Backstage with Sandy Kenyon: Rory Kennedy's new film, 'Take Every Wave'

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The daughter of the late senator from New York Robert F. Kennedy is making a name for herself as a documentary filmmaker.

Rory Kennedy, the producer and director known for "Last Days in Vietnam," "Ethel" and "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," is tackling a new genre in her latest project, called "Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton."

"One of the things that attracted me to this story and making this film was that it wasn't a typical surfer movie," she said.

The film tells the remarkable story of an American icon who transformed the sport of surfing over a professional career spanning decades.

"This is really about a guy who was innovative, who has changed this sport radically over the last 50 years," Kennedy said. "I've done a lot of very serious, social issues-type documentaries, and I've never taken on a film like this before."

It is an in-depth profile of a man who transcends sports and was driven to greatness, including developing one of the sport's most significant breakthroughs.

"What surfing has brought me is worth everything," Hamilton said.

The 53-year-old father of three has been married to professional volleyball player Gabrielle Reese for nearly 20 years, and he splits his time between residences in Malibu and Hawaii.

"The biggest technical challenge was how to capture Laird on a big wave and show it with the appropriate level of drama," Kennedy said. "So I ended up heavily leaning on the helicopter shot."

Hamilton was co-developer of tow-in surfing, which uses artificial assistance to help a surfer catch bigger and faster waves than could be possible by paddling with his or her hands. Another claim to fame was riding the so-called Millennium Wave at Teahupoo, Tahiti, on August 17, 2000, believed to be "the heaviest ever ridden" at the time, a still image of which graced the cover of Surfer magazine with the caption "oh my god."

For Kennedy, following him was an awe-inspiring experience.

"It was terrifying," she said. "I'm in (the helicopter), and I don't like small spaces and I don't like flying. You know, those are not my comfort zones. But you're out there, and then Laird captures these waves, and he's on them, and it's so magnificent. So I do have a good amount of terror in the experience of it, but a huge amount of appreciation too."

"Take Every Wave" is playing at select theaters.
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