Standing next to him, it’s hard to imagine that Laird Hamilton is 52. It’s even harder to imagine that just six months ago he had his hip replaced.
“It’s titanium,” he says. “But it’s why I started working out in the pool.”
The big-wave surfer and inventor of tow-in surfing tells me this as we’re sitting in his barrel-shaped sauna along with about 10 other journalists and bloggers, sweating out toxins at over 200 degrees. We just got out of a 45-degree ice bath; the interchange of extreme cold and extreme heat is integral to Laird’s workout.
We’re at their home perched high in the hills above Malibu where Sambazon invited us to workout with Laird Hamilton and his wife, pro volleyball player and exercise guru Gabby Reece. We’re also there to eat acai bowls.
The day started with Gabby teaching us her brand of high intensity interval training, HIGHX, which she’s been honing for seven years. It’s a series of short burst workouts at five different stations, each comprised of six 30-second intervals. That's 30 different alternating movements, ranging from compound lifting to cardio to balance and core in less than 10 minutes.
What happens in this style of workout is your body can’t adjust (or "get complacent") and you have to have complete focus to do the poses correctly. Critically, Gabby stresses form over speed, which she delivers in a commanding, encouraging tone — the woman is a born leader.
“We do this for much longer during our classes,” Gabby says. “And we switch up the exercises to keep it fresh, to keep you from getting complacent.”
HIGHX is taught at gyms throughout the country, and is continuing to spread.
After exiting the sauna, we rinsed and hopped in the pool, which Laird had specifically designed to have a sloping floor that mimics the ocean. His workouts are similar to Gabby’s in that they’re explosive — meaning you’re jumping and moving in bursts for short periods of time.
First, we grabbed dumbbells and walked into the water at shoulder height. We jumped out and down, blowing out air on the way to a squat on the floor before jumping up and out for air, and then back down, continuing until we were so deep that we could no longer make it up for air. At that point, we went back to our optimal depth and did about 10-12 reps.
We then swam the width of the pool holding a dumbbell close to our chest, with one hand and paddling and frog-kicking with the other, alternating between laps. We also used the slope to do jump lunges with a weight, alternating legs and arms between jumps.
Why do this? Well, first and foremost it’s one of the most fun workouts your correspondent has ever done, and not just because he was doing it in Laird and Gabby’s pool in the raw beauty of the Malibu mountains with hawks flying overhead. You’re essentially playing in a pool, with the major benefit that the water supports you, allowing you to focus on form while being infinitely better on your joints and muscles than lifting on land.
After this workout it was back to the sauna, and then the ice bath for two minutes. Laird got into this from Wim Hof, a breathing guru who’s called the Iceman because he uses his breath to regulate his body temperature, allowing him to endure extreme temperatures.
Laird led us in a series of breathing exercises derived from the Wim Hof Method and a Tibetan style taught by Tummo called breath of fire that’s meant to clear out your respiratory system, send blood to your head and recharge your immune system. I find this style of breathing sends me deeper into my Transcendental Meditation practice.
Like most press days, there was a dog and pony element, and this one was sponsored by Sambazon, a brand of Brazilian acai that blends nicely and lends itself well to pairing with granola and nuts for protein, an essential post-workout nutrient.
Then it was off to home to collapse into a deep slumber for proper recovery.