Kai Martin was proudly born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. Like many kids that grew up in the Aloha State, Martin’s dad pushed him into waves as a baby, destining him for a life as a surfer. But when he was two, Martin competed in his first tandem contests with his dad and realized he wasn’t in love with the sport. Surfing took a backseat for a few years, but Martin picked it back up again when he was seven. By the time he was 10, knew he wanted to pursue a career as a professional surfer and began taking his surfing more seriously.
In 2022, Martin won the U-18 division at the USA Surfing Championship and served as captain for the Hawaii Surf Team (HST), helping to lead the team to victory. Here, the 18-year-old shares what it was like competing on the HST, how growing up in Hawaii shaped him as a surfer, and his goals for the 2023 season and beyond.
What do you love about surfing and competing?
Surfing is a freedom and it’s a lifestyle for me. I love to be able to just go and be in the ocean. As far as competition, I’m a really competitive person and I love competing, surfing new waves, and getting the opportunity to showcase my surfing.
Where are your favorite places to surf at home?
In the summertime, I surf Kewalo Basin a lot and Ala Moana Bowls. In the wintertime, Pipeline and Haleiwa are my two favorite spots.
How has growing up in Hawaii shaped you as a surfer?
I think it has a lot to do with the community of surfers here. I grew up with a tight knit community of friends and we all grew up skating and surfing with each other. We all respect each other and push each other to be better every day. Being on an island, I see all these people every day when I surf and they push me to better.
Do you have anyone that you regularly train/surf with?
I surf a lot with my friend Diego Ferri and Shion Crawford, as well as people I look up to like the Moniz brothers—they’re a big influence on me. My coach Rainos Hayes has worked with me since a very young age through Billabong. Just being able to be around those guys has helped me a lot.
What are some of your strengths/weaknesses as a surfer?
I’d say my biggest strengths would be consistency and speed—I feel like I surf pretty fast and powerful. In competition, I feel very comfortable; I feel like I’ve surfed a lot of heats. As far as things to work on, out at Pipe and Sunset, just getting more comfortable in those heavier lineups. Bigger boards and bigger surf—I just want to get more comfortable with that.
Do you have any bucket list surf spots?
I’ve always wanted to go to the Mentawais on a boat trip with a bunch of friends. That’s kind of like the dream surf trip for me is to be able to go there and surf every day.
What was it like competing on the HST at the ISAs?
It was very intense. The practice sessions were as intense as it gets—hundreds of kids that are very competitive with very limited waves. Everybody was very aggressive. As far as the competition, we got really good waves. It was on the bigger side, so I feel like that gave us kids from Hawaii the advantage—we’re more comfortable in those conditions than most other people.
What did it mean for you to win gold overall for Hawaii?
We went there going for gold; that was our goal. We weren’t trying to settle for anything else. Everybody on the team was helping everybody and we all had that drive to focus on ourselves when it was time for our own heats, but also be there supporting our teammates. Just knowing how important it was for each of us and everybody knowing how important it was for each other to make their own heats made it really special to come out on top overall.
What are your goals looking forward?
Short term goals for me are to do well in the Hawaii regional QS events and get on the CS. The end goal for me is to be able to compete on the WCT.
What do you like to do when you’re not surfing?
My two biggest hobbies are Jiu Jitsu and I’m getting into golf. Jiu Jitsu is definitely a good physical workout but for me, it’s mostly just mental. When I’m training, it’s like playing chess, I feel like it helps with my mental strength.