You are not Laird Hamilton. You don’t ride 100 foot waves on a whim. You don’t travel around the world to do so, and you don’t look like a more athletic version of Barbie’s Ken. But you could be.
“Take Every Wave: Laird in VR,” a 360-degree virtual reality experience created in collaboration with the surf legend transports you to Chicama, Peru, where you can ride what many claim is the world’s longest wave on a hydrofoil surfboard that makes it seem like you are not only walking on water, but also flying above it.
“In a way surfing is my art,” the 53-year-old tells PEOPLE at the 2018 Lumiere Awards hosted by Advanced Imaging Society, where he accepted the award for Best Sports VR Experience. But Hamilton’s extraordinary feats aren’t exactly easy to emulate — or watch — so he got creative about how to share them with the wider world.
“We’re normally out at sea somewhere,” he says, “so we are always looking for ways to try and capture it, and bring what we’re experiencing to people. Normally the formats don’t do that. Normally, I can ride a hundred foot wave, and someone takes a picture of it and [people] are like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s cool…’ Its’ not ‘cool.’ It should be an out-of-body experience that is very infrequent in our world.”
The experience, directed by Elijah-Allan Blitz and brought to fruition by the minds at Sports Illustrated, gives users a unique first-hand experience: You are there in a motorized rickshaw as a bird dips across a blue sky above you. You are there gearing up with Laird and his two pals. Then you are on the water, for six-and-a-half minutes of jaw-dropping surfing. You high-five a child in a paddle boat, and then, in that effortless way that you do, two-and-a half miles later, you wipe out.
It is as groundbreaking as it is breathtaking.
The inspiration for the project came about when Rory Kennedy, the director of Hamilton’s biopic, Take Every Wave, reached out to Blitz, a fellow surfer, about creating a companion piece for the film.
“I said, ‘Whatever I can do, however I can work with Laird, I am in.’” Blitz tells PEOPLE. “When I met Laird, there was that immediate thing of, ‘I want to use this technology to trigger putting someone else into what you do, to give a sense of what it is you do.’ He was right there with me and he was like, ‘Alright, yeah, let’s do this.’
The final product is a glorious experience: For ten glorious minutes, your mantra is a quip of Laird’s that speaks to his unique relationship with the ocean and doing something that he truly loves:
“I don’t eat sharks, and they don’t eat me.”