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  • interview_gabby_reece_zip_magazine
Gabby Reece


    27 March 2019


    With her warm clear voice and her gorgeous "blue-green" eyes, one becomes enchanted by Gabby Reece in an instant. Her supernatural beauty and kindness lead her on a very special path in her life. The iconic American Athlete, Model, Mother of three, author, Fitness Leader and wife of Surf Legend Laird Hamilton sat down with us via facetime to chat about her career, family and visions.

    Interview by Katja Schmolka @katjaschmolka

    Katja Schmolka: When you think back of your childhood, what were the things you loved to do most? And how do they show in your professional careers?

    Gabby Reece: I was very young and I didn't live with either one of my parents for a few years, and during that time my father passed away. I then moved back with my mother when I was about seven years old to the Caribbean. My father was actually from Trinidad. I think in a really simple way I have always responded well. That might sound silly, but some kind of order in some way and work was good for me. You know this is something that's been really good for me as an adult; however it’s also the thing I have to fight as an adult because we can't just be making lists of things we wish to accomplish, or structures we have to adapt to. We have to be flexible and at the same time, try as much as possible to have fun. 

    I have always been around water and so I think that regardless of whether I realized it or not, it has always had a profound impact on me even if I didn’t necessarily have to go into the water. Having a view of the horizon, and being near water has been really important to me. And the one thing I was really about as a kid was the fact that nobody ever told me that I had to be anything. So I didn’t grow up with this idea that I have to go to the university and study law in order to become a lawyer. None of that was put on me. What allowed me as an adult to expand in directions that felt natural to who I am as a person, as my spirit. 

    K.S.: Everything you do, whether within the scope of your professional career in Volleyball, modeling & acting, writing your books, or inventing new extraordinary health & fitness programs like XPT LIFE - You do all that with so much love and passion; is there a red thread that all these different worlds have in common? 


    G.R.: I think when I was very young between eighteen and twenty-five I was really busy with modeling. And I was playing University Volleyball continuously at the same time until I became a professional. What I understood early was that I was going to have limitations in modeling. I knew that because of my size, (I am 6´3” feet tall and even the way that I looked) – I knew all of that, was going to be a limitation. And also it wasn’t something that I could control. In sports you work harder, you try harder - sports is not subjective, it´s objective. It´s not about you being too tall, too blond or whatever. So I understood that I was into fashion but I understood my limits as well, so I just moved on with my career in a natural way to reflect who I was - a bigger girl that really loved sports. Also, going into fashion and having people do your Make Up and taking pictures and working with really talented people is excellent. You get the opportunity to travel around the world and spend time in very beautiful places. However, there’s a bigger part of me that would rather work in a sweaty ponytail. I was professionally trained in one discipline but after that, it was writing, television but I focused more on interviewing people and then sports and fitness. So even though there is a thread that connects all the different things I did, I had a harder time staying strong as a Volleyball player and at the same time remaining thin for modelling. There came a point where I created an environment where I didn’t have to be in conflict anymore. 

    K. S.: That must have been very hard for you.

    G.R.: You have to be clear with yourself, you have to be honest with yourself, and you have to know that you might not take the popular path. You may not even take the path that´s easier or obvious, but then if you trust that the path genuinely reflects the person that you really are, then in the end, even though we don´t know it will work. 

    Here is my view on the definition of success. I have three daughters if they follow their passion, and they are able to express themselves, then for me, that is the definition of success. I make sure the definition is not about money, so I honoured myself; my life painting is a reflection of who I really am. The objective is to have faith that it´s all going to be okay. So for me, it was more of that. You have to be conscious of your ego and your fears so you are sure when you are about making real decisions. Who is making the decision? Which part of yourself? And even if it is for money or based on your ego, at least you will know you’re being honest with yourself. And so you proceed by saying:  “I am very clear on why I am doing this”.  

    K.S.: What really drives you?

    G.R.: Fear, I would be lying if I didn’t say that. It has shifted more since I got older because I'm really trying to be conscious when saying: “Hey can I do it out of the inspiration and desire, and not just out of fear?” Also, I have to be sure I have security because that was a big thing during my childhood. Security was what motivated me too. So honesty too played a big role, but a lot of it is down to fear.

    K.S: How did you create these extraordinary fitness training programs?

    G.R: When we talk about XPT LIFE, you realise that part of the teamwork with Laird involves water and pool. You know I have been with Laird over twenty-three years and this was something we were naturally doing, and then after 10 years of that type of training, we thought we could probably share this with other people. There are so many benefits like low impact on your joints; you train in compression, the beautiful environment - being in nature. It´s pretty special. Everything on that side has been born out of that notion: “We are benefitting good things from it, how do we share this?”  

    Moreover, there´s another workout that I started in Hawaii. We live there for six months a year and they had closed the gym on Kawai. So I invited eight friends and said: “Okay listen, I will bring dumbbells, stability balls, kettlebells, and we can work out together. All great workouts!” There, people would come to me and say: “Gabby I heard you are doing this workout, can I join?” And so I turned it into a workout class session. Usually, I had 70 to 80 people. And what was so great was that I used to joke that it wasn’t a “democracy but a dictatorship”. (We both laughed) It was free like community service, and it allowed me to explore how to manage 80 people. “So they have to be on teams. How do I make these teams? How do I actually inspire people?” I came up with this idea: “Okay, everyone will spend three minutes at each station; within that station, everyone has to spend 30 seconds doing something, and then once you are done with that station you´re done, you follow the team in front of you. You move on so you are successful. There are about fifteen stations by the time you are done, you´ve done cardio, vascular exercise, resistance training for most of the muscles in your body, and you’ve spent time on a team that reflects you. So I have a team of 70-year-old women that follow a team of 25-year-old men. And they are all insulated and isolated and yet they are all together. That was just done through trial and error. I have been teaching this for free basically for 10 years.

    When you talk about fitness, you realise that people are not successful when it comes to that because they don’t have the time, they get bored, or because every time they come to class the work out is different; also some of their teammates wouldn’t show up. So Laird and I implemented all that in our workout. However, here’s what has really become important to Laird and I - to XPT LIFE, - there is no one size that fits all, there is no one perfect diet, there is no type of movement that works for everybody. And really, if you asked me underneath all that, I’ll say it all boils down to the same thing which is, wanting to encourage people to connect by asking themselves questions like; “What really feels good for me?” What type of movement is right for me? Am I a vegan, do I eat a lot or do I eat a little? 

    Nobody has all the answers. This is a journey; if we are willing to take the time to do a little exploration then it’s sort of like: “We probably could boost that weight which people would like to have or boost the energy, and certainly never tell anybody how they should live because that is a mistake. The question is:” Can we go together on a journey, can we give each other room. Laird and I can be successful that way because first of all we love and encourage each other, and we have a system, an environment that supports us because we can´t do it alone. 

    K.S.: Do you have a special beauty ritual? 

    G.R.: It really starts with food. I have been pretty healthy my whole life and always conscious of what I eat. So my beauty regiment starts with being comfortable - and knowing that when I have no makeup on and I am sweaty, I’m doing the number one thing to be pretty. Sometimes you have to choose. Being perfectly pretty and putting yourself together takes so much time and energy. The beauty generation is a little heavier nowadays than in my twenties. I use a Japanese charcoal soap which cleanses my face. I really like the Radical Skincare. It has very good ingredients. I am also diligent about sunblock.

    K.S.: Do you feel sometimes stressed juggling your projects and your family? How do you find stillness?

    G.R.: I feel like as I go through time, I worry about a lot of things I have no power over. One is that I really don’t have control. I make plans I am very organized, but in that process, I still remind myself: “Hi listen we are not really in control, we are doing the best we can, and we are hoping we can get this thing done”. And then the second part of that is to adapt. So if something happens, freaking out about that, it´s pointless! What are we talking about? Trying to maintain my perspective, and keeping my mind always on the most important things such as my kids being healthy, my marriage is in a good place, I am healthy. I have learned going step by step, not to have a huge wave washed over me. I used to pride myself on doing different things diversely and I still can, but I don’t look at it as multitasking. Regardless of whatever I am doing, I try doing things but I never leave them open. Like “Okay my children need me right now, let me stop and look after them to see what’s going on”. It´s also okay to say I don´t have time right now because I have four other people waiting for me, but I will come back to you and we’ll talk about it. 

    K.S.: Are there any absolutely favourite things that you love to do with your daughters? 

    G.R.:  I thought about this a lot because my youngest daughter is already eleven years old, my other daughter is out of the house, and I have another fifteen-year-old daughter. To be honest with you, I carry a bit of guilt in this way. Thoughts keep popping in my head: “Wasn´t I romantic enough?” Meaning I see certain moms and their peers. They are sort of whimsical. In a certain way, I’m a serious person and I think I have a sense of humour underneath in there. I think my kids would say that I am trustworthy, that they can rely on me, but I am by nature very serious. I try to create a space for my children to explore things. I would ask them: “Do you want to try this, or that?” I try to be a good example for them. What we like in our family is being around nature and moving around, but I don´t know if it’s like our thing because I think it´s also a big part of our lives. However, I would never exaggerate about the way I have done it. I feel guilty sometimes because I didn’t read enough books to my kids, but I guess that´s natural, It´s also important to stay in touch with knowing, you would have thought that you could do it better, and then also saying: “okay”. At that moment I did the best I could and when my kids ever come to me and say: “You didn´t do this for me, and I needed it”. That I still have the ability to not be defensive and say: “Okay I have heard, listened to that”. I can look at that because sometimes that´s what my kids want. I think with parenting we never have the notion - “Oh I got this right”. But we get other things. 

    K.S.: You have become a role model of inspiration for women worldwide, what is the message you would like to send to all the women out there right now?

    G.R.: I would love to give you an interesting thought from my youngest daughter. She would show me pictures of girls on social media. And there´s a lot that has been happening in order to look like the girls. I would say:” But you know a lot of that isn´t real. And then my daughter would say to me: “But mom think about this, if you weren’t born as naturally pretty as another girl, there are things that people can do now, in order to look more attractive”. And that´s the reality, right?

    I say that delicately and precisely. I would encourage all women no matter what generation to be confident in expressing themselves, understanding themselves, focus on self-development, and on the gifts or skills that they have. And of course we all want to be attractive and pretty, but I tell my daughters to be clear about what your priority is because if my priority was about being pretty that means I’ll grow poor each day at the age of 35. Also, there are a lot of things that are unfair in this world, there is no doubt. But to taking up a victim role to further your position is tricky. I am not suggesting that somebody had trauma and something really bad has happened. I am talking with regards to the little cultural tone that people use when complaining in order to further their dialogue versus the kind we ought to use in order to participate in finding the overall solution. Because one thing about being a victim is the fact that, firstly you are giving away control and secondly, we can´t put the blame on another whole group for things that happen.

    If I could empower women to first of all to develop their confidence. Real femininity to me involves leading with love. But behind is a pretty iron fist. If we look at nature it´s like the sun is shining, it´s warm and all these beautiful things, but nothing is heavier than Mother Nature. If we move through situations we need to lead with love because that´s one of the greatest things that we contribute as women. And it is so powerful. People think that it is weak, but I say no! It´s a powerful choice. We need a lot of that right now. To love doesn’t mean that I am doing what you want, or that I am your doormat. It means something else. It means that I accept you for who you are. I love myself. Beauty comes from your own power beyond your perfect hair and your perfectly shaped butt. As someone who is involved in fitness, I always try to stay connected to the natural part of being a human. This biology is so important that it enables us to experience all these cycles. 

    K.S.: How did you and your family experience the recent wildfires in Malibu?

    You feel for the people who lost everything. The hard part is now; they don’t have the necessary assistance. Laird saved our house and a couple of our neighbours houses with a pump he bought a few days before the fire happened, and I wasn´t really taking him seriously. I feel really fortunate because at the end of the day for women with children it´s about nesting. It´s so powerful. So when you have been through a fire and your house wasn´t burned down, you realise the need to be grateful. Kind of like: “What was I complaining about?!” So it´s nothing. We feel for our community here. And as members, Laird and I will always do what we can to help, to support people. Laird says: “When you are part of a community, you just do what you do to help. Whatever you are good at, whatever you can contribute. That´s what life is about. It´s pretty simple. 

    K.S.: If you had three wishes that could come true in an instant, what would you wish for?

    I wish that whether it´s nature or manmade, we could figure out how to undo some of the things we have done to our nature because I know that we are on some sort of a timeline. We have got about thirty years to dial stuff in. I feel like bad news is always at the front winning and it’s most often the loudest, but I don´t actually feel that that’s how it really is. I wish we could hear about all the positive news. They do exist as well. Laird always says: “Hope, Peace and Love, if we had a little more of that, people would be happier.” 

    Thank you for the interview.




    image: Gabby Reece & her little daughter, courtesy of Pamela Hanson.


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