Big wave surfer Kai Lenny ‘cross’ training in Vail |

Big wave surfer Kai Lenny ‘cross’ training in Vail

Pro surfer leaves sea level for higher waters

Pro surfer Kai Lenny participated in the 2019 GoPro Mountain Games. The famous Jackson family, of Jackson Kayaks, are also regulars.
Benton Inscoe | Daily file photo

VAIL — World-class waterman Kai Lenny sees the swift current of Gore Creek as an ideal cross-training opportunity.

He also plans on entering in the Yeti SUP Surf Cross competition today.

Stand-up paddleboard racing arrived in Vail in 2010 in one of the first river stand-up paddleboard races ever seen by a large audience — and the longest-running race to this day. Lenny raced in 2014 but hasn’t returned since.

“It was a lot colder and rainier,” he said.

This time around, the water temperatures aren’t bothering him, but he’s definitely feeling the elevation, as few people spend as much time at zero feet above sea level as professional surfers.

“If anything, I’m below sea level at times,” Lenny said.

Lenny competes on the World Surf League’s Big Wave Tour, where he finished this season at the Jaws Challenge. He also enjoys hydrofoil paddling races; in 2017 he made headlines by beating the course record from Molokai to Oahu by more than an hour.

“Every sport I do, endurance plays a key role,” Lenny said. “Inner island channel crossings on a hydrofoil, but big waves, as well, because … if you get caught inside on a really big wave, or you get caught on a big one, you’re gonna have to have that stamina to last those minutes of getting absolutely tortured underwater.”

Top river racers

As he’s in a bit of an offseason at the moment, Lenny hopes to cross-train by taking to a river, rather than the ocean waters he calls home.

“This is totally out of my wheelhouse,” Lenny said on Saturday, after racing in the Yeti Downriver SUP Sprint. “I’m typically riding water that moves in much different ways.”

Of course, in training across various water venues, Lenny hopes to surf well out of his comfort zone.

“It’s a new challenge,” he said. “Something that is unique and fresh … I’m looking at this as maybe a platform to project me into a really good training run when I get home.”

In Saturday’s downriver SUP sprint, Lenny said he appreciated the level of athleticism on display at the GoPro Mountain Games.

“When you have some of the best river guys in the world chasing behind you, it’s an extra little bit of fire to try to go as fast as you can,” he said. “I really just focused on my paddling technique, and the little knowledge I do have of a river, to try to make my run quick.”

Lenny finished fourth behind Spencer Lacy, Michael Tavares and Bradley Hilton.

“I put it all out there,” he said. “It was super-fun.”

‘Crowded lineup’

On Sunday, Lenny will participate in the Yeti SUP Surf Cross competition, where all competitors take to Gore Creek at the same time.

Race organizers described it as a “battle royal.”

“I think it’s gonna be like being in a crowded lineup at a surf spot, and everyone’s caught inside, and they’re trying to make it out for the next wave,” Lenny said. “In this type of racing, you can get bumped wrong, and you can just miss all the gates … It’s probably a lot more well suited to the river guys, but I’m really excited to throw my hat into the mix.”

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