you, that are fun. We all know this: You get on a stationary bike and you’re riding, and after 20 minutes, you’re thinking, “Man, can I get off this thing?” But you ride a bicycle and it’s, “Wow, that was three hours?”

A post shared by Laird Hamilton (@lairdhamiltonsurf)

Find things that are fun, that you enjoy doing. Then you’ll do more, you’ll go longer. You won’t be counting the reps. It reminds me of an interesting study: Scientists asked, “Who are the best at video games?” And everybody thought it would be the kids. Actually, no, it’s not the kids. It’s adults that really wanted to play. So the best people at video games are adults, but they really have to want to play.

I know it’s been a few years, but I’m sorry for the loss of Don Wildman. When you were training with him, you were one of the “younger guys.” Do you have your own “younger guys” in your life now that you’re the mentor for, but also taking inspiration from?

I’ve got a guy right now. He’s a kid, well, he’s a kid, but he’s a man: He’s a big wave surfer, Luca Padua, and he actually lives with us right now and trains. He’s a big wave rider from Mavericks up in San Francisco. He came into my family’s life. My dad used to say that big wave riders are born, not made. So you’re kind of born with the spirit of one. [Luca] is like a cro-magnon man—part wild, part civilized.

I think when you’re younger, you have guys you look up to, and as you get older, you have young guys because you have to go back the other way—because those are the only guys that are really motivated enough to do the stuff you want to do. Wildman always had these—I was just one of 20 young guys that were with him, doing the things he wanted to do. That’s what created the bond, and that’s what’s happened with Luca. I’m doing the things he wants to do, and he’s doing the things I want to do.

It’s always nice when you’re doing something, and you’re like, “Wow, this really is amazing.” But you’re also like, I don’t know, “is it really amazing?” Then you get somebody that comes along and they say, “Yeah, this is amazing.”

That’s where teamwork comes from. That’s where community comes in—when you have people that train together, that work together, and you all lift each other up in a way. It’s not a combative-type scenario. Guys will say, “My opponent lifted me up,” but there’s a limitation to that. When you’re together and you’re not competing against them, their success is never at the cost of your failure. The success comes from both of your successes. I always wanted that.

I don’t even think of myself as older. It’s just the guys I relate to, that have the energy and are motivated like I am, it just happens that I’m older and they’re younger. Look for like-minded people, and that’s what you end up with.

Source: Read Full Article