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Devin D. Thorpe

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Kai Lenny Leads First – Ever Hawaiian Statewide Coastline Cleanup On Downwind Channel Challenge

Ultimate Waterman, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and 5 Gyres Work Together to Explore the Ocean Plastic Problem

Press Release – Honolulu, HI – (March 26, 2017) – This March, six-time SUP World Champion and ultimate waterman, Kai Lenny, alongside Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and The 5 Gyres Institute led the first-ever statewide beach cleanup on the Hawaiian Islands. Transported by various human-powered crafts, Kai traveled the 200 nautical miles through the Hawaiian channels to attend beach cleanups and empower communities around oceanic pollution. With the help of Alison Teal, advocate for the ocean plastic problem and Naked & Afraid alumna, the team encountered pollution head-on and learned creative ways to minimize environmental impact on oceans and coastlines.

Alongside a safety and environmental activism team, it took Lenny 5 days to complete the voyage through the island chain. His first crossing, the Alenuiha’ha channel (roughly translated by some as ‘very large trough-like waves’) between the Big Island and Maui, is generally regarded by the U.S. Coast Guard as one of the most treacherous channels in the world because of strong winds and high seas (not to mention, it’s shark infested).

For Lenny, traveling the channels also acted as training for a challenging upcoming competition season. While completing the Molokai 2 Oahu channel on the heels of the coastal cleanup finish line, Lenny broke the SUP world record by 41 minutes.

“By breaking the Molokai to Oahu record, my confidence to do it again and to continue to set new personal bests is at max capacity. I feel like the door has officially been swung open to try new things on this channel and in this sport,” said professional athlete and world-champion, Kai Lenny.

Under the direction of 5 Gyres Research Director and Co-Founder Dr. Marcus Eriksen, Lenny trawled for microplastic pollution, which Eriksen was first to identify as “plastic smog” in 2014 when he established the world’s first Global Estimate of Plastic Pollution, calculating that 5.25 trillion particles weighing in at 270,000 tons pollute our oceans worldwide. Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and the team facilitated 6 cleanups on the Big Island, Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu and Kauai. The cleanups collectively brought out roughly 326 people and removed 11,049 pounds of debris.

Through this athletic passion project, Lenny gives the world a first hand perspective of the pollution between the islands while imposing the lowest environmental impact by traveling via wind and human powered-crafts (as opposed to via plane or boat). These cleanups reflect a passion very near to Lenny’s heart as he’s grown up along these coastlines and in this ocean and has experienced the impacts of pollution both at home and in foreign waters.

“Pulling off this many cleanups in one week was amazing,” said Kahi Pacarro, Executive Director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, “When you look at all the debris on our beaches, sometimes it feels like there’s nothing we can do, but we’ve seen that the task is achievable with the help of passionate people. Thanks to Kai and all our volunteers this week, I feel like plastic pollution has an end in sight.”

Donate to the ocean plastic pollution problem and help raise funds to clean our beaches at


Kai Lenny is one of the world’s most impressive watermen. Be it kiteboarding, windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, big-wave surfing, or anything else in the water, Kai does it, and does it well. Growing up on the swell-rich northern shore of Maui as the son of ocean enthusiasts, he was surfing by the time he was five and was behind a kite before he was 10.

He’s had an impressive lineup of mentors: windsurfing legend Robby Naish and big-wave veterans Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama have been some of Kai’s most dynamic teachers.

He’s done the grueling 27-nautical mile Molokai to Oahu paddle many times, was a veteran on the Professional Windsurfing Association World Wave Tour, has been runner-up at the Kite Surf Pro World Championships, and he’s won the SUP World Title six times and counting.

Yet through it all, he remains modest and humble. “All of my sports are surfing based,” says Kai. “My favorite thing in the world is riding a wave, so as long as I’m riding a wave, I’m happy.”


Beginning in 2010, the nonprofit 5 Gyres Institute began a series of scientific firsts by researching plastic in all five subtropical gyres, as well as the Great Lakes and Antarctica. 5 Gyres’ paper on plastic microbead pollution in the Great Lakes inspired a two-year collaborative campaign that culminated in a federal ban, signed by President Obama in 2015. In 2017, 5 Gyres will embark on its 18th Expedition, to research micro and nanoplastic pollution in the Arctic.

Through their action campaigns, 5 Gyres inspires individuals and communities to pledge to go #plasticfree for a day, week, year—or forever. People can go #plasticfree by refusing the top five sources of single use plastic: plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic to-go containers, plastic takeaway cups, and plastic straws. The 5 Gyres Institute’s vision is a planet free of plastic pollution and they believe, together, we can make a difference—one piece at a time.


Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii is a grassroots, local nonprofit organization run by a small team of dedicated staff and supported by passionate volunteers. They inspire local communities to care for their coastlines through fun, hands-on beach cleanups. They also coordinate educational programs, public awareness campaigns and help others run their own beach cleanups. They love Hawai‘i’s beaches and love to keep them clean. By educating people about reducing their waste and the need to keep our beaches clean, they foster a connection to their coastline and coastlines thousands of miles away.

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