The Kai Lenny and Albee Layer Interview: Nervous Laughter

Jason Lock

by on

Updated 40d ago

Cast your mind back to the El Nino winter that pounded Hawaii's North Shore towards the end of 2015 and into 2016. Two names that likely stick in your mind are Albee Layer and Kai Lenny – both for feats in their backyard at Jaws.

Albee, who nailed one of the best barrels we've ever seen at Jaws while The Eddie was running at Waimea and Kai, who supped and hucked into anything that came his way – two very different approaches, two very incredible results.

Now, Albee and filmer Dan Norkunas' Take Shelter Productions has just dropped Nervous Laughter, a peeled back look into the stories that surrounded the El Nino licking, featuring XXL Jaws and Mavs and a cast that includes the likes of Kai, Albee, Billy Kemper, Torrey Meister, Dege O'Connell and more.

And who best to ask about that time - arguably one of the best big wave seasons ever seen, than Kai and Albee in an interview double-header.

Nervous Laughter has just dropped, the world premiere's out and it's available on iTunes. What are some of the highlights of the film for you?
Albee: Actually, looking back, the intro with Laird and Dave came out a lot better than I thought it would and it was cool to get to pick the brains of those guys after barely talking to them for the last few years. 

Kai: The entire film is a giant highlight for me because it brings back all these intense but amazing memories with not only the most fierce big waves in the world but with friends as well.

For me personally the trip we did to Mavericks really stands out as a special day since the Maui crew together went to this spot that was completely new to us. I really felt like we were a team headed to a big game somewhere far away from our home arena. That was special, the camaraderie and support really helped us all catch some of our best rides of that winter on that swell at Mavericks.

January 15, Jaws. Albee scoops in to a cavernous tube. This isn't a whim. These boys have seen what's possible at this venue and are keen to push progression.

January 15, Jaws. Albee scoops in to a cavernous tube. This isn't a whim. These boys have seen what's possible at this venue and are keen to push progression.

© 2017 - Ryan Moss

2015/16 was sure a winter to remember with El Nino. Did it play out as you hoped it would?
AL: Um, yes and no. There was a lot of swells but there's still room for it to get better, that's for sure. 

KL: Looking back on 2015/16, now known as the Godzilla El Niño, I thought it played out beautifully and for that time in my life I am honoured to have witnessed and have grown through that season in my big wave prowess. I wish I could've charged harder and performed better but that's how I feel after every season because I have that itch to always improve and go to the next level.Most surprisingly, I didn't get hurt and very few people didn't as well. It only takes one wave to take you out completely so it was nice when the winter was all said and done to see everyone still around. Of course, I wish I could've charged harder and performed better but that's how I feel after every season because I have that itch to always improve and go to the next level.

What were you riding out there Kai?
KL: In this new film I am riding mostly my traditional 9'4" paddle-in gun and sometimes my stand up paddle gun that is also 9'4". Some of the footage you will see in the film will easily be the best you've ever seen of Jaws by way of paddle in surfing, I was there but I can't stop watching this movie because it gets me so pumped up to do it again with all the boys.

The most terrifying thing about this image? Kai says he's got more to give, more critical waves to surf and an arsenal of water-based craft to test.

The most terrifying thing about this image? Kai says he's got more to give, more critical waves to surf and an arsenal of water-based craft to test.

© 2017 - Ryan Moss

Any crazy stories that didn't make the cut?
AL: There's about a million crazy stories that didn't make the cut and I think that is the hardest part of making a project like this. We had a whole part relating the Mavericks crew, their big airs and big waves thing to our crew now, which I loved, but in the end it was a little off topic from the whole film. 

The cast is pretty all star - why were they chosen to feature in the film?
AL: I don't think it was an all star crew at all [laughs] more of a working class crew besides, maybe, Kai and I'm getting pretty sponsored spoiled these days but the reason each person made the cut is just the stories that stood out the most at the end of the year. We went in with a lot more guys but these were the stories that panned out the best.

Anything in that title? Is it that nervous feeling when you're getting ready at Jaws?
KL: Precisely, I think the name of Nervous Laughter is derived from our young crew when we're out on the water or the cliff getting ready to go out. You'll notice in all the interviews there's always a nervous laugh at the end of each guys sentence.It's kind of like you're scared but it's somehow funny because you're so scared. For example we could all be paddling out to the lineup and see a gigantic wave that looks like death and everyone will just start laughing about how gnarly it is. And you'll notice in all the interviews there's always a nervous laugh at the end of each guys sentence.

AL: Nervous Laughter to me, is making light of a situation you know is very heavy. But honestly, we struggled to find a title for so long that once we had a decent one, we stuck with it.

Dege O'Connell suffered an injury after getting pummelled by heavy mounds of water at Pe'ahi. His road to recovery features in Nervous Laughter.

Dege O'Connell suffered an injury after getting pummelled by heavy mounds of water at Pe'ahi. His road to recovery features in Nervous Laughter.

© 2017 - Erik Aeder

Take Shelter is your production company Albee, set up with Dan Norkunas. How did you both meet and where did the idea for Take Shelter come from?
AL: We met when dan and a few others got hired to film Matt Meola for an Oxbow thing back in the day.

He actually thought I was pretty special at first, cause I'm pretty awkward meeting new people. But he started working with me and Matt after that for awhile and we kinda just clicked.

I had no sponsors at the time but Dan kinda stuck it out with me, filming when he wasn't waiting tables. I could barely pay him but Matt did a little. Then, years later, after doing The Isle web series for Rockstar, me and Dan decided to make a full length movie despite literally everyone telling us it was a horrible idea and we needed a production company to have the movie under and so, Take Shelter was born.

Kai, how did you get involved in Nervous Laughter?
KL: We had such a big El Niño season that as far as in recorded history goes there's never been a better season for big waves on Maui.

Namely, at Jaws I believe it was a turning point in the lives of this local crew. We have been paddle surfing the spot for five-years now but we all got to a point where everyone's level went through the roof because there was enough time to learn from mistakes and practice since the next swell was basically every weekend.

So, to tell you how I got involved in this project, it was basically surfing with our core Maui crew and telling this story of our experience from that season.

Peekaboo

Peekaboo

© 2017 - Take Shelter Productions

That aerial after the Jaws comp was completely nuts. Even though it's out of the El Nino season will it make a special appearance in Nervous Laughter?
KL: That aerial actually didn't make the cut of the film only because it wasn't part of that season. But as much the big El Niño season changed my approach and escalated my level, I would say that air I did has really shifted my perspective even more.

I've always dreamt of doing what Silva does like Travis Rice does in Alaska on giant waves on my home "mountain" here on Maui at Jaws.

I recall being out in the water after the Pe'ahi Challenge finished and everyone had left. It was only myself and Yuri Soledad towing me. It was a perfect opportunity to relax and experiment on every wave I rode. So, when I got towed into a medium sized gem, I just remember coming around the corner and seeing the lip begging to be hit and in my head, didn't think much of it but thought ''hey I'll try an air''. When I was in the air I remember being so much higher than I thought I was going to go, so I relied on my kitesurfing background to help negotiate the manoeuvre and the landing.

Your take on hydrofoils has resonated throughout the surf industry what we thought possible. Where do you think the future of hydrofoils will go?
KL: Even though the hydrofoil is been around for over 100-years the applications of it and the recreational use of it are seemingly limitless at this point. There will be new places that will become great surfing destinations that previously never existed It's very early days and to say that the entire world and any body of water has become a surf spot is an understatement. I'm excited to continue developing and figuring out how to make it the most unbelievable ride for the most unbelievable conditions whether it's gigantic waves or the worlds smallest, rivers, lakes. There will be new places that will become great surfing destinations that previously never existed.

The fins engage from an air drop into colossal Jaws.

The fins engage from an air drop into colossal Jaws.

© 2017 - Ryan Moss

And Albee, you've got a big year ahead, Nervous Laughter has dropped and also, you're in Taylor Steele's Proximity, how did that come about and what was it like shooting with Taylor and working with Shane Dorian?
AL: That was a dream come true, and I'm not really sure how I ended up on that trip. Maybe Shane and Taylor's first seven picks all got sick, or something.

The last 18 months or so have been huge for you Kai, what's coming up in 2017?
KL: Seems like the past two years I had a steady climb upwards in my career, but as of right now I only feel like I've just begun. I'll be working on many new exciting projects involving all my sports and especially the hydrofoil. By early fall of this year you can expect an exciting multi sport film to come out that will hopefully be mind blowing! 

Billy Kemper and Albee grew up together. When one gets a decent slice out at Jaws, the other has to top it. When Billy won the Pe'ahi challenge, you can bet Albee was pissed.

Billy Kemper and Albee grew up together. When one gets a decent slice out at Jaws, the other has to top it. When Billy won the Pe'ahi challenge, you can bet Albee was pissed.

© 2017 - Ryan Moss

If you could take one thing away from that 2015/16 winter, what would it be?
AL: That there's still a lot of room to do better.

KL: If I could take one thing away from the El Niño season it is the fact that I genuinely and positively love riding big waves and want to do it as long as I can, because the experiences not only are amazing but has helped my growth as a human being for when I come back on land.