Kai Lenny

May 08, 2015


Words by Ali Klinkenberg

Visiting somewhere you’ve oft romanticised about is setting yourself up to be underwhelmed. Paris circa 2015 is a place that’s often stated as falling a little south of people’s lofty expectations. After all, this is Hemingway’s Paris, Miller’s, Fitzgerald’s. The Moulin Rouge, home of tasteful debauchery. But now, the city looks, well, rather tired. Overrun by tourists and in the doldrums of economic turmoil. What’s far from underwhelming however, is the charming smile of the modern adonis who’s paddling around in the Trocadero fountains in front of the Eiffel Tower. He’s being gunned down by a mighty lens, and, as you’re ushered to the side by the burly arms of a staunch Parisian security guard, you can’t help but wonder: Who is this man, and how to he get to be so fabulous?


Whatever you’re thinking, it don’t beat the cheque.

Kai Lenny is a 22-year-old, three-time World Stand Up Paddle board champion. He’s also a professional kitesurfer, windsurfer and big-wave paddle surfer who you’ll regularly see defying the impossible at Jaws. The reason that Kai’s paddling around in some of France’s most sacred monuments is because he’s sponsored by Swiss ‘Avant-Garde’ watch brand TAG Heuer; part of the growing number of mainstream companies to dabble in surf. TAG called Kai right before a big Jaws swell and expressed their interest in him as athlete. They said they’d been watching me for some time, and popped two “baller” watches in the post. And subsequently the brand’s partnered with the World Surf League as the Big Wave World Tour’s official timekeeper.

Kai’s excitable vernacular describes TAG’s request for him to surf Jaws in their iconic timepieces (worth a minimum of $4000US) and get some GoPro footage of him taking on giant waves:

“The first wave I dropped into, all I could see was this super nice watch, that’s worth a lot of money. As I was bottom turning and puling into barrels, all I was worried about was not losing the watch!”

In case you’ve never seen footage of Kai at Peahi, here’s what Shane Dorian said after one of 2014’s biggest swells: “Kai Lenny was really impressive. He was charging anything that came his way, both on a SUP and a normal paddle in board. He is one of the best out there for sure.”

Kai’s perfect execution of the product placement in extreme circumstances lead to TAG offering him a full-time endorsement deal. As a TAG ambassador Kai’s set to see the world in style, as he puts it himself, “Paris is just the beginning.”

I can’t help but ask the most obvious question: “Have you met Leo (DiCaprio, TAG model) yet?”

Kai laughs, he can tell this has been on my mind. “No, not yet. I think I will soon though. I think all of the TAG ambassadors are going to meet up at some point soon, in Ibiza or something.”

Ah, the life of the genetically blessed modern athlete.


Kai Lenny is the antithesis of the stigma attached to the SUP rider. Less grouchy old man, more Captain Planet, contributing to the all-round greater good.

“Whenever I’m out in the lineup I always tell people, “You’d much rather have me out here on my standup paddle board than my shortboard.” When I’m out there on a SUP I make a huge effort to let sets go by. But on a shortboard, it really doesn’t seem like anyone cares if I catch 400 waves in a session, because I don’t stand out (or up!) as much.”

The desire to find out what the financial incentive of someone of a similar age, but who’s excellent in their field, is too much to bear. Especially when we’re talking about a company who’s got the world’s dreamiest film star on their roster. “So what we talking here; $30,000 a month?”

The nervous laughter of a kid brought up right ensues. A gentleman wouldn’t ask, and a gentleman wouldn’t tell. But, try as we might we’re not exactly bonafide gents, so I push a little further.

“I’d rather not say. But TAG’s one of my main financial backers, and it’s a little more than that!”

It’s a brave new world out there for the young athlete. Cut throat and bleak at the bottom, and Paris and Swiss watches at the top. However, if anyone’s going to suckle the old money teat of Swiss Avant-Garde watches, I’m glad it’s Kai Lenny. He’s the genre crossing hero that surfing needs right now.

"Kai Lenny was really impressive as well," said Shane Dorian following one of 2014's biggest Jaws swells. "He was charging anything that came his way, both on a SUP and a normal paddle in board. He is one of the best out there for sure." Photo: Servais

“Kai Lenny was really impressive,” said Shane Dorian following one of 2014’s biggest Jaws swells. “He was charging anything that came his way, both on a SUP and a normal paddle in board. He is one of the best out there for sure.” Photo: Servais

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