Intro By Mike Latronic Interview by Aukai Ng
The next generation of surfers are charging harder than ever in waves large and small and for one, longtime standout, 17-year-old Kai Martin, or “Kaiboy,” by his family and friends, was raised in Honolulu and this year sits upon several US National medals and a Junior World Title. Kaiboy has reigned in the upper level of the Hawai’i amateur scene with a strong penchant for solid, rapid-fire surfing, big sprays, and a growing air game: it’s this reputation that amplifies his profile and is earning him top performances. South Shore or North Shore, Hawai’i or California wherever he goes, Kai always performs. If you see Kaiboy out in the water for a contest or better yet a a freesurf, you can be certain of a good show from this young buck. We caught up with Kaiboy and asked him about his start to surfing, his challenges and victories in competitive surfing, and the tight relationships he has built over the years.
Q: What was your first memory of surfing?
My earliest memory of surfing was probably when I was like two at the Hale’iwa Menehune contest, and swimming with my dad or pushing me into waves with my uncle and them. I loved it. I loved being in the ocean. I grew up around it so I just always felt comfortable out there.
Q: Who were your biggest surf influences growing up?
Super early on, my dad was my biggest influence. He is a surfer so he was the one that got me into surfing. The Moniz brothers are in there too. I’m a local boy and they’re local boys too, so seeing that they’re able to do it and make it all the way professionally inspired me. Being around the Billabong house when I was younger, I was able to build relationships with them and I’m pretty good friends with them now. Seth will take me surfing and I train with Josh too. We work out at Tactical Strength (gym). So just being around them and watching them surf was good. So they’re definitely a big influence on me.
Q: In the early stages of your surfing, what was the most groundbreaking spot that you’ve been able to find a rhythm?
I think in the very early stages, I started at Queens and Baby Queens in Waikiki. That’s where I pretty much grew up. I gradually moved up to Kewalos. Kewalos is just such a good training ground and it’s where I got serious into surfing and competition. The wave just offers everything, You can work on turns. You can do two turns into an air, you can pretty much just do whatever you want. It gives so many options and I think that’s why so many kids go there to like practice and work on their surfing because there’s always waves and it gives you so many opportunities.
Q: Anywhere else in Town that you really love?
One of my favorite waves just in general is Ala Moana Bowls. I’ve always liked it, especially being a goofy footer. The wave is just so perfect. You can just draw your own lines, go fast and be creative. When Bowls is big, the good ones are obvious. I think everyone knows just taking off on the wave and just trying to get rid of all your speed and kind of going into the flats and then coming back into the barrel and standing right in there. It’s probably the best way to describe a good wave out there.
Q: Let’s move from Town to the North Shore. Can you remember your first experience surfing the North Shore?
My first experiences surfing pretty solid waves on the North Shore was when I was 10 years old. Billabong would hold these grom camps and basically everyone from around the world with Billabong would come to the house and we’d just surf everywhere on the North Shore. And I remember surfing Sunset and my first session out at Pipe was definitely a memorable experience, that feeling of surfing a real wave, I guess.
When I was 10, I remember being out on a super solid day at Pipe and it’s definitely intimidating. I wasn’t at the peak, I was kind of sitting on the shoulder and just watching all the guys go. But it’s definitely a humbling experience. You can feel the energy when you’re out there. I finally got myself over the edge and pulling into a solid one. I was probably like 13 or 14, I remember taking off, i was finally able to sneak one under everybody and in the barrel it was just so blue and I just remember seeing the best vision I ever seen in my whole life. Only a surfer knows what it feels like to be in a barrel. And it was just definitely a memorable moment. Once I actually went and was pushing myself, I just slowly started to become more and more comfortable.
Q: What are other breaks on the North Shore that you really put your time in?
Rocky Point is definitely one of the most high performance waves in the world. I think when the North Shore is on the smaller side, it’s a go-to for pretty much everybody. So it’s, a lot of times very packed, but as far as the wave goes, it’s super high performance and I love it out there. If you can get a good one, then you can really open up your surfing. When I was growing up, I kind of only stuck to the left. For some reason when I saw the rights it just kind of scared me, I guess. But now I go both ways.
Q: Any other waves other than Pipeline that were a big challenge for you?
I think Sunset is definitely one of the hardest waves to learn. I feel like I’m lucky enough to have a good relationship with (Coach) Rainos Hayes. He has a special relationship out there with that wave and is one of the best out there as far as having knowledge. I think if it wasn’t for him, I’d be more lost than I already am. My first time ever surfing Sunset, I think I was just focusing on surviving. I remember riding a big board for the first time and I wasn’t used to that and I wasn’t used to so much water moving. I think now I definitely feel more comfortable than I used to be for sure. I mean, it’s the hardest wave, but I feel like when you put one together out at Sunset it is really rewarding.
Q: You compete a lot. What are some accomplishments in your competitive career that you’re proud of?
I had a pretty good run this year. I was able to get fourth at the WSL QS event at Bowls, and then literally the day after that contest ended, I flew over to California to Lowers for the US Championships. It was almost like there wasn’t as much pressure just because everything was happening so fast and I didn’t really have much practice time. I feel that during the whole contest, I was just in rhythm and just felt I was just
making good decisions and good priority decisions. In the final, I needed like a nine with only a few minutes left. I had first priority and I kind of just trusted my gut and just went on this wave and surfed it to my full potential. Ended up getting the score and won the event. That was probably the biggest win of my life so far. Thankfully, I had (coach) Keanu Asing in my corner to help me through the whole event. He has such a good relationship with Lower Trestles and helped calm my nerves. He was able to help me so much and I definitely couldn’t have done it without him.
Q: And do you feel there are any hurdles or challenges you overcame while competing?
Yeah, I think going back to the Bowls contest, I definitely had a lot of heats with some big names like Kai Lenny, Finn McGill, Zeke Lau. I try not to let that get in my head, I just kind of had to put my head down and knew I had to surf my best. I remember the semifinal heat with Finn, Eli, and Diesel and it was just a tough heat, it was really close. Needing a score, I caught one wave where I had priority and the wave was just a perfect middle bowls wave. The whole wave just lined up and allowed me like five, six turns and I just kind of linked it and that was definitely a good momentum for me. To be able to get through those heats and make the final and that was just a big goal for me. It felt really good.
Q: Have you been to a wave pool before? What do you think about wave pool technology?
I’ve been to Waco and Kelly’s Pool and I’ve had great times at both and both of them are very different. I think the air section at Waco is super fun and it’s great practice to learn airs. Just getting the repetition and getting to do the same thing over and over is huge.
Then when I went to Kelly’s, it was super cold. I was wearing a hood and booties and I wasn’t used to it, especially coming from Hawai’i. It is a hard wave, it took a good amount of tries to figure it out. It’s just so fast, you can get left behind really fast, so you gotta be careful. Eventually I got the groove of it, but it definitely took a good amount of reading the wave and messing up and all that. But when you get it, it’s fun, I mean you can sit in a barrel for 20 seconds.
Q: Do you have any magic boards?
Right now I’m riding for Slater Designs and FireWire surfboards. And I love their boards. They’ve been supporting me so much the past few years. I’ve been riding a lot of FRKs and Houdini’s from Tokoro and Dan Mann. And when it comes to the wintertime, I’m pretty much on Slater design Tokoros. They’ve been working great. I love their boards. I think Uncle Wade has so much experience shaping boards, especially for the North Shore. I think a lot of people go to him just because he’s been doing it for so long and he knows what works and what doesn’t. From my experience, I’ve had nothing but good boards from him.
Q: So you’re riding with Billabong, what is your relationship like with them?
Growing up Billabong was always one of my favorite companies. I think I already had Billabong boardshorts and all of that. I’ve been on the Billabong surf team for seven, almost eight years already, so I definitely have a good relationship with them. Rainos Hayes was a big part of that as far as recruiting me. I remember talking with Isaiah Moniz one day and according to him, [Isaiah] was the one that put in a good word for me to Rainos.
Overall, I think the Billabong Bloodlines camps were definitely a big part of learning about the North Shore. Just staying up there at the house for ten days you learn so much about the breaks and having Rainos up there, him giving us all his knowledge is so helpful, especially when you’re a grom learning.
Q: What are your future goals?
The end goal for me is to be on the WSL Championship Tour, but for right now it’s to get on the Challenger series. And I’m in a good position to do that. I’m in fourth right now on the Qualifying Series to eventually get on the Challenger.
Q: Any people you would like to thank?
My parents, my mom and my dad, my grandparents, Rainos and Keanu. All my sponsors, Billabong, Slater Designs, FCS, Vertra, Mokulele Airlines, and Sticky Bumps, they’ve all just supported me so much.
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