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Gabby Reece and Laird Hamilton on when they first met: 'It was no love at first sight. It was infatuation after first conversation'

Rachel Grumman Bender
Beauty and Style Editor
Yahoo Lifestyle

Gabby Reece and Laird Hamilton don’t have a typical sweet and sappy love story. But listening to the couple describe the ups and downs of their nearly 21-year marriage and the concerted effort they put into their relationship and each other’s happiness, it’s apparent that there’s a deep love, respect, and admiration between them.

Reece, a professional volleyball player and model, and Hamilton, a big-wave surfer, met in 1995 when Reece was hosting the TV show The Extremists. Though Hamilton admits he wasn’t exactly interested in doing the interview for the show.

“I had no idea who Gabby was,” the 54-year-old tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Who is this? Another pretty bimbo that’s going to ask me dumb questions.”

“I had no idea who Gabby was,” the 54-year-old tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Who is this? Another pretty bimbo that’s going to ask me dumb questions.”

Reece tells Yahoo Lifestyle that not surprisingly, “there were no sparks” between the two athletes during the interview.

Adds Hamilton: “Ultimately, it was no love at first sight. It was infatuation after first conversation. My intrigue of Gabby was brought to life after realizing how smart she was.”

But it wasn’t smooth sailing at the beginning of their relationship. At the time, Hamilton was married — although he shares he was “miserable” and eventually got divorced — and he had an infant daughter, while Reece had a boyfriend. But they knew this was something special and different.

As Reece puts it: “I basically got hit by a lightning bolt.”

Hamilton having a young child made both of them realize that a “fling” was off the table, and that if they were going to have a romantic relationship they would go all in — which is exactly what they did.

When they met, Reece was living in California and Hamilton was living in his home state of Hawaii. So rather than try long-distance dating, Hamilton moved in with Reece only eight days after they’d met. “It does sounds funny now, especially now that we have three daughters,” says 48-year-old Reece.

She adds: “One thing I have learned from Laird — when you do something, you sort of really fully and wholly commit, and that’s how Laird lives his life.”

The couple got married in November 1997 — two years to the day they did that fateful interview — and are parents to 23-year-old Izabella (Hamilton’s daughter from his previous marriage, whom they call Bela), 14-year-old Reece, and 10-year-old Brody Jo.

Although Reece shares that there were many “open-ended messy bits” involved in getting together, she says her instinct told her “Laird was the one. I trusted that, and I’m really glad I did.”

She continues: “It changed my whole life. The trajectory of my life was changed by the day that I met Laird.”

That doesn’t mean it’s been blissful ever since. The couple is candid about going through rough patches in their marriage and the work they’ve put into their relationship. Reece also shares that she had to learn how to have healthy confrontation in a marriage, discuss uncomfortable subjects, and express her real feelings with her partner. “And to know that it would be not only OK but better,” she says.

They view their tough times as “the greatest gifts that you can get in a relationship.”

As Reece puts it: “You have the opportunity to show somebody your ‘ugly cards,’ and if they can stand there and say … ‘I love you’ and also, ‘You’ve hurt me and I’m willing to forgive you’ — what that can do to your relationship is pretty powerful. What it says to the other person is not only can I not be my best and this person will accept me, but they are actually really looking out for me.”

Want more love? Watch all episodes of It’s Love here. 

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