An interview with… Kai Lenny

One of the planet’s most complete watermen…

Interview: Peter Tranter
Pics: Red Bull Content Pool ( and Peter Tranter

One of the planet’s most complete watermen…

Kai means ‘ocean’ in Hawaiian and that seems appropriate for many reasons including the fact that all Kai’s sports are surfing based: kiteboarding, windsurfing, big wave surfing and SUP. During this year’s APP World Tour in London, we had a chance to catch up with Kai, who cleared some time to answer our questions on future plans.

No intros needed but if you’re remembered for one thing in SUP – what would it be?
I think it could be the eight world titles I have won, the big waves I have ridden on a SUP, the films I have produced, riding a hydrofoil SUP, event wins and hopefully my Positively Kai Kid events.

Kai Lenny
Kai Lenny performs a hydrofoil demo at Downwind Voyage for Change in Hawaii, USA
Photo: Andy Mann / Red Bull

Do you have any favourite conditions for racing or are you happy with whatever comes your way on the day?
My absolute favourite racing conditions are going in and out of big waves, second would be going downwind! But I’m not only set on those, I like how Mother Nature just keeps on surprising.

Besides the obvious board and paddle – what will be the first piece of equipment you pack for any comp?
My favourite race fin, that is from MFC Hawaii. Also the most comfortable fitting Boardshort from Hurley. I always bring a leash and a hydration pack with me since I’m usually racing long distance or in waves.

You manage to head overseas fairly frequently – where do you usually aim for and what appeals about this location?
It’s all a matter of the time of the year. I do go to Europe frequently throughout the year. Sometimes for huge waves and others to go on lakes. There is something unique and positive from all corners of the globe, I’m most excited about new places I haven’t been before with good waves if possible.

Kai Lenny
Anne Egan of SUPM with Kai Lenny. Photo: Peter Tranter

Where’s your fave place to compete?
Definitely home in Hawaii, I feel so comfortable and know the water so well, that it makes it so I can push my hardest.

Why is competing in the APP World Tour is important to you?
It is important because it’s the tour that determines the best rider at the year’s end, the world champion. For me it’s not about beating others but more how far you need to push yourself in order to be the best!

What’s in the calendar for the rest of 2018?
I plan on doing the rest of the APP World tour and surf really big waves on all the different water crafts. Most importantly continue to train to become the best I can possibly be!

You chose to leave Naish and ride independently – what influences made you come to that big decision?
Just the freedom to ride whatever I want. To be able to develop equipment for specific conditions basically. I had a great time with Naish when I rode for them.

What advice would you give to aspiring paddlers looking for sponsorship opportunities?
My advice is definitely find a board sponsor that works really good with your style, a company that is willing to develop and can be super supportive. Now to get yourself sponsored requires plenty of hard work. Try and get the best photos and video you can, write down all of your accomplishments, a letter of recommendation if you can get one from a local shop or a professional athlete. Social media analytic numbers are a good guage for brands to see your value nowadays. Last but not least, what you can do for their brand. Your goal should always be, “The best sponsored rider you can be.”

If you had to choose one last thing you wanted to achieve within SUP, what would that be and why?
I don’t think I’ll ever give it up. As the sport evolves so do the challenges. I am sure there will be a race/event one day that I will become super motivated to win.

How do you keep the SUP stoke going as well as motivating others to get involved?
Having fun and getting on the water is the most important thing, and the fastest way to introduce someone to the ocean, lake, river or pond is definitely on a SUP. It opens a whole new world for them. Best thing about the sport is that you can take it to the absolute extreme or just cruising.

Would SUP in the Olympics motivate you?
Absolutely, that would be a challenge of a lifetime!

Kai Lenny
Kai Lenny of the United States competes at the Red Bull Heavy Water Stand Up Paddleboard Race in San Francisco, California
Photo: Balazs Gardi/Red Bull

Can you tell us about that one stand out moment?
I have had so many, there isn’t one that my favourite but a few really satisfying moments were when I won my first world title, won my first Battle of the Paddle and won Molokai 2 Oahu on the unlimited. Maybe one of the most mind-bending have been getting a huge barrel at Jaws or doing my first downwind hydrofoil run on a SUP.

Downwind or surf?
Surf always but going downwind is like surfing, so both!

Biggest rival?
I have had some good battles with people over the years, one that was maybe the most competitive was probably with Connor Baxter. That was so much fun!

Have any dietary requirements to help with your riding?
Eating what feels good, nothing crazy, I have a burning furnace for a stomach. I need fuel constantly. Bean burritos from Taco Bell do the trick!

What do you do to relax?
Work on developing my equipment, visualization of my next goal and work on my film projects.

How do you manage the physicality of the sport and the inevitable wear and tear?
Since I do more then just paddle I can find a good balance with sports like surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, foiling, big wave surfing, canoe paddling, body surfing and training in the gym. I have always felt that by doing all of those sports was an advantage.

If we came round for dinner, what’s on the menu?
Depends on the night but my favourite is my mom’s pasta dinners and her salad or my dad’s BBQ. We eat very healthy here in Hawaii because everything is fresh and the fish here is incredible! I love eating at Mamas Fish House on special occasions, it’s the best restaurant ever!

Any final shout outs?
Thanks to my parents, family, friends, sponsors and inspirations that have led me in this path of enjoying and challenging myself in the ocean.

Thank you so much Kai for your time and all the very best for the rest of 2018 from us all here at SUP Mag UK.

Kai Lenny
Kai Lenny of the United States competes at the Red Bull Heavy Water Stand Up Paddleboard Race in San Francisco, California
Photo: Balazs Gardi/Red Bull

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