Kai Lenny just got stopped by a stranger for the third time in nine minutes shuffling from the parking lot to the ocean at Sunset Beach. That means that every 20-some yards, a human being enters the 24-year-old from Maui’s kenisphere and asks him a question. It’s obvious why. One, he’s Kai Lenny. He’s become a pretty recognizable character through his ocean exploits – especially in a place like the North Shore where people care a lot about surfing. But more obviously, he’s holding a gigantic metal surfboard contraption that looks like a daggered bazooka crossed with a spacecraft. It’s not often you see a foil board. Much less a foil board outside of the water.
“Woah! I’ve seen that before. Laird, right?! What is that thing,” asks the curious onlooker.
That’s when Lenny, with enduring patience and a genuine appreciation for said stranger’s curiosity, succinctly explains the dynamics of a hydrofoil surfboard in laymen’s terms. He did that for me at least three times. Like most of the people who expressed interest in the unusual device, I nodded and pretended to understand hydrodynamics.
And then he’s finally in the ocean. Where, without reservation, he always wants to be.
It’s relatively flat today on the North Shore, but Lenny says he’s already surfed for five hours. A foil session earlier. A longboard session. A paddle. Another foil session. And on a day where a lot of pro surfers have undoubtedly resigned to their beds for a few extra hours, Kai’s pace of life is frenetic. Friend and Hurley filmer Peter King actually made a little video parodying Lenny’s relentless energy and optimism. Kai thought it was funny.
“When I wake up in the morning I want to do something at the highest possible level,” says Lenny. “I want to feel like I’m a Formula One driver every single day of my life. Otherwise, I feel like I’m wasting my daylight. What can be done? What hasn’t been? You just never know when your day is going to come, and I’m not going to leave anything to chance.”
So it’s no surprise that in the time between connecting at Sunset in December and today, he’s done a few things. Atop that giant list: He crossed the 50-mile channel between the Big Island and Maui with his foil board to fight plastic pollution with Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and The 5 Gyres Institute. He won the first event of the APP World Tour. And he landed the cover of Outside magazine. Oh, and earlier this winter he stomped a giant air at Jaws. That air will not be forgotten. Ever.
“I watch all these snowboard movies with Travis Rice, and I thought that if he can do it in Alaska on some of those mountains with an avalanche behind him, I can do it at Jaws. It’s going to take some time, but in the future, I see no reason why we’re not doing 720s on a 50-foot wave.”
But most recently, he’s come into focus for his exploits on a hydrofoil surfboard, a tool that enables him to enjoy the ocean no matter the conditions. He literally rides invisible swell beneath the surface of the ocean for miles. It’s breathtaking. One of those things you have to see to comprehend.
“The first time I ever rode Jaws was on a hydrofoil board with Laird and Dave [Kalama]. We were on a big aluminum (foil) with snowboard boots, and to see where it’s come now… Their purpose and their goal was to ride the biggest waves ever ridden. There’s this untapped potential out there, and with a foil you can go for thousands of miles or more, it just depends on how long your legs can last.”
That’s an obvious desire for a world-class paddler, windsurfer, stand-up paddler, shortboarder, etc…, but it’s interesting in that not too long ago, Lenny’s Renaissance Man approach to watersports wasn’t as readily welcomed. I’d characterize any resistance he encountered as small-minded and insecure, but Lenny wouldn’t be as blunt.
“I think that the people who are the most judgmental are the ones who need to be embraced a little bit,” says Lenny. “At the end of the day, if they don’t want it, just keep movin’ on. There are seven billion people out there to be nice to. If you’re nice to everybody, you can’t go wrong.”
That’s how Lenny rolls. His energy is boundless. His eye is always on the horizon.
“There’s nothing worse than when you’re not moving forward,” he says. “It’s about little wins every day.”
He invites us to join him for a foil session the next morning whether there are waves or not. The forecast isn’t looking good. But that’s not an issue for Kai. A lot of people extend courtesy invitations to surf during a day on the North Shore. Or make haphazard plans they can’t fully commit to seeing through. Without any doubt in my mind, I know he will be there.
Editor’s Note: This feature is part of a brand new series called #ALOHAFILES, which explores the spirit of aloha through the eyes of some of Hawaii’s most influential figures. It was made possible through the support of our friends at Olukai.