Kai Lenny isn't the prototypical, chest-pounding, big-wave ironman. He's humble, quick with a smile, happy to take time out for the groms, and somehow seems perpetually stoked. He looks forward to 60-foot days with all the glee and excitement of a kid on Christmas morning. Every swell is a new opportunity to push limits and enjoy the ocean with friends.
But under this friendly, approachable demeanor is one of the most hardened watermen on the planet. Whether it's competing on the Big Wave World Tour, whipping in at giant Jaws, foiling between Hawaiian Islands, stand-up paddling, kite-surfing or windsurfing, Lenny is a world-class, bona fide freak athlete in every discipline. Amongst the chaos, he's found a common thread: Mark Visser and his Ocean Warriors curriculum.
"The first time I heard of Mark's training was from my good friend Ian Gentil, who lives down the street. I remember him coming over to my house and saying, ‘Man, I just swam in the pool with Mark Visser and it was the craziest thing I've ever done. I learned so much, you have to meet this guy,'" recalled Lenny when the WSL caught up with him before the Jaws Challenge Pe'ahi. "Then through people I know and respect and trust in the ocean, they were all saying that Mark is, without a doubt, the most legit guy they've ever worked with for big-wave surfing and surviving in the ocean anywhere."
Having been around the block when it comes to aquatic preparedness, Lenny had reservations at first.
"Being in the ocean my entire life, you kind of feel like you've heard everything, but just the most simple, basic things can make huge differences. That's what caught my eye and made me really want to listen more," explained Lenny. "Sometimes it's just those simple techniques that make the biggest differences. That's what I was blown away by. At a certain level it's not about redefining everything you're doing because there's this one magical piece missing. It's more taking all of these small components and making a big difference."
Subscribing to Visser's Ocean Warriors training course, the two got busy working together. Lenny's constantly pushing himself, searching for any added edge he can find. What Visser had to teach him was a game-changer.
"I've always felt that my cross training through other sports has prepared me to survive anything and be physically fit, but there was always a missing link that I felt came with time," said Lenny. "But being on the Big Wave World Tour and having the dream of winning a world title, I don't want to waste any time. So, I'm trying to fast-track myself to a state of mind where I can ride the biggest waves with confidence. I know that I can handle it physically, but the mental side of things is what's really important and I feel like this gave me huge step forward. Most of the time it's all mental."
And when it comes to the mentality of riding big waves, Lenny is quick to note that what he does isn't normal. It's something he's built up to over years and years in the water. In fact, sizable surf can simply be a matter of perspective.
"I've always felt that big waves are relative. A four-foot wave is big to one person, while maybe that's how a 60-foot wave feels for me," continued Lenny. "That's why I feel like what Mark is doing is all really relatable for everybody. For me, I noticed I was able to be a little calmer, collected and think clearly and process everything. It's like preparing for an exam in school. You can study, but still go into it nervous. There are ways to stay calm and center yourself. And when you're calm, especially when you're in the water having fun, it all comes together."
Visser has trained a lot of the world's most elite big-wave surfers, but he also acknowledges that the Ocean Warriors training program is hugely beneficial to anyone that's going to be spending time in the water.
"For the top-level professional athlete on the planet it helps you, but it can also help the guy or girl that just wants to go jump in the ocean and have confidence doing it," said Lenny.
"Trusting that you can take care of yourself, I would say that's the meat of it. It gives you confidence that you can survive and stop over-thinking that fear complex," he continued. "The techniques that Mark's developed are really easy to wrap your head around and they're things that all of us can do. You don't have to build up to it with training. That's super important. To have something that's simple enough that in a critical situation."
It's also important to keep in mind that even accomplished guys like Lenny still get scared. That's just part of the deal when it comes to big-wave surfing. It can be a terrifying, life-threatening endeavor.
"You're always scared. I'm always scared. Even with all of the mental training and physical training," admitted Lenny. "The difference is now the unknown is known. As scary as a situation can be, with this training you already know the answer. You know you can handle it. I think that's the gift of being prepared. The unknown is scary in anything in life. This training will make you feel like you've got your bases covered."
Visser and Lenny have been working together for years now, but the journey continues.
"I don't feel like I've reached my full potential working with Mark yet," said Lenny. "I feel like the knowledge that he has will allow me to improve what I'm already doing. I'm looking forward to working on figuring it all out. As soon as you stop learning, it's over. You have to always have an open mind. That's always been my approach.
Besides his work with surfers like Lenny, Visser hopes to share his knowledge and insight with as many people as possible. He continues to train surfers, watermen and women of all walks of life with The Ocean Warrior curriculum.
The WSL has teamed up with Visser this December to offer a sale on the Ocean Warrior course. Normally $400, you can sign-up now for $99 (Hint: it's an epic gift idea for that special surfer in your life).
The WSL is a participant in the Ocean Warrior affiliate program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to TheOceanWarrior.com