I’ve been lucky enough to meet movers and shakers on superyachts, private planes, and in their spectacular beach homes all over the world. But I’d never interviewed a famous power couple in a boiling hot sauna until I traveled to the Hawaiian island of Kauai to meet Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece.
Hamilton had just finished work pouring concrete for the house they’re building on Kauai’s north side. The sauna was inside a large barn on the property where he stores the surfboards he’s used to ride some of the world’s largest waves. And I was trying not to stare (or pass out from the heat) as Reece told me what it’s like to migrate between Malibu in the summer and Kauai in the winter. Then she flashed me a warm smile and said, “Time to get into the ice.”
The sauna and ice bath (thermoregulating) are part of the couple’s innovative XPT workout regime they share with a wide circle of famous friends (and via their select workshops held across the country). But as you’d expect, living by the ocean means more to them than simply having a cool place to work out.
Since Hamilton is one of the world’s most famous big wave surfers, the couple winters in Kauai for the waves. But Hamilton’s relationship with the ocean goes way deeper than just surfing. “I grew up in Hawaii,” he says. “And when you’re raised in Hawaii, you have a cultural connection to the ocean. A relationship. The ocean has taught me my greatest lessons and brought me many of the greatest rewards in my life. I wouldn’t be with Gabby or my kids if it wasn’t for the ocean. And I wouldn’t be building this house if it wasn’t for the ocean either.”
You’d think they’d build a house on a cliff overlooking a famous surf break, right? Not exactly. Instead they chose a peaceful piece of overgrown hillside in Princeville on Kauai’s north shore. The reason? A boat ramp. It’s one of only nine lots on the river with direct access to what Hamilton describes as his “professor, priest, and disciplinarian”—the open ocean. And his eyes light up when he describes the ultimate freedom and pure power that compel him to regularly risk his life surfing massive waves.
That’s why their homes always have a view of the ocean they but are set back from the coast. “I’m in the ocean and sand every day. For me, home is where I can retreat a bit from the power that’s given me everything in life, and scared me profoundly as well. I love walking in the grass and seeing waterfalls off in the distance,” says Hamilton, pointing out across the Hanalei Valley. “Plus, it’s just so darn pretty,” he adds with a totally disarming smile and not a whiff of sarcasm.
Reece further explains her husband’s vision for the house they are building when he first showed her the property. “I was like, ‘Cool, we’re buying a boat ramp. Whatever.’” That’s all she saw at first. “Then he nailed some slats in a tree. ‘Climb up there and look,’ he said. And then I understood.”
When the house is finished, every room will have a spectacular view of the entire Hanalei Valley, Hanalei River, and Hanalei Bay. “So he cleared the land,” she continues. “He built the barn and carved out the spot on the hillside for the house. We have two more concrete walls to pour and then we’ll be into framing.”
They worked with a local architect but are both heavily involved in the design and construction. The bottom level will have three bedroons for their girls. Upstairs, a huge great room will take full advantage of the view. The top floor is reserved for bedrooms and a giant office for Reece. Of course, they’ll also have a pool, sauna, ice tubs, and enough additional bedrooms to accommodate their many famous (and not-famous-at-all) friends who come to visit and work out.
“It’s a gift,” says Reece. “I think I’m the benefactor, but it’s a gift for Laird too because he really loves this special spot.”
“We bought the house in Malibu 20 years ago,” Reece says. “We had a really good feeling about the land and Laird was sold as soon as he saw its view of Point Dume, Paradise Cove, and Malibu’s undeveloped canyons. But we didn’t design or build the house. The house we’re building here [in Kauai] will be more of a reflection of my sense of style.”
Their Malibu house is large—about 10,000 square feet—but Reece is quick to point out they don’t need such a big house. Instead, they use the extra space to work out and build community with their friends. “The house provides,” she says. “It’s doing its job. We all sleep there. We’re safe there. We’re creating memories there. It provides safety and shelter for other people. But the house is not art. I appreciate art. But the magic of the house comes from the people and the view rather than the house itself.”
“Everyone always thinks Malibu is like Hollywood,” Hamilton adds. “But it’s really just a small town with lots of amazing people who are successful in diverse fields.” Many of those amazing people (including XPT ambassadors Rick Rubin, Kenny Chesney, and Joakim Noah, plus others like Orlando Bloom and Tim Ferriss) have participated in the regular workouts that go on at their Malibu place.
“We’ve built a really beautiful life in Malibu,” says Reece. “Some of the best people I’ve ever met are in Malibu. It doesn’t matter what they do or how much they have. Take my friend Kelly, for instance. She’s married to Ron Meyer, the head of Universal. This is a guy who works harder than any person I know, but he’ll drive the extra half hour into work just so he can wake up in the morning and look out at the ocean. Obviously Ron and I are different, but the point is, Malibu attracts interesting people who share a common connection to the ocean.”
And the cool thing about Reece is that she has lots of famous friends but also teaches three free fitness classes a week for the locals when she’s in Kauai. “You see what happens when people really work together,” she says. “Saying ‘We’re gonna do this together’ may be the best form of connection there is, and when people slow down and actually try to connect, amazing things happen.”
For Hamilton, who needs to be in the water to plug into the power of the ocean, the view will always be more important than the house. But Reece is a bit different. She uses their houses (and pools and saunas and ice baths) to plug into the power of people. I had a feeling that was the case when she and Hamilton treated me with such hospitality during my sauna/ice bath/interview, which took the better part of an afternoon. But it became crystal clear when I said thank you on the way back to my hotel.
“People always say to us, ‘Thank you for opening your home,’ ” she says. “But they don’t realize that they’re leaving their energy for us as well. We feel really fortunate because we live in beautiful places and get to share those places with lots of interesting people.”
I have a sneaky suspicion that the pure collective power of Gabby Reece and Laird Hamilton will always eclipse any house they build. But I still can’t wait to see it and share the story when it’s finished.