For most athletes, hall of fame recognition is a welcome capstone to a memorable career.
However, for Maui waterman Kai Lenny — only 26 years old and in his prime — this summer has been filled with not one, but two hall of fame inductions.
The professional big-wave surfer, stand-up paddleboarder, windsurfer, kitesurfer and hydrofoil competitor was inducted into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Aug. 2 as a member of the 2019 class. His hand- and footprints were immortalized in concrete along with those of fellow inductees Sam Hawk and Janice Aragon, both of California.
Three weeks later Lenny was inducted into the Outrigger Duke Kahana- moku Foundation Hawai‘i Waterman Hall of Fame on Aug. 22 along with windsurfing pioneer Robby Naish and canoe paddler and Olympic kayaker Tracy Phillips Darling.
“Just to be recognized and to go into the Waterman Hall of Fame, it’s an honor,” said Lenny. “I never thought I’d be getting inducted at the ripe age of 26, and I still feel like I have a lot to do and a lot to learn and a ton left in the tank. Just to be recognized is proof that whatever I’m doing is all right, so I need to remain on this same trajectory.”
On June 28, Lenny surpassed his own record at the 23rd edition of the Molokai-2-Oahu Paddleboard World Championships by nearly 23 minutes. In doing so, he set a new course hydrofoil record of 2 hours, 29 minutes and 38 seconds to headline the 32-mile race that took paddlers across the wind-whipped Kaiwi Channel from Kaluakoi on Molokai’s west end to Maunalua Bay on Oahu’s south shore.
“The channel was pretty good; it wasn’t as epic as I expected,” Lenny said. “With this kind of race, it’s not over until it’s over. You could be down and out for the count but still be able to cross the line first. My goal was to do a race with no mistakes, beat my time from last year, and if everything went the way I thought it should, it would lead me to a win.”
Following the race, Lenny showcased his knowledge of the technology involved with hydrofoil racing, explaining that while some competitors’ watercraft did well in the bumps and swells, his was built for a more well-rounded race that allowed him to lean on his training.
“If we keep improving the equipment and making everything better, and physically I continue to train and be smart with my approach to the channel, there’s no doubt that I could beat this record, for sure,” he said.
Lenny’s competitors and a throng of onlookers were impressed with the competitor’s dominance.
“It was crazy impressive to see Kai, and his record is going to be hard to beat — this isn’t an easy race,” said professional stand-up paddleboarder and outrigger canoe paddler Travis Grant, a four-time Molokai-2-Oahu stand-up paddleboard titleholder. “The foils this year were something else; they reached speeds upward of 20 miles per hour through the channel.”
As for what’s next, in between promotional appearances for his myriad sponsors and other obligations, Lenny is constantly in standby mode: He goes where and when the waves and wind are.
He admits his nomadic lifestyle can be a bit hectic — even when he’s living the dream in the warm, crystal-clear waters of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, as was the case on his latest “work” trip. But Lenny always looks forward to coming home.