Kai Lenny: Standing up for what he believes in

Martyn Thomas 17/04/2014
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Paddle away: Kai Lenny hitting the waves in his native Hawaii.

Growing up around the likes of Laird Hamilton, Robbie Naish and Dave Kalama it’s perhaps not surprising that Kai Lenny decided to seek out a career in water sports.

Lenny will not turn 22 for another five months yet he has already collected three stand-up paddle world titles, winning both race and wave crowns last year.

The 2014 season is already well under way and with the Stand Up World Tour and World Series both in the UAE this week Martyn Thomas took the opportunity to grab a chat with the big wave-loving 21-year-old.

How did you get into SUP?
Being from Hawaii and especially from where I am in Maui, you’re kind of just born in the ocean because you’re surrounded by the biggest ocean in the world, the Pacific. Maui in particular is the best place in the world to do all different kinds of water sports. It’s the mecca for multiple water sports.

So you’re sort of a product of your environment. What made you concentrate on SUP as opposed to other sports like surfing?
When I’m home I try to do everything but right now my competitive focus is definitely on stand-up. I think because it’s just such a new sport and I have such a big opportunity in the sport to accomplish the world title dreams I always had, as well as being able to do two different disciplines of the sport at once. So, that gives me an opportunity to win two world titles a year which is pretty cool.

Are there transferable skills from surfing that you can use in SUP?
All the different sports I do benefit me. They’re all sort of based in surfing, surfing being the core of it all and all the sports I do are spin-offs of surfing. So when I go surfing or when I go wind surfing or when I go kiteing or stand-up or whatever sport that may be they actually benefit each other. So if I just focus on one for a little bit when I go to those other sports it’s like ‘wow’ everything seems to be connected and better than before.

What does your daily training regime involve?
Just doing the sports a lot is really good, but I also do cross-training. I’ll do other sports like road biking, running, cardio-active sports and I’ll go to the gym. But still the most important thing is just being on the water and spending time on the water doing the sport you’re going to be competing in. It’s not a fixed sport where the elements don’t change. The elements are always changing so you have to constantly adapt and learn new conditions.

How much of your time in the water is spent on learning new tricks and things to keep ahead of your competitors?
For me it’s always about progression and improving. Everyone works differently but for me I really enjoy just going out and feeling it out and if I feel the inspiration to try and do a new trick but maybe I just feel I need to focus on what I already know. Because any surfing-style sport is a lot to do with feel.

The physical side of it helps but at the same time it’s important to just really find your balance. So I might go for a month where I don’t feel I’m going to learn anything, I’m just surfing and trying to refine my skills. Then one day it will just click and all of a sudden I’m starting to learn new tricks and make them and it just comes down to how you feel on that given day. It’s hard to force it, it has to come naturally. 

How has SUP grown in the last couple of years?
It has grown exponentially. It’s bascially the easiest, most fun water sport you could possibly do and you can learn it really quick. Everyone from a four-year-old to an 85-yearold can do it and you can do it on any body of water. It’s one of those sports too where you’ll never reach its limit. You can always get better and I think that’s what is going to keep the drive for me to do this for the rest of my life.

I think what’s happening is it’s allowing people to surf in places where there is no surf. They can take their stand-up paddle board that’s shaped like a surfboard and go out and get that same feeling as riding a wave just by gliding across the water.

How impressed have you been with the facilities in the UAE?
They’re crazy. The UAE and all of the technology and basically how modern everything is – it’s absolutely amazing. And how new everything is, it seems everything has been builtreally recently. Being at Wadi Adventure, surfing a wave pool in the middle of the desert – if you’d have told me a few years ago that in 2014 I’d be in the UAE and in the middle of the desert surfing a wave pool I would have laughed because it’s crazy where surfing and stand-up paddling has taken me.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
Laird, Dave Kalama, Robbi Naish and Gerry Lopez, for example, those guys have been mentors for me and taught me a lot. They’ve given me sound advice and allowed me to skip some steps to get where I’m at. I’m very grateful to know them and it’s crazy because I was actually born knowing them. So it was just like having uncles there for you but they just happened to be some of the best water athletes on the entire planet. I was very fortunate in that sense.

What are your hopes for the future?
I never really look too far into the future, I always like to live in the present. Just looking as far as a year away hopefully I can win both the wave and the race stand-up paddle world titles and I’m really into big wave surfing as well. We have a lot of big waves at home and I really want to catch some bigger waves.

My goal in the next few years is definitely to continue winning world titles and ride the biggest wave of my life but also to push myself to the next level and to be the best I can be at all times, never slowing down because life’s too short to do that.

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World-class: The Hamdan Sports Complex is well prepared to host major international events.

Over 1,000 swimmers will take to the pool at the Hamdan Sports Complex and the waters off Kite Beach when the inaugural Dubai International Aquatic Championships begin today.

Apart from four days of water polo action which get under way today, the championships also includes an open water competition from April 18-19 and a pool swimming event (April 23-26). 

The swim meet will act as a qualifying event for this summer’s Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing for junior swimmers, and for next year’s World Aquatic Championships in Kazan for the seniors.

The championships, supported by the Dubai Sports Council, aim to boost the profile of swimming in the UAE and provide, organisers believe, an important stepping stone to hosting a world championship.

Dubai was set to host last year’s worlds but opted out of the process in 2010, deciding to concentrate on growing the sport among its residents.

While FINA has already awarded all the world championships up to 2021, officials at the UAE Swimming Federation are hoping they get a chance to host a major event before then, should one of the host nations opt out.

“The World Aquatic Championships is an event that has the second most number of athletes competing, after the Olympics. And Dubai really deserves to host something like this,” said Ayman Saad, executive director of the UAE Swimming Federation.

“This is the first time we’re organising an international open water event, and we’ve also included water polo.

“By next year, we’ll add a fourth discipline in the form of diving.

“The idea is to have five different disciplines in one championship within the next four years. Hosting worlds is a big undertaking and this is a step towards that.”

The water polo competition features clubs from UAE, Egypt, Croatia, Qatar and Hungary for age groups 10 to 13, while open water will see swimmers from 14 clubs competing in the 500m, 1km, 3km, 5km and 3x1km races. UAE, Kazakhstan, Iran, Croatia, Palestine, Slovenia, Syria and Switzerland clubs will all be competing in the swimming events.

“We’re planning on organising a big international open water cham-pionship next year, so this is like our trial run,” added Saad.

In the pool, over 600 swimmers from 25 countries will take part, including Hungarian siblings Evelyn and David Verraszto.

Evelyn is a former European champion while David is a two-time European Long Course Championships silver medallist in the 400m medley.

The UAE national junior and senior teams arrived yesterday from their high-altitude training camp in Sierra Nevada, Spain, and young swimmers like Yaaqoub Al Saadi and Ali Al Kaabi are hoping to book qualifying spots for Nanjing in the Hamdan pool next week.

First team swimmers Mubarak Salem Al Besher and Mohamed Al Ghaferi also have a strong chance to close on qualifying times that would book their spots in next year’s worlds.

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Stjepanovic surprised by Eindhoven PBs

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Pleasantly surprised: Stjepanovic

Dubai-based swimmer Velimir Stjepanovic admits to surprising himself with the results he achieved at the Swim Cup in Eindhoven, where he smashed two of his own Serbian national records.

Stjepanovic, who was born in Abu Dhabi and has trained in the UAE all his life, posted three personal bests in the 100m, 200m, and 400m freestyle while his 1:46.87 in the 200m places him at No7 in the world this year.

His 200m free saw him improve on his previous Serbian national record of 1:47.00, while his 3:48.25 in the 400m free was 0.08 seconds faster than his previous national record.

In the 200m butterfly, Stjepanovic’s signature event, the 20-year-old knocked off the field by a solid 2.5 seconds, going 1:56.70, which places him seventh in the world rankings for 2014.

He took silver in the 100m freestyle, clocking 49.21 seconds, which was only 0.02 seconds off Sebastiaan Verschuren who took gold.

“Overall, the competition was pretty good, I’m pretty happy with the outcome,” Stjepanovic told Sport360°.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be this good because I had stomach problems and got sick before the meet.

“I’m happy that I had PBs in all three freestyle events. My fly still needs a lot of work, but that’s going to be put in now in the next four months leading up to the European Championships.”

The Swim Cup in Eindhoven was the national championships for the Netherlands, but international swimmers could compete.

Stjepanovic added: “This competition had fairly strong swimmers, I was pushed in every event that I did. The more race practice I get going into the European Championships the better I’ll be.”

His next meet will be the Dubai International Aquatics Championships (April 23-26) and he also has the World Short Course Championships in Doha on his radar at the end of the year.

Stjepanovic will continue to prepare for the European Championships in Dubai until the final three weeks prior to the competition, then head to Serbia and start his taper there, to avoid the August heat of the UAE.

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