The MJ5: Surfer Kai Lenny on His Favorite Surf Spot, Workouts, Gear, and More

Kai Lenny of Hawaii, USA, competes in the The 8th annual Sunset Beach Pro during the 2017 APP World Tour at Sunset Beach in Oahu, Hawaii, February 23, 2017.
 BRIAN BIELMANN/AFP/Getty Images

Surfer Kai Lenny knows his way around the ocean. From surfing, to stand-up paddle boarding, windsurfing, kitesurfing, and everything in between, if there’s a sport that involves the water, he probably does it. A former SUP Race World Champion, Lenny now rides and competes in the World Surf League while living in Hawaii.

Last year, Lenny made waves—no pun intended—with his ride on a massive wave at Jaws, which earned him the Overall Performance Award at the WSL Big Wave Awards, plus the XXL Biggest Wave Award. While there wasn’t an exact measurement of the wave he rode, Lenny estimated that the wave was “close to the 80-foot range.”

“That was probably the biggest wave I’ve ever ridden,” Lenny told Men’s Journal. “It was at my home break at Jaws Beach, which is also known as Peʻahi in Hawaii. I’s just down the road from where I live. I remember seeing the wave, being in the back of a jet ski getting towed up, and then letting go knowing this was probably going to be the biggest wave that I ever rode. When it ended I had a feeling of ‘I’m so bummed it’s over,’ because you never know when you’re going to get an 80-foot wave ever again. It could be a year, it could be five years, who knows? That’s what’s crazy about the ocean; you have to take the opportunities when they happen because if you don’t, you’re you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life.”

Lenny spoke with Men’s Journal about some of his favorite things out there, including his favorite surf spots, his favorite gear, workouts for surfing, and more.

On his favorite workout: “It would be some type of breathing exercise, because surfing in general is such a good workout. When you’re paddling you’re using your upper body, and when you’re surfing using your lower body, so you’re getting a total workout. Breathing and stretching are probably the best things you can do for surfing, having that elasticity in your muscles is probably more important than being physically bulked up. You want to have that Bruce Lee lean-and-mean type form. Doing bodyweight stuff is almost enough for you; doing pushups and situps, just those two things, those can help your surfing dramatically. You’re strengthening your core muscles with those and since your legs get such a good workout from riding, those can really help. Those simple things can sometimes have the biggest gains for you as a surfer.”

On his favorite surfing and travel spots: “What’s cool about surfing and other sports I do like windsurfing, kitesurfing, stand-up paddle boarding, is that it’s taken me to every corner of the globe. It’s taken me to some remote places and to big cities as well, because anywhere where there’s water, there’s an opportunity to ride. New York City is probably one of my favorite cities in the world because it’s so crazy and intense, but from a surfing perspective, going to those tropical, dream-like places is amazing. Hawaii, where I’m from, is one of those for sure, but places like Fiji and Tahiti are pretty special. I also love going to places that are in the far corners of the globe like Patagonia or Alaska. But, I will also say I have yet to find somewhere that I think I could live permanently or had to be stuck for the rest of my life other than Hawaii.”

Where else he’d like to surf: “I’m very lucky, I’ve almost been every place in the world I’ve wanted to go. I would love to explore more of Africa. Africa is gigantic and there’s a lot of possibilities for some cool adventures and great waves down there. For surfing, Africa is sort of the final frontier of potential, but it also has its dangers and so you have to plan very well for it.”

On his favorite drink: “I think there’s really nothing better than a good smoothie that kind of captures all the fruit and all that good stuff you want to drink together. For me, it’s also all about drinking water, and water with trace minerals, because I’m losing so much water when I’m surfing. I’ll definitely have a Red Bull when I need a good kick in my butt, or if I’m doing an endurance thing and I need that extra kick. I also love good orange juice with pulp in it. I don’t really do alcoholic drinks, not because I have anything against them, but I’m just in the water so much and so water in my body seems to taste the best to me.”

On his favorite meal to cook or eat: “Mexican food is on the top of my list. A burrito is great for me, because what other food out there can you have everything wrapped together that you need and just take it and go? I can literally go in the water and I could be eating it while I ride. So if I had to choose one thing it would probably be a burrito.”

On his favorite piece of gear: “Probably my board, but it’s hard to say because I have like hundreds of boards, because each one is for a specific condition. I can’t say that I have one specific one that I love the most. I mean, in a way, maybe it’s just my body, because as a surfer you’re utilizing your body so much. The gear you use out there, whether it’s for surfing or paddle boarding, it’s almost useless without the human component, so in a sense the most important piece of equipment I have is my own body and taking care of it is of the utmost importance for me.”

Check out the MJ5 archives for new interviews with Kyle Chandler, Chris Evans, and more.