With two daughters, a new circuit-training class and the launch of cutting-edge surfboard designs between them, Power duo Laird Hamilton and Gabrielle Reece reflect on the past, how it’s made them stronger and why they aren’t slowing down anytime soon.
It’s rare to find Laird Hamilton and Gabrielle Reece in repose. Surfing legend Hamilton and pro volleyball player Reece are always on the move, whether they’re demonstrating their natural athletic prowess (a video of Hamilton riding a wave for 400 yards and then maneuvering between Malibu Pier’s narrow pilings went viral this summer) or traveling between their homes in Malibu and Hawaii along with their two daughters, Reece, 11, and Brodie, 6. C Editor-at-Large Kendall Conrad caught up with the couple in Malibu as they prepared to head back to their ranch in Kauai for the winter. After an underwater training session, a hot sauna stint and an icy plunge in a galvanized tub, they opened up about everything from Reece’s new high-intensity circuit-training class to Hamilton conquering 100-foot waves and the first time they met.
KC: You recently seized an opportunity to shoot the Malibu Pier. What was that like?
LH: Shooting the pier is just taking advantage of a uniquely large swell in Malibu. People say, “Why would you do that?” I tell them it’s like climbing up a cliff you want to jump off—you finally get to the place that you’re going to jump, and of course you’re going to because you’ve climbed all the way there. The pier just represents the end of the ride, the crescendo. In any sport, especially with surfing, you’re always looking for an opportunity from Mother Nature.
KC: What’s going through your mind when you’re hitting 50 mph on 100-foot waves?
LH: There is no room for conscious thought other than what you have to do. Your unconscious moves at 32,000 times the speed of your conscious mind, which in a way, if you’re able to tap into that, is like being telepathic. They call it genius when the conscious thought becomes unconscious, like when somebody masters something after 10,000 hours. At that point it’s an unconscious act, and it is really motored by your experience. Surfing is a thing that has no beginning and no end—I think that there are very few things we experience in our life that are like that. Meditation can get you into a similar zone. Sex too, when you’re in that moment of true intimacy, there is no time or space. Nothing gives you a greater feeling of accomplishment, which is what I think all of us are seeking in everything we’re doing.
KC: Gabby, how do you feel about him on these waves?
GR: Laird approaches his sport with a really professional attitude. His preparation and training give me a lot of confidence. It’s part of his destiny and I certainly would never get in the way of someone’s destiny. He is one of the most talented athletes I have ever met, but really he’s more of an artist and it is his art. I have had moments though, like once a year, when I wake up and get a feeling: Somehow I always get him on the phone and I say, “Yo, heads up.” I’ll get instincts and I always honor that.
KC: Laird, you met Gabby in 1995, when she interviewed you for the TV show “The Extremists.” Was it love at first sight?
LH: It was more like love at first conversation.
GR: Once you get Laird’s respect then you’re in good shape.
LH: We both grew up on islands. We had some parent situations that were less than normal. I wanted to construct a different life and reality for myself and have a partner who felt the same way.
GR: And you want to break the bad things but borrow the good things. Once we realized that, we were living together eight days later.
KC: Gabby, you’ve co-authored two books. What’s appealing to you about that medium?
GR: Well I wrote a book in ’97 called Big Girl in the Middle, and I had been writing columns for magazines since ’92. I like to connect with people through writing because it can be about them too, not just “How’s my spike?” or, “How does my skin look?” I joked about doing a blog called Death by Domestication that talked about trying to balance all these things: being a woman, being in a relationship, growing older, finding happiness as an individual and bringing children into it. So it started as a joke, because I thought a lot of people probably feel that way—how do you navigate that and not die in it? My manager at the time actually asked if I would be interested in expanding that into a book, and then I hooked up with Karen Karbo again [for 2013’s My Foot Is Too Big for the Glass Slipper: A Guide to the Less Than Perfect Life].
KC: How do you balance family life between here and Hawaii?
LH: I’m always ready for the change at the end of the season. It’s super balanced. Gabby says the girls are such troopers, and I say, “Well, that’s because we’ve trooped them.”
It’s what they know and it’s natural. It’s a nomadic way of life and a certain portion of people on earth are meant to migrate; it’s what the [Native Americans] have always done, animals too.
KC: Laird, what is your favorite wave in California?
LH: Malibu is one of the most perfect waves in the world. Rincon is also another perfect one. I love The Wedge in Newport because it has Hawaiian power.
KC: And which of your new designs are you excited about?
LH: My objective has been: How do I continue to enjoy surfing after more than 45 years and how do I keep it new for another 40? I’m always looking for new ways that allow me to be a beginner again and enjoy lesser surf. The Foil [board] does that. It can make medium days giant, because you’re booted in and there’s a lot more going on. It’s also more sensitive and you can ride waves that don’t break. The latest board that I have been working on is called The Serrater. It stems from the humpback whale’s side fins, which have these cuts in them that make their fins more efficient. The golf board is in production now. It’s an automated skateboard with four-wheel drive that you ride on the golf course. It activates you and it makes good players play better.
KC: And what about submersibles?
LH: We are working on them now. I’ll be riding waves under water before I’m finished. The sensation will be pretty fantastic riding just under the surface, beautiful! There will be a special suit that is hydrodynamic so you can get into bigger surf. In order to go 30mph underwater (that’s 300 mph through the air) you have to be shaped like a dolphin.
KC: Gabby, what’s next for you?
GR: I will be spending the next year and a half launching HIGHX [the circuit-training class that she created]. I will train the master trainers and then they will train others all over the world.
KC: What is the significance of being a Waterman, Laird?
LH: Being a Waterman means you are conscious of your existence and that you are part of it and how you manifest it. You need to be like water, and flow through life and look for the path of least resistance and be skilled at a multitude of disciplines in the water and out. Watermen, or Waterpeople, have a completely different mentality as far as the way they look at the world, their conscience, their relationship with the environment and their awareness of nature and weather. Look, the earth is 71 percent water and growing; it’s a water world.
KC: How do you become a Waterman?
LH: My stepdad always used to say, big-wave riders [are] born, not made. It’s the same with Watermen: You just have it in you, but you still need to learn it and to cultivate it. I’ve been thinking a lot about [an academy] lately, a young men’s thing. Give me 15-to 20-year-olds. I’ll get a couple of my buddies and we’ll teach them how.
KC: What do you find most rewarding professionally?
LH: When I see 400 people paddling, lined up at the battle to race—that is the trophy I want. I couldn’t care less about plaques on my wall, but if you make people’s lives better and they are in the ocean and have an experience—that is the real stuff.
KC: What does California mean to you?
LH: I was born here; I will always be from California, even though I lived my entire life in Hawaii. There’s a lot of creative people, information and innovation happening here. If you want to expand your brain this is a good place to be.
GR: I think California in general has so much to offer—such diverse nature, and as far as health and fitness, this is a wonderful place to learn about the latest things going on. You can dream here—I love that for my daughters.
By Kendall Conrad.
Photographed by Phillip Dixon.