Malibu’s super waterman Laird Hamilton is known for many conquests: big wave surfing, pioneering the sport of stand-up paddling, being a spokesman for the ocean through the Surfrider Foundation. To this list of accomplishments he can now add cartoon character.
Hamilton appears as a two-dimensional version of himself on Disney XD’s Emmy-nominated animated hit, “Phineas and Ferb,” in a two-part episode July 12 that finds the angularly rendered cartoon youngsters visiting Hawaii.
The show has been a surprising success for Disney since its debut in 2007, challenging the viewership of Nickelodeon’s monster hit “SpongeBob SquarePants,” ramping up the Disney merchandising team and coaxing guest voices like actors Ben Stiller and Cloris Leachman, and sports heroes like Evander Holyfield to the microphone.
How did Hamilton feel about joining the circle of such luminaries?
“It was a lot of fun,” Hamilton said in a phone interview with The Malibu Times while returning from a visit to the Gulf Coast. “I met both show creators [Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh] and they both like surfing. So they asked me to be a part of it.”
The ongoing story line of “Phineas and Ferb” follows the efforts of two stepbrothers-the show runners don’t shy from presenting a contemporary “blended” family without the benefit of explanation-who spend their perpetual summer days trying to avoid boredom through outlandish schemes that usually end up irritating their older sister, Candace.
Hamilton denied that he had done the show just to impress his three daughters, ages 13, six and two, or use the show as a platform to promote his environmental concerns. He appears strictly as a buff Hawaiian local, hanging ten and flashing a “shaka” sign.
“Phineas and Ferb go surfing in this episode, so it was actually an organic plot line for me to show up,” Hamilton said. “My older daughter is amused at seeing me do this. But to my younger daughters, this is just what Dad does.
“After I saw the story boards, they take your voice and animate your character around it,” Hamilton continued, describing the studio process for creating animated series. “I guess I wasn’t too bad. Actually, Tina Fey will be doing the show and I guess you’re only as good as the company you keep.”
Sprinkled with sly social references that resonate humorously with adults, show creators Povenmire and Marsh seem intent on capturing older viewers as well, much like early “Loony Tunes” story lines would play on social phenomena of the day.
“It’s an overt way to get the entire family involved,” Marsh said in an e-mail about “Phineas and Ferb.” “We actively set out to create a show that parents can watch with their kids of all ages.”
Marsh and Povenmire also expect to continue writing story lines that incorporate real life characters.
“You’ll see Chaka Khan and Clay Aiken in the immediate future,” Marsh said. “It depends on what real life characters want to do our show.”
When asked why he didn’t push for a subtle, environmentally friendly message to be slipped into the show, Hamilton turned serious. He and wife Gabrielle Reece had just returned from a tour of the Gulf of Mexico with representatives of the Natural Resources Defense Council, flying over the vast oil spill that has been gushing since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded April 20, spewing millions of gallons of raw crude into the ocean.
“There’s a time and a place for everything and I have other avenues for getting a proper message out,” Hamilton said. “Kids are becoming environmentally aware more and more and that’s important. Because the next generation has a huge mess to clean up.”
Hamilton has been a visible and vocal proponent of ocean protection for years, championing campaigns for the Surfrider Foundation and helming competitive paddleboard events that help bring awareness of the ocean’s fragility. He was instrumental in organizing the big paddle-out protest against the construction of BHP Billiton’s massive, floating liquefied natural gas terminal off the Malibu coast in 2006 (the project proposal was ultimately denied).
“Touring the gulf showed me how aggressively big corporations will pursue their next dollar,” Hamilton said. “We can’t get around being dependent on fossil fuels, but they must spend more money on insuring the safety of their rigs and employees. What people forget about the gulf is that 11 people were killed. Hopefully, the scope of this tragedy will make people more accountable. My message continues to be one of respect and appreciation for the majesty of the ocean.”
Marsh and Povenmire were so thrilled to have Hamilton on the show, the surfer could consider a career change.
“Swampy is an avid surfer and I am an avid surf documentary watcher,” Povenmire said. “Anybody who is cool knows Laird Hamilton.”
Hamilton is featured in a two-part episode of “Phineas and Ferb” on the Disney Channel July 9 at 9 p.m., with a repeat on Disney XD Monday, July 12 at 7:30 p.m.