It was a great night in NYC for “Let it Rip”, a Red Bull hosted summer evening with waterman Kai Lenny promoting his upcoming “Life of Kai: Redefining Possible” season finale on August 25th, 2023.
Kai’s discussion was moderated by friend and big wave compatriot, Will Skudin at the new Red Bull HQ in the meatpacking district, just around the corner from Google. In fact, the two had spent the day together at the Skudin Surf Camp in Long Beach, Long Island surfing and spending time in the water with kids from the non-profit Surf for All. As Skudin tells it, as soon as Kai touched down at JFK, he texted Will and said, “I’m here. How can I help?” So, Kai spent the day making dreams come true for kids with disabilities working alongside Will in the ocean before coming into the city. They also got some foil time in with Kai taking the notorious Noodles, a white Bull Dog along for a ride on the e-Foil.
The evening began on Little West 12th Street in the meatpacking district at the new Red Bull headquarters in Manhattan. Media, influencers and guests were greeted with Red Bull mocktails and cocktails, honoring the new upsurge in non-alcoholic beverages along with quick bites, before we sat down to listen to Kai and Will. The Red Bull team was warm and welcoming. It was going to be a great night.
When it was time for Kai’s talk, we were hustled into a small amphitheater setting with the two surfers sitting casually up on the dias. Microphones were used but probably not needed as they were easily within range of a normal speaking volume and the crowd was intimate. The conversation flowed from the outset when Will asked Kai about his first wave (which Kai remembers at age 4). Kai said he knew from that moment that he wanted to be a professional surfer and went after it from there. Kai also spoke about his development of a progressive style in big waves by reminding the audience that the legendary break of Paia a.k.a. Jaws is literally in his backyard, so for him to experiment and attempt new tricks was relatively easy. He had a giant beast of a wave that he became most familiar with all the while surrounded by great talent and a supportive lineup. His ability to take risks is compounded by his long hours at the gym, preparation and careful calculation. This moment begs the question: Is it dedication or destiny that brought this amazing athlete to the pinnacle of his abilities?
Later on in the discussion, Kai took the time to explain how the hydrofoil works with the front wing riding the energy and the back wing creating stability for a rider. He detailed how mast height also creates nuance to every different wave experience. Kai and Will spoke at some length about innovations / changes to the wing. For example, if you sand the front wing it creates a bit of drag or if you move the mast or shorten the wing even by micro amounts, it all has an effect on the rider flying above the water. Kai’s enthusiasm about foiling was fully charged in his eyes and electric responses to all questions about foiling. He claims he's been developing various foils or wings in his garage for some time now and trying out new things, often not knowing if it will work. He winds up asking foil design experts and sometimes master welders to try just something they’ve never done before. After all, he is the one out on the wave testing it. As Kai says, “If I can imagine it, then it must be possible!”
He compared downwind foiling to being like skiing moguls because once you get into the ride you are bouncing from swell to swell, moving with the energy. His experience with competitive downwind foiling - like in M2O or M2M - drives him to look for a foil size that has the fastest median speed, not something that only works in a sprint. He says that if a water athlete’s foil setup average speed is the fastest, that athlete is going to win every time. His 4th place finish this year at the Molokai to Oahu championship race will probably not be the last we see of him in that competitive setting.
Personally, I asked about where he saw the progression of foiling going forward since he has been a part of the revolution from the outset and is now pushing the boundaries of the equipment himself. Kai responded thoughtfully by saying that he fully believes that foiling will be innovated to ride both the smallest waves and the world’s biggest. He wants to see it become more accessible for every wave rider, not just the elite. He also believes there is much more to be discovered as he described pelicans riding the updrafts or wind current along the face of a wave. Kai believes there is a way for humans to tap into that unharnessed energy and ride waves completely above the water (hydro foiling comes close). He also states that, in the same way hydro foiling gives us an ability to ride above the water, he sees it as progressing to show humans how to ride in a wave like a dolphin in the wave. Body surfing comes close and some have taken that wave riding ability inside the waves. Kai Lenny is immersed in the possibilities of the sport and his connection to the development of technology makes you believe that everything is possible. And it is. As he says, it is helpful that there is big money flowing into the technology of foiling to support this progression today - for the America’s Cup and Sail GS plus other current big name yacht races.
Kai Lenny is a combo of innovation, style, extreme athleticism and focus. The fact that the guy is at the top of his game is no mistake. He says he loves foiling because even when he is not on the water, it gives his brain something to work on in terms of alterations to his equipment and furthering his foil technology. He is always reviewing his last session and deciding what to do next. It’s made him a physicist, an engineer and a helluva good surfer.
Switching gears, when asked how fatherhood affects his ability to ride big waves, Kai responded by saying he believes fatherhood has made him a more focused and even better athlete because he doesn’t get to spend as much time in the water. This heightened focus gives him additional power to tap in and make the most of every session. He also loves fatherhood and says his girls are ‘the best’. He already has them in the water and can’t wait to start to do more things with them. He confidently states that they are already ‘chargers’. I would lean on the side of believing him.
I asked him about his mom and dad. He says they are out wing foiling every day and they deserve it. Molly is "the best” mom and very happy. Kai is doing Kai and all is well in the universe.
Be sure to check out the season finale of Life of Kai on RedBullTV on August 25th!