Zen And The Art Of Air-Dropping Aerodynamically - Stab Mag
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Kai Lenny and Liam Lawson, a driver on Red Bull's F1 team. Courtesy Red Bull TV

Zen And The Art Of Air-Dropping Aerodynamically

Kai Lenny on the effect of F1 cars, airplane wings, and Taco Bell on big-wave surfing’s next step up.

cinema // Jul 6, 2024
Words by Christian Bowcutt
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Oxford Dictionary definition of “Methodical” reads: “(of a person) orderly or systematic in thought or behavior.”

In this season finale of “Life of Kai”, 31-year-old (and new dad of twin daughters) Kai Lenny demonstrates the kind of methodical approach to his craft that is more akin to a Stoic engineer than an Epicurean pro surfer.

Exhibit A: Kai carries multiple sets of fins in a kangaroo pouch on the back of his wetsuit top to experiment with in the water without having to come in.

Exhibit B: Kai travels to Las Vegas to hang with Red Bull’s Formula One racing team to, ostensibly, “bring something back to our sport”. Which seems like a cheeky, overproduced stretch until he starts working on Exhibit C…

Slim thiqqq.

Exhibit C: Keith Teboul (of KT Surfboards) and Kai Lenny start thinking about the amount of time spent airdropping at Jaws and realize that big-wave surfboard design has been neglecting aerodynamics this whole time, leading to a new type of big-wave gun that acts as a “wing” to create more stable, predictable air drops.

On top of all this, Kai explains how learning to shape his own surfboards has given him a better idea of what kind of feedback is actually helpful for his shaper. This new craft has also helped him “heal faster” from his traumatic brain injury at Pipeline that kept him out of the water for weeks and caused “severe anxiety and depression.”

“As soon as the best guys start hitting their heads, you’re like hmm they’re the best guys.” Kai explained. “I should probably wear a helmet.”

Kai’s polymathic approach to wave-riding has been well-documented, like in this New Yorker profile by Barbarian Days author William Finnegan. He began surfing as a toddler, windsurfing at six, kiteboarding at nine, and practically every other type of boarding soon thereafter. Taking the road less traveled by has caused him to catch some murmuring flak by “purists” who maintain that any equipment besides a board, wetsuit (maybe), and a leash is a fast-track to dorktown, but it’s also enabled him to create a singular, lucrative career for himself, support his growing family, and employ those closest to him — His dad is his manager and his brother, Ridge, is his tow partner and licensed accountant.

In the words of Kai’s BFF Nathan Florence, “every year in big-wave surfing the equipment improves, and then the level steps up.” Kai’s decision to risk backlash, matched with his methodical approach to improving surfboards, is what is making him one of the seminal characters of this surfing generation.

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