How a Trek Through Patagonia Impacted Kai Lenny

What's harder, enduring Project Acheron or surfing Jaws on a heavy day? See what Kai Lenny thinks.
© Mark Anders
By Nate Hopppes

In an intense test of endurance known as Project Acheron: Patagonia, multisport waterman Kai Lenny endured a mission through the unforgiving terrain of Patagonia alongside two Navy Seals, big wave surfer Ian Walsh, kayaker Rafa Ortiz and surf Ironman Matt Poole.

In case you missed the one-hour Project Acheron: Patagonia special on NBC, you can watch the entire film on Red Bull TV.

Project Acheron: Patagonia was designed to challenge athletes holistically -- body, mind, and spirit -- resulting not only in better athletic performance, but a stronger individual of a higher consciousness, authentically transformed through experiential hardship.

This was for sure the gnarliest trip I have ever done in my life! No question about it.

Just how has Kai's career been impacted by Project Acheron? We sat down with the Hawaiian waterman to find out. Post Acheron, have you applied what you learned from the mission while out in the water?

Kai Lenny: Project Acheron gave me the opportunity to fast-track myself to the next level. I would say it's the reason I was able to achieve my goals last year by getting the biggest barrels and waves of my life as well as winning two SUP World Titles and placing second in the world for kitesurfing.

Our world would be so much better off if everyone took an adventure like I was able to be a part of and push their personal limits to the edge.

Difficult on the mind and especially the body.
Difficult on the mind and especially the body. © Mark Anders

What worried you the most when you signed on to do the project?

Whether or not I would be able to handle the task. It was pretty intimidating going with two Navy Seals, a big wave surfer, a crazy kayaker and an Australian Iron Man as well as being in the mountains, a totally unfamiliar environment! That's what was most scary!

At times it looked like hell; how difficult was this mission?

It's so funny because there were times where it was super gnarly but at the same time I was able to feed off the energy of some of the gnarliest dudes alive and that made it so much easier.

The crew we had was unreal. The more brutal it got the more everyone would start laughing and making jokes. The whole team was hurting at curtain points but we all kept ourselves collected and worked as a team to achieve the daily mission in Patagonia. This was for sure the gnarliest trip I have ever done in my life! No question about it! can always handle so much more than you think.

Was there a moment on the trip when you thought, "there's no way I'm going to complete this?"

I always knew I was going to be able to do the task at hand. I just knew it was not going to be easy -- probably very painful and I wasn't going to like it, but I knew if I got to it and hustled it would be over sooner than if I hesitated.

How did you work through it?

Most of the time I would just tell myself that pain is temporary and that whatever I was doing wouldn't last forever. If I could just endure, I knew I would make it. My competitive side kept me going. I really wanted to push myself and do everything one hundred percent so I could gain the greatest benefit from the trip that I could take back to my sports and use the entire experience as my advantage.

What was the biggest lesson you've learned from Project Acheron?

The biggest lesson I learned was that you can always handle so much more than you think. The limit is always so much further away than your mind is trying to tell you. In my absolute worst moment is the most important time to try to be at my best.

What's the most tired you've ever been?

The most tired I have ever been was on the Acheron trip when we paddled across a river, climbed and hiked on a massive glacier, and climbed half a mountain! Waking up at 3 a.m. and going to bed at 11 p.m. was so tiring and long, I can't imagine being able to push much harder than I did! But then again, I probably could have pushed on a lot further!

Would you rather be in really cold weather or unbearably hot weather?

I think I would much rather be in really cold conditions because I swear there is nothing worse than incredibly hot weather! At least you can make a campfire in freezing weather to get warm; in heat it's almost impossible to find a source in the wild that will make you cold again. Maybe jumping into water, but the hottest places I have ever been have had the hottest water ever!

Was this the most difficult challenge you've ever done?

I have had so many challenges that I'm even surprised I have overcome! Project Acheron was probably one of the longest challenges I have had to do but I would say surfing Jaws all day and playing Russian roulette with the ocean is very scary, life-threatening and yes, extremely scary!

Nothing makes you feel less significant than being caught inside by a wave that makes the horizon disappear and blocks out the sun! It feels like the entire world is falling on you and there is nothing and no one who can save you.

Do yourself a favor: watch the one-hour special on NBC, and watch the entire Project Acheron: Patagonia film on Red Bull TV.

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