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Beautiful Boys

Driving to Paradise Cove in Malibu on a summer Saturday is to be confronted with almost as many signs as you’d see on the road to Belfast during the Troubles (albeit of a different sort). No Surfboards on Beach. No Dogs or Animals of Any Kind in the Parking Lot. No Barbecues. No Open Fires .?.?.

Judging by the dozens of 12-foot-plus surfboards and the giant barbecue on the beach, a lot of rules were being broken. That’s bound to happen when legendary big-wave surfers and all-around water men Laird Hamilton (of the American Express commercial) and his partner in most adventures, Dave Kalama, decide to hold a barbecue, auction and movie premiere at the spot where Jim Rockford used to park his trailer.

At 3 in the afternoon, Hamilton was off the beach and out to sea, standing upright on a 12-foot paddleboard, using a single, canoelike paddle to cut through the water. Hamilton learned the technique from the Waikiki beach boys, and though he is 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, he moved through the ocean with the grace of a Venetian gondolier.

Not too long ago, Hamilton was singing “O Sole Mio” on a paddleboard as he stroked along the California Riviera, catching waves and standing on top of the world. These days, though, standup paddleboarding has become de rigueur for celebrities and civilians wanting an efficient core workout with an ocean view. Joining Hamilton on Saturday were four-time Super Bowl–winning linebacker Bill Romanowski, tennis legend John McEnroe, actor John C. McGinley and two members of Rage Against the Machine, to name a few. At one moment, Hamilton could be seen giving actress Rachel Griffiths surfing instructions, and the next, paddling out to rescue someone who’d strayed too close to the pier.

Around 5 o’clock, Kalama took the microphone to introduce a professional auctioneer who had agreed to talk some money out of the deep pockets on hand. Two standup paddleboards sold for $2,000 and $2,500, and a tennis racket signed by John McEnroe topped out at $1,500. When someone paid $10,000 for a private surf lesson with Hamilton, the auctioneer started bidding at $10,000 for a “Kalama Camp” on Maui — deep immersion into Kalama’s world of outrigger and standup paddleboarding, with some canoe surfing and, perhaps, a mission to toilet paper Hamilton’s house thrown in. The gavel came down on $13,000.

The money went to the National Autism Association, and autism is what the whole day was about. “The parents, the people who have to live with children who are autistic — that’s a heavy thing,” Hamilton said to the crowd. “I have this incredible respect for Don King and his family and .?.?. we are here for Beautiful Son, which is Don King’s film about autism — about his son and about the spectrum disorder.”

Don King is a pioneering surf photographer who transitioned into water cinematography and shot the body-surfing sequences for City of Angels, the raft scenes for Castaway and the opening surfing sequence for Die Another Day, using Hamilton, Kalama and Darrick Doerner as stuntmen. King and wife Julianne’s son Beau was born in 2000, and their normal, happy child changed dramatically at 2, when “the light went out,” according to King. Beautiful Son is King’s in-progress documentary about Beau’s struggle with autism, and the wider issues involved at a time when one in 160 American kids is diagnosed with the disorder.

After the auction, we returned to the barbecue area, where a portable screen had been set up, and settled on the sand to watch Path of Purpose, a film documenting the great lengths to which Hamilton and Kalama have paddled or pedaled to help raise money for Beautiful Son. The film begins by following Hamilton on a 70-mile bike journey from London to Dover, then a solo 20-mile standup paddleboard crossing of the English Channel to Le Touquet in France. The next day, he jumped on a bike and finished 190 miles later at the Arc de Triomphe with these words: “If you want to, and you really put your mind to it, we can go a lot farther than you think. No matter what you are doing, you can do more, a lot more.”

After the movie, Don King said that Path of Purpose had raised $40,000 for Beautiful Son, which King will tour and hopes to get on PBS. “There is no stronger drive for a parent to get their child back,” King told the crowd.