Hearts skipped a beat on January 14, 2018, when Hawaiian surfer Kai Lenny whipped out his hydrofoiling board at the infamous Maui break Pe’ahi, also known as Jaws. The emerging sport has come a long way in the two decades since surf legends Laird Hamilton and David Kalama—also Kai’s mentors—donned snowboarding boots to test out the potential of this new style of riding waves. Here Kai tells us how he got started in foiling, his favorite food for fueling up, and where he’d like to try the sport next.
— Surfer Kai Lenny
When did you first try hydrofoiling?
Kai Lenny: I started hydrofoiling when I was nine years old. Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama were doing it, and my dad and his friend bought one from them. The foils back then required snowboarding boots and both my dad and his friend were over it almost right away. I asked my dad if I could try and I succeeded right away. My dad has a photo of me trying it at ten years old.
What’s so alluring about foiling? When did you first try a backflip on it?
Kai Lenny: Hydrofoiling is just such unique a feeling. It allows a surfer to ride the worst waves imaginable and have the sensation of snowboarding through powder snow. It is also really challenging to learn, though, so it is not for everyone.
What are the best conditions for using it?
Kai Lenny: Truthfully the best conditions are small worthless waves that no one wants to surf. This allows for a secluded surf break that gives you hours of enjoyment. Most of the world has bad waves, so it is the perfect craft to ride them.
Do you think foiling will be come as popular as any other type of surfing? Can non-pros try it?
Kai Lenny: I see hydrofoiling becoming the perfect supplement for the good surfers and a great new piece of gear for people in general. If you are on a lake, you can ride one behind a boat and have hours of fun getting better at it. Non-pros can definitely try it, the only thing I highly recommend is never to foil in the same areas where there are swimmers, surfers etc. This is really important as it is easy to fall and the foil is pretty sharp.
What do you eat before a big day like the one you just had at Jaws? Do you eat snacks between catching waves? Is dehydration a problem?
Kai Lenny: I have a very healthy diet, but I do consume a huge amount of food. My stomach is like a burning furnace, I just can’t keep enough fuel for the amount of activities that I do in a day. In the morning before a swell, a simple egg burrito with ketchup and Tabasco is great. Out on the water during the day it’s bean burritos since they digest well, give me a sustained energy, and, most importantly, taste great! It is very difficult to stay hydrated since the sun and salt in the ocean are constantly pulling it out of you. I try my best to stay full and hydrated, but in the moment a lot of times it’s survival mode out at Jaws.
Where would you most like to try hydrofoiling?
Kai Lenny: So far what I have loved most is the places I have ridden the hydrofoil—places like Switzerland on the side of a castle on a lake, between islands in Hawaii, or riding open-ocean swells! I’m thinking someplace really cool would be in a massive storm in giant seas—that gets me excited. Maybe somewhere off of Ireland. There are a million places I would like to do it.