INTERVIEW: Kapuhala Eco Wellness Retreat Founder Stefano Passarello “We’re A Hotspot For Forward Thinkers”
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In this interview, we chat to Stefano Passarello, a serial entrepreneur known to some as the “Greater Bay Area Bio-Hacker.” Stefano is also the founder and CEO of Kapuhala Retreat, Koh Samui’s newest eco-wellness paradise that he hopes will become the testing grounds for business people and entrepreneurs to experience the benefits of biohacking. Stefano talks to us about what inspired the concept, what motivates him and the nitty-gritty of everything the retreat offers, from the buzzword bio-hacking to what it’s like being a “nomadic CEO.”
GQ: We love the concept behind Kapuhala Retreat, which elevates wellness tourism to give visitors a life-enhancing holistic experience. Just to introduce Kapuhala to our readers, could you give an overview of what Kapuhala is all about and why the resort is different from others?
SP: Although Kapuhala could be seen as simple as a holiday or wellness retreat, I see it is a catalyst that will trigger long term changes. We focus on health-conscious fitness enthusiasts, race runners, corporate high-achievers, even curious families that are looking to adopt a more eco-conscious approach to travel. We are a place where people can learn how to optimise their fitness and even cognitive performance as well as increase their life satisfaction through social living and thus giving them a holistic and life-enhancing experience, far beyond a simple holiday. We have 3 locations running and 3 more in the pipeline.
GQ: In your opinion, who is most at need for holistic services that Kapuhala offers, with its focus on physical performance and fitness, cognitive mindfulness and plant-based nutrition all at once?
SP: We are becoming a hotspot for forward thinkers – from solo travellers to families – basically anyone with a curious mind and willingness to experience something that may leave a mark on their lives. Kapuhala aims to be an epicentre for human and social development. Our three pillars are Movement and Fitness, Food and Nutrition, Social Living & Working.
GQ: We’re especially curious about the concept of “bio-hacking”, the personalised training philosophy that is at the core of the retreat that aims to optimise athletic performance by understanding our things like our circadian rhythms, adrenal functioning and hormonal fluctuations. You’re a triathlete yourself who swears by this method, could you tell us more?
SP: Bio-hacking is a sexy yet scary term that is becoming very popular in Silicon Valley, where many entrepreneurs strive to enhance their cognitive performance with daily practices and exogenous supplements like nootropics or superfoods. At Kapuhala we utilize certain bio-hacking techniques in order to enhance not just one’s well-being but also their cognitive performance. We achieve this by inviting people to take advantage of fitness programs created around the circadian rhythm, practice fasting in combination with plant-based nutrition, hot and cold exposure, mindfulness sessions before dinner and more.
We also enhance our food and drinks by adding nootropics and superfood ingredients. I can guarantee you: leave me an entrepreneur or any corporate warrior, let him reboot for three days and follow our routines and suggestions and he will become a witness of enhanced clarity, better cognitive performance and exponential creativity. In the near future, we will also be able to test physical evidence on improved body test results.
GQ: Aside from the training classes, state-of-the-art studios and services and yoga workshops, how does the design of the retreat itself lend towards improving optimising guests’ physical performance and overall well-being?
SP: It is a documented fact that people are happier and healthier the more time they spend in nature surrounded by greenery. Our resort is surrounded by nature and is partially a natural farm, spending time in this environment is a privilege many of us don’t have in busy, overcrowded cities. Also, adjusting your lifestyle to match your circadian rhythm affects when you wake up, eat and workout. Being more attuned to our body’s needs leads to incredible results! Lastly, spending time with likeminded people and socializing also greatly contributes to reduced levels of stress which in turn enhances overall wellbeing.
Kapuhala is designed to give freedom of choice to our guests. We invite people to join classes and activities and create an attractive social environment to incentivise them. A typical morning comprises of a Yoga class, based on Vinyasa to awaken the body. Mid-Morning is a Bootcamp mixed with cardio with strength and stretching, designed based on our training philosophy of “Burn – Build – Fix”. After the two sessions, guests may enjoy our iconic swimming pool, read on their private terraces or nourish themselves with a scrumptious lunch (we offer delayed breakfast options for people practicing intermittent fasting, but pre-workout breakfast is available for those who need it). For the families and solo travellers we can arrange off-site tours and activities, as for business people and “nomadic CEOs” we provide a co-working space where they can work. A Yin style yoga class is offered later in the day, in order to prepare for the best part of the day: dinner and drinks time!
GQ: What about nutrition? We know that the resort’s restaurant concept Halapua is all for plant-based – how does nourishing our bodies with plant-based food help us “bio-hack” optimal performance and health?
SP: The immediate effects of a plant-based diet are more significant than it may seem: lower inflammation levels, improved bowel movements and a positive change in gut bacteria, which nutritional science has linked to not just weight management but even cognition, reduced fatigue, higher productivity and natural weight loss all the while getting a great sense of satisfaction. Every dish at our restaurant is carefully composed to please your senses, mind and heart! You will understand why once you try it.
Why do we like to say that we are the Game Changers before the Netflix movie “Game Changers”? Because we envisioned a 25-metre pool right next to a gourmet plant-based restaurant and mixology lab.
GQ: As an athlete yourself, do you think that is this something that lots of people are looking for, especially as more of us in cities become health-conscious and focused on improving our overall fitness?
SP: Kapuhala started as something for me and my family. The concept has evolved and through a more integrated and financially supported plan we are now redefining the definition of a luxury holiday. But again, it all started with our need of “healing” ourselves as a family. We wanted to create our own “blue zone”.
GQ: Of course at Green Queen, we love the eco-conscious and low impact philosophy behind the retreat as well. How central is sustainability to Kapuhala and how does the resort try to achieve this throughout its operations?
SP: Kapuhala Koh Samui’s terraced tented villas are eco-consciously designed by architects using multiple layered panels, they are semi-permanent, which means they can easily be deconstructed and relocated, with a minimal footprint on the natural environment. The tents are largely made of natural building materials.
To round it off, the retreat features a strictly vegan restaurant Halapua. Our restaurant celebrates fresh, local and vibrant produce, and the entire menu uses seasonal ingredients grown from our own on-site natural farm and greenhouse, or sourced from nearby farmers. We also only stock limited perishable ingredients to ensure we minimise food waste.
Finally, we go to great lengths to avoid single use plastic and source various eco-friendly and biodegradable packaging solutions when unavoidable. No single use small toiletry containers and plastic bottled water are provided, linens and towels are changed only upon request during the stay of the guest. Last but not least, the 25-metre swimming pool is saltwater, so we reduce the use of chemicals. Same goes for the in-house farm and garden, pesticides that are harmful to the environment are avoided.
GQ: Do you think that in cities, we have all become too disconnected from each other and to nature – the connection between people, and between our own bodies, minds, health and the environment around us?
SP: You are touching on a crucial point. I’d like to mention again the “blue zone” concept. Loneliness is a silent killer. One of the best things I’ve heard from our customers at Kapuhala is that always find people to talk to with similar interests, be it at the mixology lounge over a cocktail, the restaurant or even the gym. This type of binding allows for the release of a very powerful hormone: oxytocin. This hormone is triggered by trust, and that is what makes us feel a lot less lonely.
This is why we avoid calling Kapuhala a wellness retreat. Usually, wellness retreat is somewhere you go to get your colon flushed and go to bed hungry. We want our guests to be happy, well-fed and feel great after their daily workouts. What’s more, we want them to enjoy all of that in the company of other guests like them with each evening culminating in a celebratory glass of wine or superfoods cocktail.
GQ: It sounds like Kapuhala is redefining what the concept of “luxury” in wellness tourism means altogether. What would you say to that?
SP: The concept of luxury is not universal. My mother, who recently visited Kapuhala in Koh Samui, trained in the morning, ate farm to table food and meditated at night, following her circadian rhythm. She has been doing that her whole life and it is nothing new to her. Of course, our extraordinary accommodation and the gourmet restaurant added some spark but the overall concept is simply a re-adaptation of an ancestral lifestyle, albeit in an elegant format.
GQ: Building this entire concept sounds like a whole lot of work. And we know that this isn’t the only project you’re working on! How do you manage so many things at once as a CEO?
SP: For me, Kapuhala is a dream come true but it is also a natural parallel progression in my career. My wife and I are not quitting our jobs to run this project, but we are indeed providing the resources to create a new resort concept that can be a safe bay for entrepreneurs and business owners like us, and forward thinkers looking for a place to start a life-enhancing experience. When this is your passion, you don’t see it as a job.
GQ: What motivates and drives you in your work creating Kapuhala?
SP: Healing myself, from being stressed, overworked and overtrained. We have also created Kapuhala to give our family and friends a safe bay to reconnect and work together. Workout, eat healthily from traceable sources, work in a pristine environment all the while spending time with the family.
GQ: Ultimately, what do you hope to achieve with this brand?
SP: 99% of the people that step in Kapuhala are forward thinkers, most likely athletes, spiritual gurus or business leaders. I want them to inspire each other to create something amazing and impactful for society.
We welcome self-selected forward thinkers and want to give them a home base to reboot and enhance their creativity. I want to have a Hackathon of the best minds contributing their cognitive performances, and after a number of days, have them present the next most disruptive socially impactful pitch deck. In fact, we are already planning this with WHub and some of our Hong Kong startuppers community friends for September.
Call me a romantic, but I want Kapuhala to be where the “warriors” go to rest, recharge and come back rewired, rebooted, calm and mindful to face the daily challenges, bravely ready to improve themselves and in turn to improve society.
GQ: Finally, at Green Queen we have to ask: team rice or team noodles?
SP: I would go for noodles, but made with our organic spelt flour with a little homemade beetroot sauce on top!
Kapuhala Koh Samui Tropical Farm & Training Retreat: Chaweng Noi 104/86 Moo 3, Bophut, Koh Samui, Suratthani 84320, Thailand.
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All images courtesy of Kapuhala.
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