Next and Level. Those are two words that describe Kai Lenny's performances over the last week of big wave surfing at Jaws and Mavericks.
That description has come from some of the world's best big wave surfers who have witnessed Kai's performances. Albee Layer, Grant "Twiggy" Baker, Lucas Chumbo, Jamie Mitchell, and Kyle Thierman were just some of the elite crew who recognized that, right now, Lenny is operating at a different level to his peers.
His continued progression is made all the more remarkable as he has already set the bar so high. His performances at Nazare, both in last year's Nazare Tow Challenge and then in this season's opening swells, showed few, if any, surfers can match him in waves of that scale.
Then, in the first swell of the season at Jaws, Lenny switched to paddling and was universally acclaimed as the standout performer. The highly-technical freefall to exit a massive tube (as seen above) may have been the highlight, but no surfers were taking off as late, with so much ease as the Maui local.
With little rest, he then packed his quiver and chased the same swell to Mavericks. On a day that Mav's OG Grant Washburn called the "Best paddle day ever," it was Lenny again that stood out.
Twiggy Baker and Peter Mel might be vying for the biggest waves caught on the day, but all agreed that it was Kai who dominated the historic day. "Kai snagged at least ten amazing waves," said Twiggy. "It was amazing."
Lenny surfed for 12 hours, stopping for just 15 minutes to refuel with a burrito. He later labeled Mavericks a big-wave skate park giving an insight into how differently he is approaching one of the world's heaviest waves.
"In the past, I've missed opportunities, because fear becomes overwhelming and you're not sure you can make it," Lenny told Surfline. "But through experience and time spent on the water you realize you can make it. You gotta just go for it to try and see what happens. And today was one of those days where I realized I can do this. And if I can do it once, why can't I do it twice? Why can't I do it 15 times? And luckily, I didn't even fall today. That was pretty good."
The key in that statement is that Lenny is still learning and on an upward trajectory. Where that curve will take him, and surfing, remains a fascinating story yet to be told. It's also worth noting that Kai is just 28 and that it was only four years ago, in the El Nino season of 2016, where he transitioned from a windsurfing, kitesurfing and SUP all-rounder into an elite big wave surfer. The jack of all trades has, quite quickly, become a master of one.
"I think we are just at the beginning of changing the whole sport of surfing," he said at the end of that transformative 2016 winter. "The perspective and understanding you get from surfing a giant wave, the understanding of speed, power and flow, it will transcend the whole sport."
Four years later no other big-wave surfer is doing more to fulfill that prediction than Lenny.