Shane Dorian had this to say about Kai Lenny: "He seems to bridge the gap between surfing super technically — on a shorter board with an aggressive style — and going for really big waves. That's a rare combination."
And then Albee Layer said this: "I saw Kai catch a huge wave the other day and he was like…expressing himself. He was drawing the line he wanted to, not just a survival line."
Both of those quotes came during conversations with Shane and Albee about what makes a well-ridden big wave. Both guys used Kai as an example of mastery in massive waves. Which is to say that two of the world's best think Kai is among the world's best.
Welcome to the club, kid.
This is one of many clubs to which Kai belongs. The 23-year-old from Maui is a renowned SUPper, kiteboarder, windsurfer and of course, surfer. I’d heard of him plenty, but hadn’t thought of him much. But after hearing unprompted praise from both Shane and Albee, I decided to learn more about him. I called him up for chat.
So, lastly, here’s what what Kai had to say:
The first time I surfed Jaws I was 16 and rode it on a hydrofoil. I went with Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama. It was probably 15-20 feet. Not a soul around. Later I windsurfed it, Stand Up Paddled, kited and paddled in.Photo: Brent Bielmann
The beach that my parents would always take my brother and me growing up has great outer reefs with nobody around. And you could paddle a half hour to get out there and catch a couple waves, or you could windsurf or kite and catch 50 waves.
I never thought about them as individual sports, I always looked at them as different ways to surf — to ride waves. At the end of the day, give me a Taco Bell tray and I'll have so much fun just body surfing with it. It's about riding waves.
I consider all those guys to be my uncles — everyone from Laird to Dave Kalama to Robbie Nash to Gerry Lopez to Derrick Doener — they were all living here when I was growing up and my parents knew them. They were just superheroes to me and I got to see firsthand what they do. They became my mentors and helped me avoid mistakes in the ocean, and in life. They saved me from a lot of head and heart aches.
I never wanted to disappoint them, not that I was forced to do anything, but I'd just see them and want to impress them. You're always going to want to impress your heroes, and that forces you to go out when nobody is watching and train your butt off so that when they see you, you look really good.
When I started paddling Jaws, if you caught a wave, that was a big deal. Then it was like, OK, if you got an inside barrel, you were the king of the day. Now guys are getting huge barrels. Benjamin Sanchis got a mental barrel. Greg Long got that one crazy one during the contest. Ian got multiple barrels. I got a couple barrels. Dorian, of course. The level is just so crazy high you're thinking, "If I'd caught this wave two years ago, I woulda been the man!"Photo: Brent Bielmann
Shane Dorian and Albee Layer — they're consistently the best out there.
I got to surf Jaws 24 times this year over 20 feet, put in hundreds of hours and catch hundreds of waves. I got more experience in one year than I did in the last three years. Next year I'm just hoping for the opportunity to go a little bigger, push a little deeper, charge as many waves as I can and surf all day long.