Unlocked: Kai Paula Has Arrived - Stab Mag

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Unlocked: Kai Paula Has Arrived

Meet the 7th surfer to land a double spin in our final 2022 SEOTY entry.

cinema // Dec 15, 2022
Words by Albee Layer
Reading Time: 5 minutes

“I just finished Kai Paula’s Stab Edit Of The Year entry,” Albee Layer told us. “He’s my better attitude, better style, better looking replacement in surfing.” 

This was a joke, obviously — but the joke extends into the intro of ‘KP.’ Together, Albee and Kai run through the different archetypes the 19-year-old might explore to create his “brand” in today’s surf world. It’s nice to see such high level surfers not take themselves so seriously. Hang around until the end of the edit for a little behind the scenes action. 

But Kai’s surfing will ensure you hang around anyway.

You may remember him from this year’s Stab Highway, California in which he was on the blue team with Ainara Aymat, Micky Clarke, and Mateus Herdy. As he was under 21, Kai racked up points by focusing on the more surf-driven challenges rather than trying to single handedly take down a 12-pack

Many points would be awarded for his performance in ‘KP.’ We’ll spoil just one thing and say that he is now the 6th surfer to land a double spin in the ocean (on film at least). This puts Kai in the good company of Albee, Matt Meola, Noah Beschen, Italo Ferreira, Kelly Slater, and Julian Wilson.

Watch above, and allow Albee to formally introduce you to Kai below.

Kai, blue bandana and all, far away from his natural habitat of Maui. Photo: Are Frapwell

Let’s start with the basics. How old are you and where’d you grow up? 

I’m 19 years old and I was raised in Hana, Maui. 

When did you start surfing? 

When I was about five years old. I remember I was butt naked and my dad pushed me into a little shorebreak on a longboard. I got super into it, but also got super pissed. I told myself I was gonna quit multiple times. 

Why’d you wanna quit?

I remember trying to paddle out and I just couldn’t get out the back. I felt like I was paddling for at least two hours. 

I remember having that same experience when I was six. 

I literally could not get out. I was losing it, crying, freaking out, punching my board. I was like seven years old already throwing f-bombs. 

Eventually, Kai made it out the back. Frame: KP

When do you notice you could actually surf well? 

For a while I just surfed because I liked it, but I didn’t take it seriously. I fully stopped when I was 13 until I was about 15. Then I did a Rip Curl Gromsearch on Oahu, and I got a 10 and was all pumped. Then I got onto the Hawaii surf team and started realizing I could do it. That’s when I got super into it. 

How do you feel about contests now? 

They’re super fun. They get your adrenaline up — it’s like playing a game, and I like that. But I love freesurfing and trying to make cool edits and getting creative with the moves I’m trying. And I want to be different —  I think that’s what makes me the happiest in surfing. 

Nice. Stop copying my moves then. [laughs] When you look at surfing now, do you see a possible career as a freesurfer? I think it’s a fading genre. If you want to make a bunch of money in surfing and have a long career, it’s blatantly obvious that contests are the best option. We joked about in your edit, but what do you see as your niche in surfing? 

I’m just going to try and do it the way I want to do it. I don’t want to follow everybody else’s path of going on the QS for your whole entire life. But I want to do both. I want to put as much work as possible into both sides of surfing. 

What if you had to get rid of one side — contest or freesurfing? 

Oh for sure, I’d get rid of contests. 

Podium boy. Kai got 4th in the recent HIC Sunset Pro, a QS 1000. Photo: Tony Heff/WSL

With freesurfing, it seems like the most promising way to make a career is having a YouTube channel. Can you see yourself doing something like that? 

I think there’s a cool way to do it. You just need to be creative and not just talk for 30 minutes before every surf session and then go surf. I could never see myself doing that. I don’t want to do a Vlog sort of thing. 

I just don’t see other clips getting that many views at the moment. But maybe it’ll swing back.

I hope so. 

Let’s talk about your double oop. When did you start trying it? 

I think I really started trying it that week. You asked me what I was going to try and I said, ‘I don’t know, just some oops or whatever.’ And you told me to try the double. I got the spin, but my back foot kept slipping off over and over again. I kept trying — we were surfing together and you were trying it, too — and on the third day, I almost got it. I landed backwards, spun out, and fell. But that’s when it came to me. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I could fully land this. This is sick.’ I got super crazy about it.

The next day, we surfed for like three hours and both of us were coming close. I got this little insider, but it turned into a perfect ramp. As I was paddling in, I had this feeling like I was gonna do it on that wave. I went up, spun as fast as I could, landed and before I even spun around, I was claiming it. [laughs] And then I looked out the back and you’re claiming it, too. That was a very, very, very special moment for me. And then, what, you did it next wave? 

A position very few surfers have found themselves in. Frame: KP

No, it took me like another hour. Did you feel bad? We were both trying it and I hadn’t done it in a couple years, and then you did it before me.

Definitely didn’t feel bad. I was pretty stoked actually. [laughs] 

Two doubles in a day. We should have raged after. 

Oh, I did. 

Was there anything you didn’t do that you wish you had in the edit? 

I really wanted to do the backside double spin. That’s kind of pissing me off. I’ve been coming close, but I haven’t put the exclamation point on it yet. It’s gonna happen, but it would have been cool to end the edit with that. The next one will have both. 

What’d you think about the concept we came up with for your edit? Cause it sounded a little weird when I was pitching it to you. 

I definitely was a little curious about how it was gonna turn out. But people want to see something different. I think it’s good to not be so serious all the time. That’s why I loved it.  

What’s next for Kai Paula? 

Get backside double spins unlocked and surf Jaws. 

Stay in your lane, brah. Don’t just make me retire. [laughs] 

Also do as good as I can in contests — that’s where we’re different. 


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