A wall of water almost 30 metres high. A board of less than two. Scaling the heights of that wall and then surfing down the other side at breakneck speed. 20 seconds of pure adrenaline. Of feeling the power of nature at its most authentic. A day that Kai Lenny will never forget. The 28th of October 2020 at Praia do Norte in Nazaré in Central Portugal, just up from Lisbon. The place where the world’s top surfers come together each year for the Tow Surfing Challenge. Promoted by the World Surf League, it is considered something of a surfing world championships and Lenny never misses it. Born to Californian parents, he grew up in Hawaii, riding his first wave at the age of four. In 2019, he became the youngest ever surfer inducted into the Hall of Fame. Now a TAG Heuer Ambassador, the 28 year old also excels in SUP, windsurfing, kitesurfing and foiling. Sea Time caught up with him just recently.
What age did you start surfing?
I rode my first wave at four and instantly knew I would be doing it for the rest of my life. I grew up around the best surfers and windsurfers in the world and always wanted to be like them.
Who inspires you?
Robby Naish. He’s my idol, my hero. He’s a genuine all-round athlete. He was a surfing and kitesurfing champion. And then Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama, Rush Randle and all the Raddle Crew. They invented a way of surfing big waves. They all live here on this stretch of coast (Maui, ed.’s note). When I was a kid, I would often meet them and sit down and chat with them. Sometimes they’d just say hi but even that much attention meant a huge amount to me. They were my heroes.
You don’t just surf, you also excel at kitesurfing, SUP, windsurfing and more. Do you have any particular favourite? What is the difference between them emotionally?
I don’t have a favourite. Surfing is the basis of everything though. The other specialities are spin-offs. They are the natural evolution of surfing. I spend a lot of time and energy on al of the them. There’s only one rule when it comes to learning and improving: always have fun!
Why did you decide to become a TAG Heuer ambassador? What values do you share with the brand?
There is one factor that I share with the brand: I always push myself as hard as I can in life. I want to make a difference. I always try to raise the bar. Test myself. TAG Heuer became a benchmark in sports watch-making because of its ability to innovate. And the same goes for me. Every time I go to sea, I aim to improve my performance. Just like TAG Heuer does with its watches. That type of dedication is what makes my experience on the waves so special and I think the Aquaracer Professional 300 is the best sports watch on the market right now.
What relationship do you have with time and how does your perception of it change when you are surfing?
It’s interesting because surfing frees my mind and I focus only on what I am doing right in that moment: riding giant waves. There’s no room for any other thoughts. When you are doing something extreme that might put me in danger, you are so focused that every part of your body is focused on the goal: to pass the test. When I am about to take a wave or I am tube riding surrounded by an enormous wall of water, time slows down and 10 seconds feels like a minute. I really feel I can slow down time, almost manipulate it. But all I am doing is trying to get my brain used to absorbing every instant as fast as possible to kind of dilate my perception. Time seems to move more slowly when you are experiencing something really intense and not thinking about all the problems you might have back ashore, just how you’ll deal with the wave you’re about to ride.
Where are the best places in the world to surf?
The best place is where I live – it’s known as Jaws (north coast of the island of Maui, ed.’s note). Then there are places like Nazaré in Portugal or Cloudbreak in Fiji, Mavericks in California and Hoople in Tahiti. They’re the five places you can really pit yourself against waves that unequalled anywhere in the world in terms of energy, height and power.