Moments – Summer 1986 with Laird Hamilton and Buzzy Kerbox

TransWorld SURF


Summer 1986

Laird Hamilton and Buzzy Kerbox

Wailua River, Kaua’i

Up A River Without A Tow Board

Warren Bolster’s Harbinger To Tow-surfing Mania

A picture tells a thousand words. Or in the case of Warren Bolster’s pre-tow-surfing shot of Laird and Buzzy, it opens the future.

In the mid 80s, Bolster took a few trips to Kaua’i to shoot the two men for ads for Salt Creek, a now-defunct clothing company. During one of those trips, the surf was flat, so the men dabbled in wakeboarding on the Wailua River. Buzzy drove, and Laird wakesurfed on a surfboard.

“In the early 1980s,” Bolster said, “I was shooting the outer reefs and Kaena Point, flying back and forth from Waimea, because a lot of times Waimea was the only place you could surf. Everybody was complaining about Waimea being too crowded, and I was saying, ‘Hey, there’s surf everywhere out here!’

“Laird was a windsurfing champion, and all the windsurfers on Mau’i where he windsurfed sometimes were already out riding Jaws. I went over to Kaua’i and told Buzzy and Laird all about O’ahu’s outer reefs, and they were like, ‘Oh yeah?’ I guess I gave them the idea. Inevitably, Laird and Buzzy tried towing in with Buzzy’s Zodiac, which only had a 40-horsepower outboard motor.

“At first they tried towing on O’ahu’s North Shore-Laniakea, outer Sunset, Phantoms-and it wasn’t working out too well. So they took it over to Mau’i and developed a brand of tow-in surfing.

“They never told me that they had any further ideas for tow-surfing, and on that flat day in 1986, they were just wakeboarding. Besides staying busy, I don’t think they had any other intentions. It was just something fun to do. It was before they had tried actual tow-surfing-it was before anyone did, actually. They took ideas from everyone and put it all together.”

Soon after, on one sunny winter day, the boys took it all out to Phantoms, one of O’ahu’s outer reefs. In an interview with, Kerbox recalled: “We didn’t even tow that day. We just went out in the boat and checked it out. Drove around, dropped into a fifteen-footer that almost caught us. It was a little creepy. If we’d been caught and flipped with the engine blazing, it could have been nasty.”

But by then the hook was set-big things were bound to happen … and be ridden.

“Hey, I’m sick of paddling,” Hamilton said in the December 1993 issue of Surfer magazine. “I’ve paddled from Moloka’i to O’ahu. I’ve paddled the English Channel. How much can you paddle? I want to change, make surfing evolve, so we’re not stepping back and watching skateboarders and snowboarders do all the progressive stuff.”

From one-foot boat wakes in 1986 to 60-foot Jaws in 2005? Perhaps Bolster sums it up best: “I’m glad they’re still having fun.” -Michael Kew