Surfer, the Bar presents Talk Story Series ftg. Hawaiian waterman Kai Lenny | Hosted by Jodi Wilmott
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Kai Lenny was born and raised in Maui, Hawaii into a water family that loves being in the ocean in all conditions! Kai started surfing when he was just 4 years old, windsurfing at 6 years old, Stand Up Paddling, Kitesurfing, Tow-in Surfing and Foil boarding all by the age of 9 years. Just following his 18th birthday, Kai has marked his name in history on the Stand Up World Tour, winning the 2011 World Championships, the Torche, France Pro and the Sunset Beach Pro.
MAUI, Hawaii – As I reflect on this last year I am amazed that Kai handled the stress of competition as well as he did. At the Stand Up World Tour final event in Hilo, Paula and I were in awe at how composed Kai was. Paula and I were both nervous wrecks feeling the anxiety that only parents can feel. At each event Kai learned something new about competing and he applied what he learned to his approach in competition.
It seemed like yesterday that Kai was on the podium winning the first professional competition at Sunset Beach. Everyone was amazed that Kai had won the event - everyone but Kai.
Sunset Beach is one of the most challenging waves on the planet and Kai was awarded a wild card into the inaugural event. I remember staring out at the waves when Kai firmly announced “Dad, I am going to win this event”. It took me a few seconds to digest what Kai had said. In my mind I was blown away, in all of his years of competition I never heard him say something like this, it was so bold and he was so decisive. At the time I could only reflect on the serious names that were on the competition ladder. Never the less, I looked at him and I encouraged him by saying “Go gettum Kai!”
By the end of that day, he had fulfilled his statement.
Kai learned how to surf when he was 4, windsurf when he was 6, kite surf, tow surf and stand up paddle surf when he was 9. Growing up on Maui, Kai’s heroes were not the typical athletes that most kids look up to. They were guys like Robby Naish, Laird Hamilton, Buzzy Kerbox and Dave Kalama. Kai would always keep track of what activity they were doing on the water; surfing, towing, windsurfing, kiting and eventually he marveled at the sight of Laird stand up paddle boarding down the coast. Kai immediately had to try it, so we gave him an old canoe paddle and put him on a mini tanker surfboard. He would paddle around on the ocean and eventually he started catching waves.
Part of Kai’s success has been the shear amount of time he spends in the water. A typical day for Kai is to start off by waking up at dawn for an early morning surf and if the waves are flat are blown he will work out at the gym or do a beach workout with Dave Kalama. After a few hours of his internet home school, he hits the waves again. Depending on the waves and wind he will choose between surfing, supping, windsurfing or kiting. Each of these sports support and compliment the other thereby allowing for more water time.
His comfort in big surf comes from years of baby steps working his way up to some really large waves. Kai is very familiar with so many different conditions due to the lumpy waves he rides when it is blown out. This last year Dave and Laird towed Kai into some solid 40+ foot waves at Peahi. At the Sunset event the conditions were windy and lumpy, but for Kai it was “Maui glass”.
Kai’s devotion to training and knowing how to hurt has paid off. Summers on Maui translates into a lot of wind and small to non existent waves. Prior to stand up down wind runs, we would train on prone paddleboards. At 10 years old, Kai asked if he could paddle down wind with us in the late afternoons. He kept a regular training program and when he was 12 he paddled in the Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard race for the first time. He and his partner, Michi Schweiger, would train almost daily and ultimately raced for 4 years in a row.
Kai has always enjoyed competition. Since he was little Kai has competed in many of the local Maui surf contests as well as any windsurf and kitesurf competitions. Kai likes competition and he absolutely loves to win. Over the years he has honed his approach to becoming a better competitor. Kai has learned to become a good winner because he has also learned to be a good loser. This last year I watched him proceed to get better and better in each heat. He has developed a good formula that works for him. After each event Kai would always reflect on each heat analyzing what he could have done better.
When Kai describes this last year, I can’t help but notice that Kai still has the enthusiasm of an 8 year old. He is so articulate and passionate as he describes the waves and competitions of France, Tahiti, Brazil and Hawaii, he also throws in his two cents about his favorite food and restaurants at each location. There always seems to be a funny story of some practical joke that was played on someone along the way.
Overall I would have to say that the biggest reason for Kai’s success has been because of his love and passion for what he is doing. He absolutely loves to SUP and when the passion is there, the sky is the limit for Kai.
Story and Photos Courtesy Martin Lenny
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