KAI LENNY – A most impressive waterman

Interview by Brian Terhorst

Kai Lenny is about as impressive as any waterman I’ve met to date. As I sat & prepared to write this piece, I looked online for any updates on his hectic schedule & world travels. I stumbled across a headline “Kai Lenny Shreds Hawaii Waves With Jet-Powered Surfboard” I had to look. It’s exactly what you think. Kai jumps off the back of a boat at Jaws with a new JetSurf in hand, feeds the throttle & fearlessly drops in on wave after wave. This on a massive day in mid November when the break was firing up to 50 ft. He then switches to a Stand Up Paddle board & catches an hour or so in the same conditions. I look more closely at his facebook & there ya go… he’s been chosen as an alternate for the Eddie Aikau Invitational. This kid’s life is about as awesome as it gets. I think we have a lot to see in the future from this young Hawaiian Waterman.

We sat with Kai while he attended the SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY Paddle Races in San Diego. Here’s what he had to say:

RIS: Ok Basics first…

KL: Hi, I’m Kai Lenny, I’m from Maui Hawaii, I’m 21 years old 

RIS: What do you do?

KL: I’ve been lucky enough to do all different kinds of watersports my entire life. Surfing, Kite Surfing, Windsurfing, Stand Up Paddling, Big Wave Surfing, Flow boarding, Tow-In surfing, Canoe Paddling… you name it & I’m luck enough to participate in all of them!

RIS: Dream Life bro. Do you have a favorite?

KL: It’s funny, ya know? I look at all these sports as a spin off of surfing. Surfing is kinda the core of everything I do. My favorite thing in the world is to ride waves. I like doing all these different sports cause it gives the sensation of always riding a wave. Even if I’m paddling a race board on flatwater… same sensation, as riding a wave. Moving across the water. I think that’s the coolest thing. It’s just addicting I’ve been at it since I was 4 years old. It’s who I am. I couldn’t imagine life without it. It would just be wrong!

RIS: Let’s talk about the World Tour. Thoughts? 

KL: I always love competing in America. In California in particular. After traveling all over the world for the tour I was stoked to have won the wave event up in Huntington. Competing in the USA. Even though I’m from Hawaii in a way It felt like my home turf, ya know? 

RIS: How many titles?

KL: Six Time World Champion. I’m stoked that I was able to finish off the year strong.

“Growing up on Maui, nobody likes a big head. My entire life, Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama, Robbie Naish, Jerry Lopez… all these people that have mentored me… have always said they will come beat me up if I ever get a big head.”


RIS: How do you train? Specifically for surf or race or just train for everything?

KL: Well that’s the thing, they’re both so different. It would be like training a Tour De France cyclist for an X-Games BMX event. That’s how different they are. I train for both. But I also train for the other sports… so it takes a ton of time. My time training is spread thin throughout all. The nice thing about doing all these other sports that I do – is – I  feel  they really benefit each other. My surfing really helps my SUP surfing. My windsurfing and kitesurfing really help my stand up racing. Visa versa my stand up racing is the best conditioning for big wave surfing. If I just do stand up racing & then all of a sudden go surf really big waves, I will be as fit, if not more, than most of the guys out there. There’s nothing more gnarly than stand up racing every weekend… Physically, it’s awesome!

RIS: Do you have a trainer or do you have a team? 

KL: I’m lucky, I have a coach on Maui – he helps me out a lot. I’ve been with him since I was thirteen. I have a surf coach as well.  I also have a lot of mentors that really look out for me. Obviously my parents, my mom & dad are huge supporters of what I do. 

The thing is if you’re pursuing any professional sport (laughs) or pursuing multiple professional sports… you have to have a support crew. You can’t do it alone. It’s nearly impossible. 

Guys like Robbie Nash, Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama, Jerry Lopez… just to name a few. Those guys have been mentors of mine growing up cause they’re all based out of maui (or used to be) They were always kinda steering me in the right direction. 

RIS: Your list of mentors reads like a list of legends of Watermen. How cool is that?

KL: Yeah, so cool. They still give me guidance so it’s very special. They constantly offer help w/ their own experiences. Let me know what to do, or not do, to get to a certain goal faster & more efficiently.

I wonder what I did in my previous life or who I was, cause I’ve been givin the best life on planet earth… 

I’m luck to be supported, do whatever I want, get paid incredibly well. But at the end of the day, it’s the people that I’m surrounded by. I always say “You are who you surround yourself with.” I’m surrounded by the best, nicest people. 

RIS: Highlight of 2014?

KL: Craziest thing… I have so many insane experiences & won quite a few events this year – Everyday is amazing. A blessing to say the least. One of the best things so far has been riding really really big waves at home at Jaws. I think that was one of my top highlights this year. I really felt like I stepped up my game!

RIS: How Big?

KL: Hard to say when your on the wave… but, 50 plus foot waves. Paddle in surfing and Stand up paddle surfing both. Like 8 hour sessions, best sessions ever. Towed out there one day in but otherwise paddle. Surf half the day then switch to Stand Up Paddle surf. Try to do it all.

RIS: Lessons learned?

KL: Winning is cool, but it’s really about the journey to get there. The hardship you endure. Training really does suck. You have to push so hard. All the sports are at such a high level now. You really hurt all the time. Afterwards, when I look back after a win, it’s like… man, I wish I would have enjoyed it more. That was a fun experience. 

RIS: Want to shout out to your sponsors?

KL: I have the greatest sponsors on planet earth Hurley, Nike, Red Bull, Naish, GoPro, Oakley. All those guys are so supportive – feels like an extended family. I’ve been riding for them for over ten years… each one of em!

RIS: Anyone else?

KL: I’ve been doing these events, ‘Positively Kai’ up in Hood River Oregon.  It’s been insane, it’s a stand up paddleboard race but it’s mostly just a kid’s fun day on the water. All my sponsors kick in this fun stuff. Toys, gear… just totally stoke out the kids. 

If you want more go to www.positivelykai.com

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