Kia Lenny Trades big waves for Big Mountains

Kai Lenny has appeared in Adventure numerous times. He’s celebrated for his mastery across various adventure sports and disciplines, including big wave surfing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, and stand-up paddleboarding. Lenny’s versatility and innovation in wave riding have earned him widespread recognition in the global water sports community. From big-wave surfing to winning world titles in stand-up paddleboarding, he’s consistently pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in the ocean. Lenny’s career highlights include multiple SUP World Titles, wins at prestigious surfing events like the Pe’ahi Challenge, and pioneering new techniques and equipment designs. Beyond his competitive achievements, Kai is frequently seeking out and conquering some of the most challenging waves and conditions around the world.

Kai Lenny performs at Jaws in Maui, Hawaii on December 1, 2020. // Fred Pompermayer / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202012050222 // Usage for editorial use only //

In most cases Kai Lenny’s not a passenger, he is the guy at the front of the que leading the charge, if its big, if its challenging and if there is significant risk Kai is at the front of the pack.

Photographer: Christian Stadler, Athlete: Kai Lenny, Location: Nazaré, Portugal

Kia exception skill level and his ability to put himself in the dangerous frame made it ‘a given’ that someone was going to create a film around him, in fact a full documentary typre series. This is how The Life of Kai came about a video series that looks at this amazing athlete lifestyle and sporting approach.

But in the latest episode of Life of Kai, another iconic sporting icon, Travis Rice, takes the lead in taking Kai to new ground to the formidable and towering peaks of the Alaskan backcountry.

Former pro surfer turned filmmaker Keith Malloy (this season’s director of The Life of Kia) was interviewed about this complete change of environment from water to snow-covered mountains and how Kai reacted and eventually excelled.


This is part of the Keith Malloy interview by Beau Flemister:
So, Keith, this newest episode of Life of Kai was epic, to say the least. What was it like directing that? Was it challenging out there?
Keith Malloy: It’s funny because I’ve dabbled in snowboarding over the years, but I’m no great snowboarder at all, so it was kind of crazy being up there on helicopters. It was pretty out of this world. Some of it I couldn’t totally comprehend but I knew it was pretty great working with Travis Rice because he’s a beast and puts together visually some of the best stuff in that world. So, it was great working with him on that.

Logistically, it was tricky right off the bat. We had a little warm-up run for Kai at Travis’s house in Wyoming, then the next thing we know flights were getting cancelled because there was a volcano in Kamchatka that was sending smoke to Alaska. So, we had a good 24 hours of thinking the trip might be totally off.
Fortunately for us, it all opened up and we were able to catch our flight. Then you get up to Alaska and the weather day to day can be off for weeks at a time. We had a window of about a week and we were just crossing our fingers. Travis had looked into the weather and said it looked good, but you never know. So, yeah, those were some of the challenges, but then actually getting up on top of those peaks and getting down them was a heroic endeavour in itself.

Correct us if we’re wrong, but… did we witness Kai outrun an avalanche in the episode? What happened there?
He did. I wasn’t quite sure that’s what it was when I saw it, too, but I remember one of the guides looked over at me and said ‘F**k, which was heavy.’ It looked heavy to me. There were actually quite a few of those slushy, small avalanches happening while we were up there. So, that was a whole other pucker factor – going through the avi-training and figuring out how the beacons and all those things worked and doing a full half-day of avalanche training courses.

So, what would you say your favourite part about that episode was, despite some of those obstacles?
Well, I definitely got sandbagged into getting up there and having to actually snowboard down, which I did not plan on ever doing. Overall, at the end of each day, when the mission was accomplished, we were like the first helicopter out and the last one in, every time. Travis and Kai just pushed it to the limit staying out there. So, it was that feeling of accomplishment after the end of every day and witnessing people like them at their peak performance in such a drastic environment. That was amazing.

What was it like watching Kai suddenly take on the role of student under Travis?
Yeah, I think Kai was just totally letting Travis lead the way. But Kai kind of blew everyone away because the cinematographer and the photographer that were with us were like, ‘OK, Kai can ride a little bit,’ and then by the end of the trip they’re like ‘Oh my god, Kai has gotten so comfortable, so quickly.’ He kind of blew everyone’s mind. So, it was definitely a situation where Travis was the ringleader and Kai had full respect and was just thankful to be up there with him.

It was one of Kai’s dreams to do this kind of trip with Travis, though. I think Kai was going beyond his limits, but trusted Travis and Travis knew what Kai was capable of after a couple rounds, and they just went balls to the wall.
Has it been interesting directing this season of Life of Kai? It seems different from other work you’ve done in the past.
Yeah, I feel like Red Bull wanted to tell a more in-depth story, but at the same time, we’ve been super mindful of keeping the audience engaged. I felt like there was an opportunity to really have more supporting characters fill in and help create the mood and the feel of the whole piece – not just having Kai verbally explain everything. But yeah, it’s been really great being able to step out of our norm and create something new.

What’s it like working with Kai? How’s he unique from other people you’ve worked with?
I’ve had my eye on Kai for a really long time and always respected him as a growing waterman, what with all the disciplines he excels at. Then, to watch him become one of the best big wave surfers on the planet I was totally blown away. So, to have this guy at the top of the food chain, dominating the sport, who’s just goofy and smiles and happy and stoked – that’s really refreshing for me to see and thrilling to work with. He’s just this happy-go-lucky character, who at the same time, is incredibly driven and dedicated to what he does.
What do you want the viewer to leave with after this season?

I think what we’re trying to do with this season is really dig into a deeper layer of who Kai is. I feel like there’s a little bit of a side of Kai that’s camera-ready, and then there’s one that’s a layer deeper. So, we’re trying to touch on that next layer. All of this is kind of unfolding in real-time, too, which is interesting. The “Inner” Life of Kai, maybe? I feel like we’ve had an incredible opportunity to express how incredible the guy surfs and what level he’s on between the Eddie Aikau and the Backdoor Shootout and all these things. But I think this year that he’s really proven himself all around as one of the best surfers in the world.
Watch all episodes of Life of Kai on Red Bull TV. Be sure to download the free Red Bull TV app and watch unmissable action on all your devices!

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