Age: 36 Specs: 6-foot-3, 215 pounds
Home: Kauai, Hawaii, and Malibu, California
THE CASE: The Kauai native holds dominion over bodysurfing, bodyboarding, boardsailing, kite surfing, skimboarding—and, of course, the sports he helped invent, airboard surfing and tow-in surfing. As for the latter, in the early 1990s Hamilton and several cohorts began using jet skis to get into Maui's 50-foot waves, but instead of just riding them they'd perform stunts like windsurfers. He cinched his status as a modern Poseidon in 1994 in Endless Summer II, which featured him riding a wave so monumental that it looked to be from another planet. Envious yet? He's also married to volleyball star Gabrielle Reece. Not bad for a guy who says, "My mother never thought I'd see the age of 16.
SECOND OPINION: "Big-wave riding, for 50 years, evolved in an almost plodding way," says Matt Warshaw, author of Maverick's: The Story of Big-Wave Surfing (reviewed on page 146). "Suddenly it's 1993 and Laird's riding three or four levels beyond anybody else, like he was visiting from the future."
MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Running out of gas on his jet ski in the open ocean in 1992, when vog—haze and volcano smoke—caused him to veer off course between Maui and the Big Island. The Coast Guard rescued him 12 hours later, none the worse for wear.
WHAT'S NEXT: Learning to golf. "It's a head thing, which makes it interesting, but a little quieter than what I'm used to."