Taming Water and Wind: Meet Trailblazing Big-Wave Surfer Kai Lenny

Taming Water and Wind: Meet Trailblazing Big-Wave Surfer Kai Lenny

Introducing record-breaking waterman Kai Lenny, who tackles 50ft waves and has world championship wins under his board. We catch up with the adrenaline-junkie athlete to find out how he lives life on the edge. With his TAG Heuer Aquaracer in tow, we deep-dive into Kai’s mental strength, grit and how precision is the key to progress.

In partnership with

seasoned surfers, Kai Lenny is a legend. To adrenaline
junkies, an icon. To the uninitiated that have gasped and grimaced
at his hair-raising (and viral) YouTube videos as he tames 50ft
whoppers, he’s crazy. To all, he’s the most gifted waterman of our

Born and raised in Maui, Hawaii to
swell-obsessed parents, Kai became enthralled with surfing from the
tender age of five. He quickly graduated from boogie boards to big
waves and was behind a kite before the age of ten. You could say he
took to surfing like a fish to water.

Today, as a TAG Heuer ambassador, Kai is a multi-hyphenate
of the sea. Racking up accolades in stand-up paddleboarding,
kitesurfing and big-wave surfing is the result of years spent
honing his craft. In addition to gruelling workouts and training
camps, the athlete’s speed, time and precision has helped him push
the boundaries of what many think is humanly possible.

Beyond raw talent, it’s Kai’s grit, resilience and his
meaningful connection with the ocean that has helped him tame waves
that are the same height as the White House. This is a man that
lives life on the edge. That could mean channelling fear into top
performances, slipping into a meditative state when he wipes out,
and sheer determination to get back on the water afterwards.

We chatted about how the big-wave surfer deals with failure, the
mental strength needed to tackle tsunami-grade waves and how his
TAG Heuer Aquaracer is key to defining his

Where are you from?

I’m from
, Hawaii. Born and raised on this cool island in the middle
of the Pacific.

How has that shaped and inspired you?

If I’d been born elsewhere, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I
do. But I was bitten by the surf bug on Maui’s South Shore, and
since then my life has revolved around the waves.

Growing up in the 90s, watersports such as windsurfing and
big-wave surfing were emerging. Stand-up paddleboarding was
becoming popular after a 1,000-year hiatus and kitesurfing was
being invented in my backyard. It was the pinnacle of watersports
and I had a front-row seat to the best watersport athletes on the

Athletes like Dave Kalama, Rush Randle and Laird Hamilton – who
became known as the “Strapped Crew” because they were the first to
strap their feet to boards – were pushing the boundaries of what
was possible in the water. Some kids idolised Superman; to me,
these guys were superheroes.

Fear is a tool. You’re able to get much more out of your fight-or-flight instinct and do things you never thought you’d be able to do before.

What else drives you?

It’s interesting because, as I’ve grown, my perceptions and
ambitions have completely changed. Right now, my driving force is
progression. I need to be in a place, physically and mentally,
where I can challenge myself to do things that have never been

Physically, I need to make sure my body can endure every minute
of sunlight we have. For days on end, I need to be in the water,
chasing waves. Mentally, I have to truly believe in the goals I’m
chasing. I need to feel it in my bones. Then I go out and do it.
It’s often hard to reach that mindset because I’m trying to believe
in something that I haven’t achieved yet. Perseverance, patience
and practice are key.

Describe the feeling of big-wave surfing.

Pure bliss. Like you’re skipping through the water. It’s
satisfying but also motivating; you want to chase that euphoria.
Sometimes I look at my watch thinking I’ve been on the water for 45
minutes and I’ve actually been out there for two and a half hours.
I’ve been lost in a vacuum of fun.

We’ve watched the Youtube videos. Seen you, mentally and
physically on the edge, tackling waves 70ft high. You look

I’m the furthest thing from fearless. But I do think fear is
misinterpreted as negative, something that no one wants to
experience. For me, fear is a tool; if channelled correctly, you’re
able to get much more out of your fight-or-flight instinct. You’re
about to do things you never thought you’d be able to do

What mental strength do you need to succeed at big-wave

Trust in yourself. At times when I’m riding inside the wave –
inside the tube, a big aerial manoeuvre or evening surviving a
wipeout – I think: how did I pull that off?

It’s not always a conscious effort. Sometimes it’s like I’m
watching a movie and my body is just unfolding on its own. It’s a
leap of faith. You have to let go of everything – attachments,
fear, anything back on land.

How do you prepare for a wipeout?

When you get hit by a 60ft wave or bigger, you have to do the
exact opposite of what your instincts are telling you: to fight and
claw your way out of there. You have to relax and go limp. There’s
no way to fight the ocean, not with that sort of velocity and

I’m happy as long as I know what’s around me. That doesn’t mean
seeing; it’s like a sixth sense and I’ve spent my life working on
it. I have to know where the board is, if my body is contorted,
which way is up.

Every wipeout feels like a small failure, but then, the ocean is the greatest teacher. It has given me great rides but also the best feeling in the world: surviving.

Has your connection with the ocean helped you overcome any

Every wipeout feels like a small failure, but then, the ocean is
the greatest teacher. It has given me great rides but also the best
feeling in the world: surviving. I’ve felt scared, like I’m not
going to make it out alive but, obviously, I always have. So what
am I going to do? Be mad at the ocean? The ocean doesn’t care! All
I can do is try again. If you give it the right energy, go out with
the right state of mind, it comes back in return.

One thing you pack before setting out to surf…

My TAG Heuer Aquaracer is always with me. No
matter where I end up, what waves I face, it’s the one piece of
equipment that always stays on me – it’s that durable! I can hand
it down to my future kids and say “that watch survived the biggest
wave on the planet”. The watch is part of my legacy.

Describe the TAG Heuer Aquaracer in three words.

Durable. Meaningful. A friend. Every time I glance down, it
reminds me how much I’ve achieved.

How has the TAG Heuer Aquaracer watch helped you achieve

Time is crucial in a competitive setting and to surviving big
waves. I time the frequency of the sets, how long does it take to
arrive onto the reef to break, is it three minutes, 10 minutes or,
for large waves, half an hour.

Some people think it’s luck being in the right place, at the
right time to score one of these record-breaking waves, but it’s
not. It’s a lot of methodical planning, reading the forecasts, the
data and then referring to my TAG Heuer Aquaracer and timing, to
precision, when the next wave break is going to be.

We want to push our bodies to the limits. Do you have any

You need to have the inner willingness to go out and find that
opportunity. Not because you got lucky, but because you decided to
push yourself. Once you do that you’ll either encounter the best
ride of your life… or the worst wipeout – on or off the water.

Finally, we caught up with Kai Lenny to get his insider guide
to Maui, Hawaii…

What’s the first thing we should do when we reach Maui?

Of course, my number one is going to be Jaws, which to the
uninitiated, is the break on Pe’ahi where you’ll find all the big

Share a spot only locals know about…

Few travellers have Haleakalā volcano on their radar. I love
going up to the top of the mountain where you’re hovering above the
clouds. It’s calm. You can gaze out across the rest of the world. I
feel very centred there.

What about if we want to hit the beach?

I love the beaches on the South Shore. There’s little to no wind
so you won’t find many waves, but you will find warm water and that
typical laid-back, Hawaiian lifestyle.

Somewhere for an adventure-packed day…

You want to head east where you’ll find a ton of waterfalls. It
feels like you’re in Jurassic Park as they gush straight out to the
ocean. In terms of waves, some of the best breaks happen in

We want to practise surfing. Where can we go?

Hokitika Beach. I live just down the street and you’ll often
find me there practicing everything from surfing to kiting. The
waves suit any watersport, so I use it as my training ground.

The Lowdown

The TAG Heuer Aquaracer is the ultimate tool watch. Sporting
heavy-duty materials, it pushes the boundaries of luxury
timekeeping. Find your precise fit here.

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