From impossible air drops to roaring tube rides, what Kai Lenny has done at Jaws this winter has seemingly put him in a league of his own. But the Kai Show isn't a one-man act, it has a remarkable ensemble supporting cast.
"Surfing big waves isn't as simple as just waking up and going to the beach," Kai explained when the WSL caught up with him to get an inside look at how he does what he does. "To really do it and have your ship tight and prepared for anything, it takes a real strong team of people."
Every player in the "Kai Show" has a role to play, but none may be as important as what his father, Martin, does for him on the daily.
"My dad helps me coordinate everyone and everything," said Kai. "From booking travel, to logistics, to everything, he's on it. And my mom is awesome because she lets this whole crew from all over the world just show up and converge. We have these amazing dinners that my mom and dad do that brings everyone together so we're all full and ready for the next day."
From there, Kai's team includes a number of documentarians, rescue personnel and supporters.
"To have people like Tom Servais, Larry Haynes, and a bunch of different videographers and photographers come over and hop on the boat and document what we do, it's really special because they're so good at what they do," Kai humbly explained. "This year I've been working a lot more with the Walsh brothers, DK and Shaun on the boats. They've become an integral part of the team."
"Having legends like Victor Lopez, who's my head safety guy and Darrick Doerner, who is also one of my head safety guys, that gives me all the confidence in the world," he continued. "Depending on the day, those two will switch off with one another towing me into waves and running safety. And then we'll have other people that are able to support them as well. And Don Shearer is always on call at the airport with the helicopter just in case something hits the fan and we need to get me or someone else out of Jaws' grasp. It's a whole village that makes this whole thing work."
And while all this is going down on the northern shore of Maui, Kai doesn't operate on an island. He and his team work closely with the other big-wave surfing squads to make sure everyone is on the same page and there for one another if the situation arises.
"There's a lot of coordination between other teams, like Ian Walsh, Shane Dorian and Greg Long's teams. Really, we're doing it as safe as possible so we can do it as long as possible," he said.
In terms of preparing for a swell before it hits, Kai's team is a well oiled machine and collectively, they know what needs to be done. Kai estimates the nucleus of his team has been on most Jaws swells since 2009, giving them a full decade of experience together. But that doesn't mean there isn't always room for improvement.
"A day or two before the swell when everyone gets into town we will spend time coordinating a safety plan, looking at what the conditions are going to be like, talking about what my goal is going to be that day," said Kai. "It's one of those things that you have to have an idea of what you're going to do before you get out there. If the wind conditions are up, what board am I going to ride? Are we going to tow? That kind of thing. And there is always a debrief after where we talk about what happened, what we could do better and improve on."
Kai's garage is a virtual surf shop. From foils to guns, tow boards to kite equipment, organization is the key to keeping the Kai Show going. Meticulous by nature, no fin screw or leash string escapes his detailed inventory.
"As far as the equipment, I have a pretty organized garage and I know where pretty much everything is all the time. I've got my boards and all my gear organized there and the skis are there is well. They are always gassed up and ready to go," Kai explained. "The boat is pretty much the captain's responsibility, so DK's been taking care of that. And it's up to the videographer or photographer to keep all their stuff organized. Everyone has their little part and everything needs to move seamlessly. But because so much is based at my house, it's all pretty central. It's not like we have to go chase around miscellaneous pieces."
First call for the Kai Show comes before the roosters crow.
"On an average day we are all up at 5:30am, meeting down at the harbor at 6:00am. Then we're trying to get out on the water right before sunrise. We always have a cooler full of drinks -- Red Bull, water, as well as food. "I always have my Taco Bell bean burritos," confesses Kai.
When asked further about his secret power source, Kai freely admits that when it comes to surfing Jaws all day, nothing beats a bean and cheese burrito.
"The bean burrito program, well, I've pretty much always loved Taco Bell bean burritos," he laughed. "They're so easy to have out on the boat all day. It's just simple beans, cheese and a tortilla. They taste good cold or warm. You can just grab one and go. It's super simple and easy. It's quick fuel. And everyone loves them. We always have to get so many for everyone. We always get them the night before."
At the end of the day, Kai is able to do what he does not just because he's is an athletic freak, but because there is a cast of characters that have his back when the heat is on.
"Everything that I've been able to do is thanks to all these people. It's not just a team, it's a family," said Kai. "It's incredible to have all these people supporting me and helping me try to achieve my goals."
"And it's really special to have my family as part of that team. From my mom and dad, to my brother when he's home from school, to my girlfriend Molly Payne, I'm so lucky to have a girl that understands. I can't tell you how many times we have had plans for something and I've canceled. She's never been the upset one. She knows it's my job, but she also knows I love doing it. I'm pretty lucky to have someone that is supportive like that. I think when you're pushing yourself to your absolute edge both mentally and physically you need to have people that are there for you to rely on."