Get to Know Kai Lenny: The Waterman, The Myth, The Legend

Updated: May 3, 2020

Kai Lenny on childhood dreams, his worst injuries and how he overcomes the fear of big waves.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

KL: One of the proudest moments I have ever had is when I won my first SUP world title at Honoli'i on the Big Island at the end of the 2010 tour. It was special because I had been dreaming about that moment my entire life up to that point and to be able to achieve a world championship really meant a lot to me. It served as being a great platform for me to bounce off of and go to different sports and try to achieve the same thing.

If anything, what are you scared of?

KL: Any time I ever get confronted with something I’m scared of, unless it means destruction, I try to overcome the fear and go after it until I feel comfortable with it. I’m terrified every time I surf big waves and that’s why I have to keep going back to try to overcome that fear. Sometimes I ask myself, how did I get myself into this situation.

What is the fastest you have ever gone on a wave?

KL: I think the fastest I have ever gone on a wave is in the 55mph range, which I know because of the telemetry off my GoPro. The times I haven’t had the GoPro, I think I might have gone even faster. In surfing, the bigger the wave, the faster you are going to go, but with wind power I have gone equally as quick.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

KL: I wanted to be a multiple world champion across many sports; I wanted to be the best I could possibly be across every sport and I always wanted to ride the biggest waves possible. I’m lucky because I am still able to go after that dream.

What is your next goal?

KL: My next goal is to win the Jaws championship, which I have gotten close to with a second place a couple of years ago. On top of that, everything I compete in I want to try and win and not because I want to beat other people, but because that means all my training has gotten my skill level to a place where it is as top notch as it can be.

What is your favourite spot to surf?

KL: For sure out at Jaws, because it is the biggest, most perfect wave in the world (Peahi, Hawaii) and you can do every single sport on it- you can SUP, windsurf, kitesurf, everything. It’s epic and it’s down the street from where I live.

Who is your biggest role model in the sport?

KL: Growing up I had a lot of different role models, but I would say now it has a lot to do with my peers. When I can see all the people really charging and doing something unique and exceptional, I get inspired by it and I want to do it. It doesn’t have to be an individual, it could be a large amount of people who are doing amazing things and it doesn’t have to be in my sport, I am constantly looking for inspiration from different sports and outside of sport too.

What wave were you riding when you were the most scared?

KL: Every single wave I have ever ridden at all the different spots around the world from Jaws, to Mavericks to Nazaré- each one I have been terrified of. The hardest one to overcome was Nazaré, mostly because it is the most unpredictable, unlike most big waves that break in the same spot and there’s a channel, Nazaré is a beach break and breaks everywhere. It took me a couple of years to understand the playing field and now I am comfortable enough to feel like I can perform, whereas before I felt like I had the skill-set but not the courage as I didn’t understand the wave.

What is the worst injury you have had?

KL: I’ve had a bunch from cutting my foot in half from surfing jaws, to cutting my hand in half surfing jaws. The worst are the injuries that keep you out the longest. The lacerations look the worst, but you can recover quickly. The ligament injurys suck. The worst this year was at Nazaré. I got run over by a jet ski in the white water and broke a rib and damaged my cartilage. A couple of months later I’m still working through some sore ribs.

Who is your favourite person to be in the water with?

KL: It varies because the people who I love getting in the water with typically are into one sport or another, so its really fun how I can go from one sport and hang out with one group of people and then go to another sport and hang out with a different group of people. Everybody is amazing in their own way. I enjoy surfing big waves with people I can be really scared with, but will equally push me to want to charge harder. Ian Walsh, Lucas Chumbo, Nathan Florence as of lately; they are a bunch of jokers and love surfing big waves because of the fun of it, so it takes the pressure off how you should take big waves seriously. Obviously we do take it seriously, but it's more fun than the macho, over-thought out process.

How many hours are you in water per day?

KL: Depending on the conditions, I try to be in the water as much as possible. I usually just come into eat and reset or drive somewhere else to get other waves. At least 6 hours a day of intense riding, but if it’s a Jaws day 12 hours is my goal.

To hear more from Kai Lenny catch up on episode three of Immersed TV here: