On the twentieth of August, 1980, renowned South Tyrolean high altitude mountaineer Reinhold Messner shocked the climbing world when he reached the 8,850-meter summit of Mt. Everest, solo, unaided and without bottled oxygen. With a single stroke, this feat of stamina, skill, and most crucially, imagination, made what the rest of the mountaineering world was doing, with their multi-member teams, months-long siege tactics, and oxygen tanks, seem pedestrian. By taking such a huge quantum leap, and doing it alone, Messner singlehandedly elevated the sport into another realm.
Hawaii’s Kai Lenny is our Reinhold Messner. One only has to watch the recently released footage of Lenny riding serious sized Peahi with the use of a hand-held “kitewing” to witness the same sort of paradigm-shifting display of strength, skill and imagination that renders the performances of his peers archaic by comparison, and should completely redefine the state of the art. But it probably won’t.
Exactly why it won’t is a question worth considering, seeing as it cuts to the heart of not only the accepted concept of surfing “performance”, but of the collective perception of what it means to be a surfer; what a surfer is, and what a surfer isn’t. First, however, consider what Lenny has done with his marriage of surf and wind sports, as applied to 20-foot-plus Peahi: he has taken surfing to another dimension, combining conventional displacement hull maneuvering with the new-found ability to harness the wind rushing up the face of the wave, and riding that invisible ‘wave’ as well. Kai Lenny, quite simply, has learned to surf like a pelican. A kinetic breakthrough that shatters any thoughts of incremental steps, instead representing the greatest leap in imagination the sport has ever seen. Consider that even the best of his peers at Peahi are still paddling into waves on ten-foot surfboards, their decks smeared with sticky wax. Bigger waves, maybe, and more critically positioned, certainly, but essentially in the exact same manner as their predecessors some 60 years ago.