Kai Lenny speaks with Standup Journal about leaving Naish & future plans

Kai Lenny red bull naish
Kai Lenny red bull naish
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In an incredible turn of events last week, waterman Kai Lenny announced his departure from Naish Sup, a brand he has been with for 16 years. Eager to hear what precipitated this radical departure and anticipating Kai’s launch of his new career as a big wave contender, we asked Kai about future plans and where he was headed.

Here’s what he had to say:

Naish Kai Lenny Manhattan Red Bull
Kai’s sponsor, Tag Hauer welcomes him last year to Manhattan at the 2017 SEA Paddle NYC. Kai was up at dawn the day before the 24-mile race for this photo shoot in Times Square. Photo: Christian Anwander/Red Bullitan

Kai Lenny speaks to Standup Journal about departure from Naish & his future plans

Kai has always been way out in front of the crowd, managing a stand up paddling career and now surf, from a place of personal integrity entwined with top level performances. There are many inspirational figures in the world of sup, from Laird Hamilton to Dave Kalama, Gerry Lopez and now Chris Bertish.  But, it’s young 24-year old Kai who – in our book – has raised the bar for sup athletes across the globe to be winning in both performances and personality.

Standup Journal:  Will you be designing your own boards or transitioning to a surf brand to better support your participation in the WSL Big Wave Tour?

Kai:  My departure from Naish was really a hard decision for me.  Robby has been such a mentor and friend for my whole life, so leaving was really difficult.  My reasons for leaving was to have independence to ride anything I want and to work with innovators and masters around the globe.

Kai’s first sponsor, chosen by Kai himself, was Naish Sup.  He’s been with  Robby and the brand since he was 12 years old.  Naish has worked hard to support Kai in his progression with the foil, both windsurfing and sup.  Kai’s clear passion these days seems to be focused on the surf foil and … big wave boards.  We are all curious to hear whom he might he be interested in joining forces with to continue his work on board design and shaping.  His focus on the WSL Big Wave Tour surely impacts that decision.

Kai Lenny Naish Puerto Escondido SEA Paddle NYC
In this photo, Kai holds the board he won with at the WSL Puerto Escondido Big Wave Challenge in 2017. A Naish board by color, this shape is anything but the classic Naish stand up paddleboards we see on the market. Kai’s own innovation here is apparent in the overall board’s design and echos of stand up paddle board’s features. A fantastic combination of sport and performance.

Kai’s plans for the year ahead

Standup Journal:  What is your main focus / goal for the year ahead? Can you give us any deets?

Kai:  Currently, my plans are to keep pushing myself to be the best Athlete and Person that I can, while trying out new equipment and traveling to cool places.  I have several options to consider at this time, and I plan on taking the proper time to plan and think things through.  My biggest goal this year in competition is to qualify for the WSL Triple Crown here in Hawaii.  This will mean competing in WSL QS comps around the world.  I also plan on training on my Sup Race Boards and competing in select races.

I am so grateful for the journey I’ve had so far, and really excited for the future.  Thanks to everyone at the Stand Up Journal for the support.

Kai has a golden opportunity here to cross over into the surfing world with his performance from last year’s WSL Big Wave Challenge.  A passionate waterman and surfer at heart, Kai is creating for himself the path to compete on the world’s stage in surfing.  WHY NOT?  This young athlete already holds multiple world championships and titles for sup racing, sup surfing and holds the unofficial fastest time for crossing from Molokai to Oahu on his surf foil.  He is dedicated to his growth as an athlete … and as a human being.  We respect that.  

Kai Lenny and MO Freitas Sup Absolutely HUGE Peahi Monsters
As Kai leaves Team Naish, it will be strange to see him on anything but that signature yellow board; but, his own designs and innovative style are hugely anticipated by leaders in the sport and us here at Standup Journal. We wish you well in ALL of it, Kai. ALohA!

Mahalo nui loa to you, Kai for taking the time to give us some answers and get us ALL stoked to see what unfolds for you in the year ahead.  Ride on & WIN! 

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Evelyn O'Doherty, editor & publisher of the new Standup Journal 2.0 is a former school teacher gone rogue. She left her career as a teacher in order to spend more time near or on the water after learning to surf turned her life around (upsidedown?). She is a year-round surfer and paddler living on the eastern tip of Long Island in NY who is a certified SUP instructor, seasoned SUP racer and avid longboard surfer. Evelyn was hired as Online Editor to Standup Journal in 2016. Her passion for the project quickly led to her success and eventually taking over the mag herself in Oct. 2018. Today, as editor, publisher and chief bottle washer at Standup Journal, Evelyn keeps her toes wet writing, traveling, paddling, surfing, and learning to foil. You can find her most days paddling out on Gardiner's Bay or surfing Ditch Plains in Montauk, NY.