Editor's note: I believe gorgeous Kai Lenny was a million miles from drowning and his GoPro footage demonstrates how easy frolicking amid thirty-footers is for him.

If Kai Lenny had died at Nazaré, actual dead, while clinging onto his GoPro, how would we view it?

"He understands the biz, you might say…"

We know what Instagram thinks.

Caio Ibelli said, “Your face scares the shit out of me”. A message he’s clearly been drafting for weeks and just waiting for the right moment to slip in.

Tom Carroll, brother of rough-hewn sage Nick Carroll, chipped in with a spunking emoji (though no aubergine).

The artist formerly known as Sal Masekela said he had to “down regulate” just to watch the clip. Falling into his trap, I had to google “down regulate” and now understand that Selema must be some kind of super warrior fitness guru guy. Like really, totally in the health zone. Like next level biological shit, man.

“Yo, Kelllllllaaayyyyy… you down regulating, bro?” I’d imagine he says.

Joel Parkinson wiped the ketchup off his little sausage fingers to quickly type, “Fuck that!” but with classic flow switched hands and never once stopped chewing.

Maya Gaberia, the WSL’s favoured big wave woman, unleashed her inner Scotsman and simply said “Holy shite”, whilst scratching her balls, presumably.

Chocorompe, the handle of legendary snowboarder Terje Haakonsen, contributed “Holy! Get clean *sponge emoji*” I have no idea what this means, but I have no idea how he rides with those binding angles either, and Terje can do what he likes.

Kelly, of course, was quick to sweep in with a classic shrugging emoji takedown. It must sting that the likes of Kai and Laird, objectively less talented on a surfboard, have carved careers not only financially superior to Kelly (Laird, at least, Kai’s on his way) but they’ve also nailed the one thing Kelly has always coveted: exposure and recognition from the mainstream.

But Lenny’s success comes at a price.

He genuinely could have selfied himself drowning at Nazaré, and he might do it yet.


His clip will go viral, probably in the real world as well as ours. And at the very least, his 700k followers and the cream of world surfing have gobbled it up.

He understands the biz, you might say.

Sure, he’s whoring himself out at the possible expense of his life, but he’s getting to fuck about in the water for a living.

Is that an acceptable trade off?

It’s not tragic to die doing what you love, said Mark Foo and Bodhi from Point Break, shortly before dying doing what they loved.

If Kai Lenny does drown, gawking at a GoPro, not only will he have died doing what he loves (filming himself), but at this stage he might be an outright legend.

The potential greatest ever. The Steve Prefontaine of surfing.

I’m sure he doesn’t see it like this, but worth the gamble, you think?

On one hand, I have deep admiration for him; on the other, I think he’s a bit of a knob.

Ensuring your selfie stick is pointing the right way during a multiple wave hold down could be looked on as next level vanity. It might also be seen as a necessity in order to sustain his career in a sport where the only payoff comes via the attention economy.

But still, I can’t help feeling that Lenny has blighted the experience somehow.

There were others who braved these giant, perfect waves, these once-in-a-decade conditions. Their experiences, dramatic and captured as they may also be, will now be relegated to footnotes.

Has Kai Lenny leeched something from the others just to feed his own, personal brand?

And worse, has he made a mockery of it, perhaps belittling a critical situation by holding a camera throughout?

And what if he had drowned?

Would we see him as a hero, or as a fool?

University professor shatters norm by claiming he surfs “giant waves” and “is really good at it!”

1 + 1 = Tube

I woke up early this morning, prepared my daughter’s school lunch, French pressed a cup of coffee and then got down to the business of surf journalism. Initially, it seemed like nothing newsworthy had happened while I slept other than the bubbling story of 11 x World Champion Kelly Slater unfollowing his beautiful Chinese girlfriend on Instagram (more soon) but right when I was about to give up, I stumbled on something that shocked me profoundly.

It was in a University of Southern California newsletter, not a normal stop for me and I don’t know what made me click the link reading…

This professor keeps his students on their toes, especially when they’re learning at home.

…though click I did and and glanced over the first paragraph.

John Walsh describes himself as a “nutcase” who likes to surf giant waves.

“I’m a diehard surfer,” said Walsh, associate professor of gerontology and assistant dean of education at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. “I’ve traveled the world surfing, and I’m actually really good at it. To keep it going, though, I have to stay limber.”

My mind instantly reeled but I didn’t quite know why so went back up and read slowly.

And then it hit me like a brick. Have you ever, in all your surfing life, heard someone say they surf “giant waves” and also that they are “really good at it?”

I have not and the norm shattering pronouncement made me intensely uneasy. Does he really surf giant waves? Is he good at it? What is “giant” for him? Overhead? Waimea? And who is he comparing himself to in terms of “really good?” Mark Richards? Anastasia Ashley?

Do we trust the statement a priori?

Should we all start saying we surf giant waves and surf them well?

Is this what they mean by “manifestation?”


Kai Lenny, a very great artist.

Insane: Watch, hear Kai Lenny scream and gesticulate while caught inside by thirty-foot waves at Nazaré and holding GoPro camera on pole; “That was disturbing,” says Nathan Florence

A very great artist… 

There will be no bad things said about Kai Lenny, the daring twenty-seven-year-old multi-discipline surfer with sea-spray eyes shaped like pecans, skin the colour of buttered cocoa and lips as red as if he’d just applied a fresh coat of pomegranate lipstick.

His legend grows each day, and was furthered two days ago when he released harrowing POV footage of being caught inside at Nazaré, a wave now closed to surfing. 

Kai, who is wearing a flotation vest, is whipped into a wave, gets steamrolled, held under for eight seconds, gets two waves on the head, each hit ten or so seconds underwater, third wave keeps him under for fifteen and brave little Kai surfaces just in time to get wave number four on the head.

His screams for his driver upon surfacing after each wave, except for the third, will chill your blood.

As is the case with POV cameras, the waves looked about fifty times smaller than real life.

Even so,

“Fuck that,” wrote Joel Parkinson on Kai’s IG.

Rafael Moura, a photographer wrote, “I heard from @pedroscooby when he tried to rescue you that you wouldn’t let the Gopro go away and the only thing you actually cared while being smashed by those huge waves was to make sure that there were no water drops on your Gopro lens… Just watching the video I can see you checking it all the time 😂 I understand you, from a photographer perspective. But doing it while taking huge Nazaré on the head? Haha that’s insane.”

“That is true,” wrote Kai.

Watch and do a little sympathetic breath-holding for added effect.


Listen: Former world #2 surfer Ian Cairns on cheating Democrats, Edward Snowden being fixed on the “Russian teat” and strangling a Hawaiian surf star on a ten-foot wave: “You have to be a gnarly tough son of a bitch cocksucker to go beyond the point where you think you might die!”

And a blow-by-blow account of contract beatings on the North Shore.

It was with considerable pleasure that Charlie Smith and I engaged the pro surfing pioneer and former world number two Ian Cairns in an hour of conversation yesterday evening.

Cairns, a sprightly sixty-something and famous in the nineteen seventies for brazenly presenting his titanic buttocks to the beach as he flexed into bottom turns he himself described as “berserk”, is very human, often brilliant, so caustic, and with a dynamic contempt for all who cramp and spoil. 

He is described by another legend, Rabbit Bartholomew, as a “strong minded son of a bitch, a brilliant politician and an absolute master in big surf.”

A delightful sparring partner.

Watch: Nic Von Rupp and João Guedes identified as surfers who bumped into each other, maybe politely, at “The Melee in Nazaré!”

Stuff happens.

I often write “more as the story develops” at the bottom of my various pieces of surf journalism hoping beyond hope that something might. An extra bit of insight. Another angle. Someone clarifying. Oh, I never go searching for the “more” as that’s not how surf journalism works but this very morning more did develop concerning The Melee at Nazare and landed right on my keyboard.

What joy.

You’ll recall, two days ago, when all hell broke loose at Portugal’s most famous big wave. Rumors of fights and near fights in the lineup. Surfers jumping on other surfer’s ski drivers. Two men taking off on one wave and becoming very incensed. I did my best to get to the bottom of who was involved but lips were zipped and details sketchy.

Well, this morning it emerged those two men were Nic Von Rupp and João Guedes.

Von Rupp writes, via Instagram:

Shit happens, it’s the way you deal with it that matters! Dropping down this wave feeling @joaoguedessurfs board on my heels was one of the scariest moments out at Nazaré. No bad vibes here, Joao and myself are friends and glad we both are Ok after this. Watch the full #vonfroth episode link in my bio. This clip filmed by @maquinavoadora

Very cool. But how do you think the matter was dealt with?

More as the story develops.