Skip to main content

Heavy water doesn’t bother hydrofoil surfboard innovator Kai Lenny

At just 25 years old, Hawaiian big wave surfer — and hydrofoil surfboard innovatorKai Lenny is as accomplished as any of his peers. After gaining fame in 2012 by nabbing first-place finishes in two high-profile stand-up paddle board competitions, Lenny outdid himself the following year, again winning multiple SUP championships while also adding “kiteboarding world champion” to his profile.

These days, Lenny’s stock is as high as ever. This year alone, the young surfer released a jaw-dropping surf flick titled Paradigm Lost and spent much of his spare time raising environmental awareness and participating in the cleanup of Hawaii’s precious islands; something he helped kick off from — where else — atop a hydrofoil surfboard. As he uses his platform to make a positive impact on the environment, Lenny still finds time to compete at the highest level.

His next competitive obstacle? The 2017 Red Bull Heavy Water event that’s described as “the most intense stand-up paddling event in the world.” With that simple description of the event already stacked against him, Lenny also has the pleasure of attempting to dethrone last year’s winner, Connor Baxter, a fellow professional surfer who bested the Hawaiian at last year’s event. We recently caught up with Kai to get a glimpse at what makes him tick, how he’s prepping for Heavy Water 2017, and what drives him.

Iker Basterretxea / Red Bull Content Pool
Iker Basterretxea / Red Bull Content Pool

Digital Trends: Heavy Water 2017 seems as high-octane as just about any event Red Bull puts on. Tell us about what makes the event so over-the-top. 

Kai Lenny: Red Bull Heavy Water is, without a doubt, the gnarliest stand-up race in the world. and that’s because the location is so crazy — it’s at (San Francisco’s) Ocean Beach, which is considered one of the most powerful beach breaks on the West Coast. On top of that, we’re dealing with currents coming out of San Francisco, which are commonly referred to as some of the most challenging currents in the world. And just the way the course is set out makes it a really exciting and fun race for the athletes, as well as an incredible spectator sport. Leave it to Red Bull to do something completely full throttle.

“Red Bull Heavy Water is, without a doubt, the gnarliest stand-up race in the world.”

I think the spectator aspect to the event is something many people might not think about, but it seems like there’s an incredibly compelling side to Heavy Water for anyone who attends. 

Oh, absolutely. And with a few new additions to the event — like a slightly modified course, along with some of the new technology with MapBox and potentially having GoPros on athletes’ boards — I think it’ll be such an in-depth experience that allows people to not just visually watch it but also gives them the hard data and actual perspectives of the athletes. It’ll be incredibly immersive.

What all have you done to train and be ready, and how are you feeling heading into the event? 

Feeling really good heading into the event. I’ve basically been doing my normal endurance training routine on a stand-up, and just being here [in San Francisco] now has been great to get re-familiarized with the conditions. There’s a lot of luck involved in this event because the surf can be so unpredictable and we take whatever comes to us in the moment, but by being well-trained and understanding the way it works here, you can be much luckier than not. Everyone has the same playing field as well, so it makes the whole thing exciting for all the athletes.

What’s the competition and spirit of the event like on race day?

Of course, everyone is very friendly with each other but once the race starts, it’s 100 percent “everyone wants to beat everyone.” In the stand-up paddle world, this is the largest prize purse for an event, so there’s a lot on the line for a lot of these athletes. It’s a battlefield once we’re out there — we’ll push the boundaries of competition.

You consistently push yourself to the surfing limit — you’re an accomplished big wave surfer, you’re about to compete in this SUP event, and your hydrofoil boards have taken the surf community by storm. What drives you to keep getting out there each day?

I’m driven purely off the passion of what I love to do — which are these sports — and from that, I’m always looking to get better and do bigger things. It’s almost like an experience and a high you can’t get anywhere else, and to be able to capture that and always be a little more special each time is what’s the main driving force. I also love competition because it pushes me to a place I could never get to on my own, and other athletes push me to that same level as well. More than anything, it’s just that passion I have.

You’ve been active in your home state of Hawaii, participating in cleanup efforts and raising awareness. Talk a little about how you use your platform to give back. 

I always feel like I’m so lucky and fortunate to have the life that I live and all these opportunities. To give back is something you have to do because I think it’s a responsibility — plus, it just feels good.

Environmentally speaking, the ocean’s given me so much that I have to take care of it and bring awareness to the troubles the ocean’s faced with by humans’ hand. If someone can have a personal attachment or relationship with the water, I think it naturally happens that they want to take care of it.

With all this momentum you’ve built up in 2017, how do you plan on outdoing yourself next year? 

Going into every year, I already know what I want to try to achieve, and this year’s been great. I pride myself on trying to make every single year better than the last — every year should be the best year of my life because it should continue to get better and better. Whatever challenges are posed, I cross that road when I get there and make the most of whatever I have. You can’t go wrong if you’re always trying to get better.

Rick Stella
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Rick became enamored with technology the moment his parents got him an original NES for Christmas in 1991. And as they say…
I had written off bicycles, until e-bikes unlocked an entire world for me
Himiway C5

I have a lot working against me when it comes to riding a traditional bicycle: collapsed foot arches, bad knees, and nerve issues that extend into my pelvic floor and make it challenging for me to sit for any extended time on a standard bicycle seat. For all those reasons, I gave up on any chance of comfortably bicycling as an adult.

But when Himiway offered to let me try its new C5 e-bike, which features a motorcycle-style saddle that is both wider and longer than the average bicycle seat, I reconsidered. I cautiously hoped it could improve my ability to enjoy bike riding. However, I didn't expect it to completely change my life for the better.
The making of an e-bike guy
From the Engwe M20 to the Ride1up Revv1, e-bikes have embraced the motorcycle aesthetic, and the larger seats that go with them. For most riders, it’s just a cool look. For me, it opened a whole new world.

Read more
I ditched my car for a month of e-biking. Here’s what I learned
Aventon Abound rider with plants and store bought items on road.

Since settling into my life as an "e-bike guy," I've been testing new bikes left and right. So when someone suggested trying to replace my car with an e-bike for a month, it didn't take much to convince me. With a growing variety of bikes at my disposal, it sounded exciting to challenge myself and to find out just how much of my normal routine could be maintained with two wheels and a battery.

Though I live in a rural county just outside of Atlanta, my townhome community is located right beside a commercial strip packed with restaurants, department stores, banks, and gyms. So while I've historically used my car to get around, I've always known I could easily reach anything I need on foot or by bike in a mere few minutes if needed. Now, it was time to put that knowledge into action.
Week 1: Growing pains and happy kids

Read more
TORRAS COOLiFY Cyber offers ultimate personal cooling to beat the summer heat
TORRAS COOLiFY Cyber personal AC worn outdoors

Imagine this: The summer heat is baking down on you from above. You're close to overheating, and you desperately need to cool down. The problem is you don't have quick access to a vehicle, nor can you retreat indoors to cool down quickly with central AC. Drinking some water and staying hydrated might help, to a point, but otherwise, you're stuck in that heat, dare we say, suffering. That's the perfect time to throw on TORRAS' COOLiFY Cyber, a cutting-edge wearable air conditioner. Wait, what? That's right, it slips right over your neck to keep you cool and comfortable. Thanks to the 6,000mAh rechargeable battery built-in, it can provide up to 13 hours of cooling on a single charge. But that's not all it does. A fan mode provides extra airflow, ideal for hot, musty, or humid weather. On colder days, it even provides a little heat. So, it's incredibly versatile and one of the most innovative personal comfort solutions on the market. Let's talk a little more about why you might use it.
Buy Now
Cutting-edge personal comfort when you need it most

The default scenario is when you're outside in the heat, like standing around at your kid’s sporting event, visiting a local park, on a walk or run, or just about any time you’re outside. The COOLiFY Cyber can provide the right temperature for what you need, delivering an ice-cold feeling. It's an excellent companion for those who have trouble with temperature regulation and often find themselves facing uncomfortable conditions, even where others seem fine. For example, if you're hot at home or while visiting friends or family when no one else seems to be, you can turn to the COOLiFY CYBER to get your body comfortable again.

Read more