Posted: Dec 08 2014

By Grant Davis On December 1st, 2014
Malibu, California

family photo
Laird, Gabby and their two youngest daughters enjoy their local playground, the beach in Malibu, California, that’s within walking distance from their summer home.

It’s rare enough that a person is known around the world by their first name. Think Elvis, Cher or Kanye. But a marriage of two such people at the top of their game is even more unique. Exhibit A: big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton, 50, and former pro-volleyball player Gabby Reece, 44, the Inspirato members otherwise known as Laird and Gabby.

Laird made his name as a fearless and innovative big-wave rider and stand-up paddleboard (SUP) pioneer. His feats have been chronicled in the surfing documentary Riding Giants and the best seller The Wave. Equally famous is his fitness regimen and approach to life, which he laid out in his best seller Force of Nature.

Gabby’s own resumé is the equal of Laird’s: collegiate volleyball star, pro-tour regular, fashion model, TV personality, fitness entrepreneur and author of her own guide to the good life, My Foot is Too Big for the Glass Slipper.

Between the two of them they’re building their own businesses—Laird has a line of namesake SUP boards—splitting time between homes on Kauai and in Malibu and somehow finding time to stay as fit and strong as ever. Together they’re one of the world’s ultimate power couples that has, against common perception, turned into a tight-knit family that plays and travels together.

Reached by phone this past summer, we asked them for the secrets behind maintaining their marriage, raising children and finding balance in their full lives.

Gabby and Laird in Malibu.
gabby and laird

gabby and laird 2

INSPIRATO: How do you make this marriage work, since you both have such strong personalities?

GABBY: I think it helps that we both grew up on islands, where you can’t escape, and you’re forced to take people as they are. I grew up in the Caribbean (U.S. Virgin Islands). Laird is from Hawaii. Family and the natural surroundings played a big role in shaping our values. Granted, we sometimes take different paths to come to an agreement, but I trust that we will.

We’re both alphas, and in our early years I had to be right no matter what. But now I just want to get to a common solution. I don’t poke the bear. That’s not going to work, and I don’t expect Laird to do that with me. No one single person is going to make each other happy, and it’s foolish to expect the other person to do that. We’ve figured out our roles: I wanted someone to take care of the male roles—the big stuff—and Laird does that very well. I’m here to be the mom and make it better for him, and that’s my choice.

We leave everything—our egos, our combativeness—at the front door. We don’t let that stuff into our family life.

LAIRD: In all successful relationships, the man respects the woman—and it takes a special guy to handle a successful woman. You have to be confident in who you are and what you do.

Fortunately, I was given an incredible foundation from my independent mother. She showed me what was possible from a strong, loving woman.

Most men need their wives to need them, and I’ve seen that lead to their downfall. Gabby allows me to be the man I need to be. She’s not dependent on me, but she expects me to fill my role as the father and provider.

INSPIRATO: You spend October-March on Kauai for the surf and the rest of the year in Malibu to focus on your careers. How does Hawaii differ from California?

GABBY: The difference between the two is that in Hawaii, if you’re invited to dinner, it’s assumed that the children are invited as well. On the islands, no one treats children like they’re not part of the conversation. People talk to children as people and include them in adventures and conversations. This is important, especially for our girls (Gabby has a 19-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, and two daughters with Laird, ages 6 and 10.). They’ve learned to handle themselves around adults and that makes them more mature.

That isn’t to say that Hawaii’s better. On the mainland, everyone seems to be trying to get somewhere. Kids are taught to shoot for the moon, to believe in their ability to do anything, to follow their passions. In Hawaii, you’re stuck in the middle of the Pacific, and it can be difficult to see how you’re going to follow your passion from there.

LAIRD: We’re more grounded in Kauai, and that’s mostly because everything is right there. All my family, the beach, friends: they’re just down the road. It’s more intimate. California has more distractions, more activities for the kids, more driving.

In Hawaii, the environment is fabulous. In Malibu, the people are fabulous. Our family unity is tight, and we have the Pacific Ocean outside our door in both places, so there is consistency.
Malibu, California

Laird watching his youngest daughter play on the beach.

INSPIRATO: You both described Hawaii vs. California in terms of family. how do you divvy up the parenting?

GABBY: We try to expose the girls to as many things as we can, encouraging them to find their voice and channel it. Even though I take care of the mom stuff, I’ve maintained my own individuality with my own projects, and I think our girls see that I’m not just the mom or the wife.

In some ways, I’m relieved that I didn’t have a son. That way no one has to be Laird, you know? It’s a test for Laird to deal with all these women in the house…but I’ll admit, like any parents, some days we have our doubts that we know what we’re doing.

LAIRD: You have to decide what level you want to participate in your children’s lives. The more you do, the better your relationship is going to be. You have to listen to your instincts. You know when it’s time to lay down the law.

I’m the dad, the cleanup guy. I deal with the bigger messes. But I also provide more adventures and excitement. It works out.

Life with three daughters can be nerve-wracking, but it’s amazing to be loved by so many different women. Each is unique. I always said I wanted to be surrounded by women. Then I got Gabby and three daughters!

INSPIRATO: Both of you have long been the faces of an incredibly fit lifestyle. What’s your approach to staying in shape for your entire life?

GABBY: I take the choice out of exercise. It’s not an option. Even when the girls were babies, taking 15 minutes to exercise helped me take care of everything else. I won’t say my nutrition is perfect. If I’m at a restaurant and there’s fresh pasta on the menu, I’m going to order it. At home, though, I avoid grains and do a lot of the cooking to control what our family eats.

LAIRD: People always ask me when they see me working out, “What are you training for?” The answer is I’m training for life. There are these guys I know in their 80s and 70s that I look up to, and the one thing they have in common is that they all still train. I’m following their lead.

Like Gabby, working out isn’t an option; sleep, eat and workout. All training does is get us back what we lost when we stopped having to hunt down our food. Our bodies are built for it already. I’m not doing anything new here.

INSPIRATO: As world travelers, what have you learned, and where would you like to go?

GABBY: We have three kinds of travel. Work travel for me, which is—I hate to say it—more enjoyable now that I have kids. Then there’s Laird travel, which is him chasing a swell. We might go with him as a family, but he’s not really with us. Finally, there’s family travel, when we go on adventures. We have to be doing stuff. We can’t lie around a resort pool; if we tried, Laird would go crazy and start to drive us crazy.

We pack light, although I sometimes over-think the planning: What do we need to bring? Where are we going to stay? I’m still envious of Laird’s ability to just get up and go and figure it out later.

The one important rule I have with the girls is that when we go to a place, we eat what they eat. I’m not bringing food or going to waste time trying to find foods that I know they like. Eating is a part of travel.

I’d like to go to Africa, away from water, away from what’s normal for us. When you put yourself in those places your life looks so far away. It makes a big impact.

LAIRD: Travel’s the great educator, especially for the girls. You can’t put a value on it.

I do need to travel with a purpose, though. I can’t go somewhere to just hang out with friends. When I fly to Chile to surf or go snowboarding in Russia or some other adventure, I try to include the family when I can and go see friends along the way. Or take the girls to Paris to show them what that’s like. There needs to be a reason to go, so you go deeper into whatever place you’re visiting to find those unforgettable experiences.

— As told to Grant Davis, photography by Andrew Mcpherson