Riding the Wave: Interview with Kai Lenny

We managed to catch pro surfer Kai Lenny when he wasn’t in the water. He is everything you would expect and more from a guy who’s name literally means “Ocean.” Here’s what he had to say:

Josh Campbell: I read that you started surfing at the age of four? How does a four-year-old start surfing?
Kai Lenny: Well, I was born and raised on Maui and my parents were avid wind surfers and surfers and still are. When I was born, they didn’t stop going to the beach, they just took me with them. I had a choice of either playing in the sand or I could go out in the ocean, and the ocean seemed like a lot more fun. So I decided to go and jump in the ocean because I was going to be down there anyway. It was perfect; I had a great slingshot into the whole sport. Now I drag them to the beach all the time.

JC: I saw that you not only surf but you also do SUP and kite board and windsurf. Do you have a favorite discipline?
KL: It’s hard to say which one is my favorite because they’re all my favorite. I consider them all spinoffs of surfing because they’re all derived from surfing. My favorite thing in general is to ride waves. So if I can ride waves, I don’t really care what I’m on, as long as it’s allowing me to do what I’m envisioning in my mind. All the sports that I do, I consider them a form of surfing. It would be so hard to choose one and have to stop the rest because they’re so much fun in their own unique ways.

JC: What do you like to do when you’re no on the water?
KL: You know, it’s funny, I’m always on the water, and everything I do when I’m off the water is preparing to get back on the water. I’ll usually come home and be so exhausted and just want to pass out. Sometimes when I get home, I work on my equipment and try to figure out how to make my gear better.

JC: What is your craziest surfing story?
KL: My most recent one was when I was stand up paddling Jaws last winter and I caught a wave and had a really bad wipeout. I had a big air drop and when I landed, I actually broke my board in half with my shoulder. The waves at Jaws move at like 40 miles per hour. When I was tumbling in the barrel, my leash pulled my board back and when it did, my board cut my foot in half right in-between my second and third toes and it went right down the center of my foot and my foot got split in two. I was held down and dragged about 100 yards underwater. When I surfaced, my foot felt really weird because as I was swimming up, it was going two different directions but it didn’t hurt because it happened so fast and I had so much adrenaline pumping but when I pulled my foot out of the water, I could see a helicopter through my foot. And luckily, the helicopter pilot was my good friend so I hopped on the Jet Ski and he flew down by the water and I hopped onto the skids and I was hanging off the helicopter and I flew to the hospital. I was relinquished to the couch for about five weeks but the surgeon who worked on my foot was actually a plastic surgeon so he made it look really pretty which I’m kind of bummed about because I wanted my scar to look even more gnarly but I still have a great scar though. They said that there was a one in a billion chance that I missed all of the tendons and ligaments in my foot. There are so many tendons and ligaments in your foot that if I had cut even one, I could have lost feeling in the rest of my foot. So I got really lucky.

JC: What was it like to kite board on glaciers?
KL: It was absolutely insane. I went up there for a boat trip with a friend and the company I ride for called Naish. We went up there and we launched our kites just to get some shots and what ended up happening was we had the brilliant idea to launch our kites and climb up one of the ice bergs and then jump off of them, and it was the most fun I think I have ever had. Just talking about it makes me want to go back and do it again.

JC: What has been the biggest moment or event of your career?
KL: I’ve won six stand-up world championships and I’ve ridden some of the biggest and best waves that are out there, but winning my first World Title when I was 17 was incredible. It was like a dream come true. It was the next chapter of my life opening up. Before that point, my life was working to get to that point and all of a sudden, I was there. Then I could work on getting better and have that confidence. So winning my first World Title in 2010 was probably the highlight of my career.

JC: What do you think is the next chapter for you?
KL: That’s hard to say because I don’t really know where I’m going. I’ve always had long-term goals but I usually go on a crazy untraditional path to get to them, but I’ll end up at the same place. There are so many crazy opportunities coming up that I would have never imagined that it makes it difficult to see where I will end up but my current goal is to continue with world championships but to also win them in other sports and as always to ride the biggest waves that I possibly can. You never know though, next year I could have a new focus.

JC: Who has had the biggest impact on your surfing career?
KL: Well, my parents are the ones who got me started so they obviously have made a huge impact but I have also had opportunities to train with legendary surfers like Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama, and Robby Naish, and I’m so grateful to call them uncles really.

JC: Thanks for your time and I hope the rest of your season and career keeps growing and progressing.
KL: Thank you so much, I really appreciate all of the support. I have a good feeling about this year so hopefully it turns out well.

Check out Kai’s website

Also be sure to check out Kai’s new Stand-Up movie that is coming out this October.

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