Maui Surf

EXCLUSIVE: Catching Up with Kai Lenny

June 3, 2016, 5:06 PM HST
* Updated June 3, 5:08 PM
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Video: @Kai_lenny
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Maui is no stranger to the likes of great watermen and ocean enthusiast, from big wave giants to legendary paddle racers, Maui has seen them all.  Maui also hosts ideal conditions for an abundance of different water sports and activities.  Absorbing all of these dynamic categories is Speckelsville local, Kai Lenny.  

A world champion SUP surfer and paddle racer, big wave XXL nominee, and recently attributed foil boarding engineer, Kai enjoys using every spectrum that the ocean has to offer.


Growing up under the wings of legendary big wave watermen like Robbie Naish, Dave Kalama and his father Martin Lenny, Kai has adapted to all types of water sports.  His skill in each individual sport is remarkable, but when you tally up all the time and energy it takes to become one of the best in the world in each sport discipline, the achievements are astonishing.

From kite boarding, windsurfing, paddle racing, big wave surfing, stand up paddling, foil boarding and more, Kai has mastered them all and looks to keep pushing the boundaries within each sport.


Maui Now recently caught up with Kai to see what’s next for the young waterman and what drives him to keep seeking new challenges.


What are some of your earliest memories of the ocean and water sports?

KL: My earliest memories of my life was being at the beach with my parents. One of the most impactful moments of my life was when I was four years old and caught a wave all by myself and felt the thrill of the drop. Ever since then, it’s been a gradual climb to bigger waves in search for that same feeling I had. I’m very lucky to have been born on Maui since it is the Mecca of so many cross over surf sports like Windsurfing, Kitesurfing, Stand Up paddling, Hydro foiling, Canoe paddling and so on. My true calling to the ocean is to ride waves, if the conditions aren’t perfect for one, I have a tool that will make it perfect.

What was the first sport you really began to notice as the potential to have a professional career in?


KL:  I don’t know if there was one defining moment that I said, hey I’m good enough I can be pro maybe. It was more so that I had the passion for it and the love for it that drew the idea in my head that I wanted this to be my job. Mostly so I could do it all the time and not have to worry about anything else!

How did you begin to try new sports and what made you so well diverse in the ocean?

KL:  I was inspired by my parents who surf, windsurf, kitesurf, prone paddle boarded from an early age. It seemed to me that doing multiple sports was something you would do. I was also influenced by legends and mentors like Robby Naish, Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama, Gerry Lopez and many more. My thought process has always been ride the ocean the best way I possibly can by adapting to the conditions. And frankly they’re all so fun I could not imagine giving one up.

Who did you look up to as watermen when you were growing up?

KL:  For sure to was the guys from Maui when I was growing up who were pushing the boundaries on my different fronts. The strapped crew in the early days, but it was Robby Naish and Laird Hamilton that I wanted to emulate and be like when I was a little grom. Robby being the 24x Windsurfing world champion, I really aspired to be on his competitive level with championships of my own. Laird was influential because of what he was doing at Peʻahi, he never competed but I liked how he pushed the boundaries of what was possible in giant surf.

How do you designate time for each sport that you specialize in?

KL:  As different as the sports may seem they are quite similar. They are all spinoffs of surfing so they transcend one another. What I learn riding a shortboard helps my kitesurfing. My windsurfing helps my stand up paddling just to name a few examples. They all feed off one another and that makes it easier to progress continuously in all of them. Fortunately for me, Maui is the best place on the planet for all these sports. So in a single day I could do all of them on a consistent basis. 

You recently embarked on a new engineering project to make the first foil paddle board, how did this idea come about?

KL:  I always dreamt about flying like a malolo (flying fish) downwind. In my early years of prone paddling and SUP downwind  paddling I would see these flying fish swoop by me at great speed with the greatest of ease. I didn’t know how I was going to do it but I figured there had to be a way. Since I have been hydrofoiling since I was nine and SUP paddling since I was seven, my level of experience in each sport was at a point that I could create something out of both. Originally in early testing it was hard to believe it would be possible but with my mind set, vision and the right foil engineer Alex Aguera we were able to create a new way to ride the ocean. I do believe all these sports are in some way trying to mirror the way a sea animal would ride the ocean.

What are your goals moving through summer and into next winter?

KL:  My goals are to compete and win events on SUP world tour along with charging and competing on the Big Wave world tour. Continual development on my SUP downwind hydrofoil project and to continue to push my level in all my water sports. Within it all I am planning on coming into next winter confident and physically prepared to ride big waves at Peʻahi.

Kai Lenny on a SUP at Jaws Photo: Lynton Productions

SUP at Jaws Photo: Lynton Productions

Kai off the top at Ho'okipa Photo: 1morephotography

Kai off the top at Ho’okipa Photo: 1morephotography

Kai slashes one off the lip Photo: 1morephotography

Kai slashes one off the lip Photo: 1morephotography

Tail high at Ho'okipa Photo: 1morephotography

Tail high at Ho’okipa Photo: 1morephotography

Kai Lenny Steep and Deep at Jaws Photo: Lynton Productions

Kai Lenny Steep and Deep at Jaws Photo: Lynton Productions

Point of view from Kai's GoPro Photo: Kai Lenny

Point of view from Kai’s GoPro Photo: Kai Lenny

Carving off the top at Jaws Photo: Lynton Productions

Carving off the top at Jaws Photo: Lynton Productions

Kai Lenny bottom turn at Jaws Photo: Lynton Productions

Kai Lenny bottom turn at Jaws Photo: Lynton Productions

Kai Lenny into the sky Photo: 1morephotography

Kai Lenny into the sky Photo: 1morephotography

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