An Interview With Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama & Don King

On Their Incredible Feat, Done In The Name of a "Beautiful Son"

An Interview With Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama & Don King

Some times in this business of sharing information, you meet and interview people whom you become truly giddy with excitement to rush home and write about... just for the opportunity to share it with your readers. we'recently had such an experience, and bring to you a series of interviews that took place over the last few weeks.

We learned about a tremendous physical feat, which led us to a heartfelt story, only to reveal a controversial issue involving medical science. And all of it was tied together with a silver lining of friendship and the desire to heal. Allow us to explain...

This past June, surfer of massive waves and exemplary waterman Laird Hamilton teamed up with pal Dave Kalama (who is deserved of the same introduction), to cross the entire Hawaiian Island chain. They began at South Point on the Big Island (after a 5 hour flight from California), biked through the evening to the Northern Kohala Coast, and after a brief rest atop craggy lava rock, set out to paddle themselves to Maui. Rinse, repeat -- 5 times -- until 7 days and 450 miles later they dragged their strained-muscles on to the beach at Nawiliwili, Kauai. There, they were greeted by a handful of teary-eyed mata's and their autistic children, who danced with joy and draped maile lei across the exhausted athletes.

Trailing the pair for the duration of the entire journey was a man named Don King. Some of you might know him as the cinematographer and photographer who shot movies that include Endless Summer II, Die Another Day, Cast Away and Riding Giants, which featured Hamilton and Kalama at the movie's apex. King, it turns out, was the reason Kalama and Hamilton made the crossing.

King is -- as I sit here typing this story -- in the process of editing his llatest movie. It's a documentary called "Beautiful Son" that is about just that -- King's son Beau, who was diagnosed with autism. King mentioned to long time friend Hamilton that he needed to raise funds in order to distribute his self-funded production, which took he and his wife Julianne around the country, meeting families who struggle on a daily basis with autism.

The film is a heartfelt look at the people they met, the shocking data they uncovered that points a finger towards a possible reason for a spurt in autism over the last 2 decades, and some of the treatments that have been gaining attention.

We had the privilege to speak with King, Hamilton and Kalama on separate occasions about the film, the crossing and the passion and friendships that underline all their efforts. Enjoy the story.

Brian Berusch, B on Hawaii: This is something that I'm going to guess you didn't just ask Laird and Dave to do, unexpectedly. How'd it come up in conversation... to cross the entire Hawaiian Island chain in order to raise a few bucks"

Don King: Actually, Laird had been thinking about doing it for a while. He's a really passionate trainer, so he's conditioned for distance. He knew about the film, and knew I was struggling to raise money. He came to me and said "I want to do this as a fund raiser for your film." I was blown away by the offer. For such a good friend to do this for me, I can't tell you how much it emotionally affected me -- continues to affect me.

B on Hawaii: Seriously...most people have bake sales! Not cross 450 miles of volcanic rock and turbulent sea.

Laird Hamilton: Don took my first picture that appeared in Surfer Magazine 30 years ago -- he's a part of our family. And I have 2 healthy kids that aren't autistic -- so I often think about what it's like for Don. And I can't even begin to understand it. He's always saying "I'm so thankful." But after we punish ourselves for a week, we go back home and recoup. He's on the longer journey.

B on Hawaii: Tell us a little bit about the film.

Don King: It's a personal story of our family and our son. It's our journey to try and understand what is going on with autism, so we can best treat our son. This idea of "treating" autism is very new. In fact, most people don't know there are biological treatments for it. But there needs to be more study.

B on Hawaii: What are some of the treatments you learned about through the film?

Don King: Behavioral therapy is of the utmost importance with autism. But the biological treatments stirred up quite the commotion on the mainland. You see, autism affects multiple body systems. If you can get the immune system, the digestive system, nervous system and so on to work together, you can make some headway. Where the controversy comes in is that it seems all these systems were negatively affected by one substance -- mercury.

B on Hawaii: So mercury is the cause of autism?

Don King: We definitely can't say that. But there are people who do say it. There are some startling facts. Like in the U.S. 1 in 166 children born in the 1990s were diagnosed with autism. In Denmark, Japan and Russia it's like 1 in 10,000. Why we mention these countries is that they are all places where mercury was banned from childhood vaccines 20 years ago. Now, mercury was banned from most all vaccines here too -- but the medical world has a hard time saying that they did it because it is linked directly to autism. No one wants to accept that huge responsibility.

B on Hawaii: So there was mercury in childhood vaccines?

Don King: Small amounts in every vaccine, that alone were not toxic. But children get dozens of vaccines over the course of their first few years of life. And research found that when you added up the average amount of mercury in all the "normal" vaccines a standard U.S. child got, they level of mercury was totally toxic. So now, one of the means of treating autistic children is getting heavy metals out of their system. But the research is in it's infancy. A lot of it is privately funded, as again, no one in the medical field -- and even less in the government -- want to admit they were poisoning children.

Laird Hamilton: You have these mercury levels that really seem to be the culprit, and then these guys don't want to pinpoint it as that, because then it means that they're liable for what was happening all those years. So they turn it around and say it's not exactly that. It's pathetic.

B on Hawaii: How can people see the film?

Don King: We are working with PBS right now, who will hopefully run the film this spring. We are also submitting it to a number of film festivals, and hopefully that will get us some distribution. People can visit and follow where we're at with it.

B on Hawaii:: Laird, who'd you get onboard as sponsors by doing the crossing?

Laird Hamilton: It's been amazing how many people have come out. My sponsors are American Express, Toyota, Oxbow and a few others. And not even just the companies sent support for the film -- some of the people at the companies were touched and have kicked in. I'm continuing to get people to send money. The more you can expose it [the film], the more we can get it people. It's unfortunate that it takes money for that to happen, but that's the truth. The more money we raise, the more people see the film.

B on Hawaii: How do you think the film will affect people who have been dealing with loved ones with autism for decades?

Laird Hamilton: Autism is everywhere, not just here. As long as we get the word out of the latest information, the treatments that the King's learned about on their journey and in the film, it improves everything. Did you know that there are father's out there who hide their autistic children, or even themselves, because they think autism is genetic and their embarrassed? There are even places where people have spun theories that moms who didn't give their kids enough love as babies are responsible for it. We can make things better for some of those people.

B on Hawaii: Laird, Dave, tell us a little about the crossing. What were the hardest parts?

Laird Hamilton: We're paddlers -- ocean guys -- so the biking was actually the struggle. The first night we did a 120-mile ride with a 7,000 ft. change in elevation. It was a crank.

Dave Kalama: The night we left Oahu for Kauai, things got a little dicey. A sizeable Kona rain squall hit us. It was pitch black with a 20 knot wind blowing. We were planning on a 16 to 18 hour crossing, and I kept thinking, this is slowing us down by half -- there's no way I can keep this up for 36 to 40 hours. But the worse it got, the closer the boat stayed and I thought of Don and his effort every day with his amazing son. And then I though "What have I gotten myself in to?" But when it started to die down, I was set: there was no turning back. We still had a ways to go, but we're gonna do it.

B on Hawaii: Can someone really be prepared for something like this? Or better yet, for the kind of surfing you do? I know you need to be in top physical shape, but the mental preparedness... how does one get there?

Laird Hamilton: My step-dad used to say "Big wave riders are born, not made." And I think there's something to it. It's in your foundation. It's inside you. I'll tell you the true challenge, is how you continue doing it, after you've ridden the biggest wave, crossed the longest distance. You set up challenges that are more than what you ever did before. And through it, you get the sensation you completed something. And if it's dangerous, then other things that scare you, it will strengthen you for those situations.

B on Hawaii: Tell me about the finish. It must have felt...other-wordly"

Dave Kalama: It really did. You're almost a little punch drunk, sort of delirious. It felt like the ground was still moving. You're so glad it's over. Then, these mothers showed up with their autistic kids and some lei's. And there was something very tangible there, the reason we did the whole thing. The kids and the mother's were stoked. Some were crying. It was powerful. It made it very worth the while. It made the suffering worth it. Since then, a lot of people have told me that it inspired them. If it gets even a few people out to volunteer, that's great. Even if it gets people out to exercise, that's great too. Just doing something good -- for you or the community would be awesome. No matter how small. As long as it's a step in the right direction, it's a step to more.

Big wave riders are born, not made. And I think there's something to it. It's in your foundation. It's inside you. I'll tell you the true challenge, is how you continue doing it, after you've ridden the biggest wave, crossed the longest distance. You set up challenges that are more than what you ever did before. And through it, you get the sensation you completed something. And if it's dangerous, then other things that scare you, it will strengthen you for those situations. - Laird Hamilton