Catching Up With Kai Barger

KaiBarger_winter2014-15_BrentBielmann261All Photos: Brent Bielmann

You already know Kai Barger. The 26-year-old has been a household name since his NSSA days. And when he won the World Junior title in 2008 — back when contest results were the only tangible way to judge a surfer — we all expected he’d hit the QS and quickly find his way onto the CT. After all, the CT is where talent like his belongs.

But it never happened.

These days Kai is no longer competing, and because he’s been dealing with a pile of injuries that have kept him home on Maui for a while, we haven’t heard from him as much as we’d like. So the other day, after he released a f–ked up edit called Kai Bagah No Wundah seemingly out of nowhere, we gave him a ring to find out what he’s been up recently.

Prawn fishing, apparently. —Zander Morton

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SURFING: What going on Kai?
Kai: Ahh, I just went and grabbed the prawn traps Matt [Meola] and I put out last night. It’s been so hot and muggy. Afternoons are unbearable at the moment so it’s a good way to occupy our time. Matt made all these prawn traps so we’ve been setting them up and eating good. We got a monster last night!

Nice. How are the waves at the moment?
It’s been so good everyday. But I haven’t even been looking. I’m injured, unfortunately.

Shit. What happened this time?
On that last Jaws swell I had a really bad wipeout and hurt my back. But I had so much adrenaline going that I kept surfing. It felt OK the next two days but on the third morning I couldn’t even move. My X-Rays came back negative, which is good, but I’m on a one-month waiting list to get an MRI and there’s something wrong, because I definitely can’t surf.

Well you picked a good time to drop your new edit. That thing in unbelievable.
Thanks. I feel like I was injured the whole winter. It was the craziest winter ever and I only got to surf a handful of times. But that edit is all from Maui in-between injury.

Damn. I can’t imagine what it would have looked like had you been able to surf the entire time.
I know! But I’m still stoked on it. People have been saying a lot of good things.

That’s because we want more Kai! What have you been up to?
I haven’t left Maui for a year now, which has been hard. But it’s because I just want to get totally healthy and improve my surfing. Growing up I was always paranoid that I wasn’t that good, and I was almost ashamed to put stuff out. Getting older has been weird. When you’re a kid you just want to get better, and then you grow up and you still want to get better…but I’m 26 now and I’m not quite surfing at the level where I want to be, but I don’t have all the time in the world anymore, if that makes sense?

Perfect sense.
And then dealing with injuries and other weird stuff — I got lactose intolerant, a bee stung me and I almost died because I’m super allergic, I kept getting hurt everytime I’d go surf…my mind kind of fell apart on me.

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Sounds like you needed that time at home.
Definitely. I sat down with Pat [O’Connell, Hurley team manager] one day and he asked me where I wanted to be in three years. And I didn’t have an answer for him. My whole life when sponsors had asked me that question I’d tell them, “Oh, I’m gonna win these contests and I’m gonna be on tour and make a ton of money and we’re gonna high five into the sunset.” [laughs] And that never happened. But I love that he asked me that. It’s so real. I was already kind of lost and I told him that. I told him I needed to go spend some time at home for awhile.

And fortunately for you, Maui has some of the best waves in the world. It’s not like you can’t get work done there.
Yeah, and the digital world has changed the game. I think Matt [Meola] and Albee [Layer] kind of made that a reality for me. I came home after being on the QS and these guys are doing backflips and 540s and charging Jaws. Pretty much the sickest shit ever. So it was exciting for me to dig in and be a part of that. But the bar is being raised so high and the surfing these guys are doing is so radical. And Clay. Everytime I surf with Marzo it is the most incredible experience. It’s art, or something else entirely, and it’s easy to feel shitty about yourself afterwards [laughs].

It’s wild. Between those guys and Jaws, and some of the other air-wind waves you guys have over there…Maui is at the forefront of pushing the progression of surfing in all types of conditions.
I trip out. It’s hard to get used to. I came home to get away but shit was blasting over here. And then it’s like, OK, Jaws is breaking, we kind of have to get out there but at the same time we don’t always want it, you know? We had a Jaws swell once a week this winter. I was so scared. So many sleepless nights. And I live super close; I can hear Jaws when it’s breaking.

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That’s gotta be so mentally exhausting.
It is. And literally, catching a 15 footer isn’t enough anymore. You have to backdoor the slab to make yourself look cool at Jaws and that is the gnarliest thing ever. But Albee is the best. He’s the one that gets us psyched and always gets us out there.

So when you get healthy is it back to the QS, or are you happy to stay on the freesurf route?
I’m staying on this route. I’d love to get back out on the scene and onto a few trips when I’m healthy; I’m just not quite there yet.