What It Takes To Be As Fit As Mr Laird Hamilton
The big-wave surfer might be 54, but he’s only just hitting his peak – here’s how he does it
Frankly we could be forgiven, after all these years, for underappreciating the sight of Mr Laird Hamilton sliding down the sheer, slippery face of one gargantuan wave after another – he makes it look so easy, for one; and nothing in our lives can properly prepare us for the scale of the sea around him as a mountain of water threatens to swallow this 6ft 3in man. But imagine the pure innovation required to get him to that point. When the Hawaii-native made his transition from kite-surfing to jet ski-assisted “tow-in surfing” in order to meet the pace of monumental waves, that was not an evolution, it was something more akin to revolution, and a uniquely personal breakthrough for a guy who is continually tinkering, pushing, improving – stretching the frontiers on diet, wellness, and fitness.
Indeed, even now, there is probably no one alive with more energy than the 54-year-old Mr Hamilton, who early on in his career opted out of traditional surf competitions, finding their mano a mano format unpleasant and institutional, to instead “surf as an art”. In truth, he competes more against himself than he does with anyone else. Every morning, a motley crew of men and women – many of them giants in their particular industries – join Mr Hamilton and his wife, the legendary volleyball star and fitness guru Ms Gabby Reece, at their home in Malibu for an impromptu exercise session. Here he gives us a glimpse of his weekly regimen (as if we could ever keep up).
What is your food philosophy?
I grew up in Hawaii, exposed to a big variety of food, and I think I’ve always had a unique perspective on food. I guess I’m keto; that’s a nice way of describing it. I’ve been paleo since before the modern paleo revolution. I’ve always looked at food as fuel. Friends of mine are like, “Wow, you’re so disciplined with your eating!” And I don’t feel like I’m so disciplined because I’m not so worried about just eating things that maybe aren’t great. But I don’t make it a habit. You know the old saying, “You are what you eat.” I have a saying, “Potato chips in, potato chips out.” If you want to perform at a high level... rockets need rocket fuel. I just don’t give the food that much power over me. I like to eat wild protein and farm-grown vegetables. And I’ve really come to appreciate high-quality fats as well.
What don’t you eat?
I don’t have a ton of pasta, but I want to be a flexitarian; I want to be able to adapt and eat what I need to and have my body adjust. The other night, we had a gluten-free elk lasagna that was crazy good. And then I just go off of how my body reacts to certain stuff. If I get some indigestion or my body doesn’t respond well to something, I just don’t eat that in the future. I try to listen to my stomach. But generally, the three devils are white flour, white sugar, and white milk – and, if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. I mean, I think it is a personal thing, but, at the end of the day, our bodies are designed to consume whole-food ingredients.
Where are you getting your ingredients?
I have people with access to wild protein, and I’ll have some wild sea bass show up at my house. I’ll have wild salmon come in from Alaska, or something. And then I have friends that have vegetable gardens, and they send me boxes. Gabby goes to the farmer’s market and does a lot of that kind of stuff. I try not to be too crazy about [the shopping, the preparations], because sometimes the stress creates other problems. I’ll have requests. I’ll go, “Hey, can you find me some raw cream, or some fertile eggs?” I’ll get friends to send me some sunflower seed oil that they make in Austria. We know guys who have olive farms, and they send the big things of olive oil. I’m always looking for cool stuff like that. We’ll go online and I got a big chaga [medicinal mushroom] pot on my stove that kind of burns 24 hours a day. I drink that at night before I sleep and I like the way it affects my sleep and my digestion. I have certain habits like that, that probably override a lot of the wrongs that I do.
Are you doing smoothies with adaptogens – maca, and the other unpronounceables?
I’ve kind of swayed away from smoothies because I’m trying to reduce my sugar intake. I have some coconut sugar in my coffee, and of course there’s sugar in fruit, but my sugar intake is very low.
Mr Laird Hamilton in Malibu, California, September 2016. Photograph by Instar Images
What’s a typical day for your diet?
Hydrating well in the morning with water. I’ll also drink a ginger-and-lemon water with Himalayan salt and an ocean mineral supplement. And then I’ll enjoy my coffee, which I use as a platform to work in high-quality fats, and even proteins. What I’ve noticed lately is that, the better I eat, if I get the minerals and nutrients I need, my appetite goes down – and I have been known to have a pretty unquenchable appetite. Sometimes I’ll only eat one meal a day. On an ideal day, I’ll have steamed or roasted veggies – cauliflower, broccoli, kale, spinach, something – and a good protein: either eggs or wild salmon, grilled, with avocado and a bunch of olive oil. I really like a ton of variety. So, one day I might have a veggie scramble, and the next day I feel like having a chia seed bowl with coconut milk and blueberries, so I’ll have that.
And variety is big in your workouts as well.
I’ll bounce around. I’ll go do a day of yoga, and then we’ll do some isometrics on another day, and then we’ll do some breath work, and then we’ll do lifting, or some pool work. My workouts... I don’t know fully what they’re going to look like. Today, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was letting my body feel it. We had a pretty intense day today. I had 10 men over, and first we heated up in the sauna so we got hot and sweaty. Then we did an isometric stance, where we kind of stood in a horse, which is kind of like a sumo stance with our arms out. And we were doing a breathing pattern, which was kind of evolving. As our fatigue level increased, we began to increase our breath in order to sustain the position. And then we incorporated ice within that. After about 10 minutes standing in the stance, one-by-one, each guy got into this tub that was full of ice, and stayed there for about two minutes. And then we went back around and went back through it again, meanwhile holding the stance, and moving our arms. And at times coming up out of the stance and recovering and then we went into breath-holds, and back into the stance again. And kind of fatigued our system. And then we ate some charcoal, just to try to help us with the detox that our body went through. That was today’s work.
It varies all the time. I have some specific pool training routines that we do with weightlifting and swimming combined. I have a tendency to kind of feel it, and go how we’re feeling, modify and adjust things. And try to create as much variety as we can, always keeping the body guessing, adapting. I attribute part of [my adaptation] to [a fear of] boredom, to my interest in trying to continue to learn, and having the benefits of that ever kind of learning spirit. That’s where all the big gains happen.
Do you make special time to get into flow state, to meditate?
I mean, that’s built into everything I do. A lot of that breath work stuff, you’re going to go away. You’re gonna “travel”.
I think a lot of us have lost the ability to listen to our bodies.
And our instincts have become so dulled because we don’t rely on them so much anymore. A friend of mine says, “You’re your own greatest doctor, at the end of the day, because no one can heal you like you can.” Only you know how you’re feeling, how you’re responding to the medicines that you’re using. And I think that’s important for all of us, to start to listen to your voice that says, “I didn’t get enough sleep last night, I don’t feel great.” Not because we’re supposed to get this many hours.
So, if tomorrow you wake up and there is some sort of meteorological…
Phenomenon? I mean, you just drop everything. I literally open the window and look out at the ocean, and if there’s surf, I’ll walk right away from the training. Some of the guys will come with me, some won’t. We’ve created these environments where we don’t move, and then we’re in the same routine, eating the same thing... Gabby calls it “death by domestication”. On the other hand, with the way I was raised, there is a wildness in me. I’m still looking to the conditions to dictate the outcome. And it’s a little bit like being a hunter – you look outside and the herd goes running by… “Hey, don’t worry! I’ll be back!”