You may know Derek Dunfee as the hard-charging, heavily-tattooed San Diegan who frequently sends it on grossly-thick sets at Mavericks. But the guy isn’t a one-trick pony. He’s been a competent photographer for years, and has lately poured more and more of his time and energy into honing his skills behind the lens, capturing world-class big-wave surfing and publishing his images in print (you know, the gentleman’s media, the one that pairs well with a glass of old scotch and Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours”).
His latest print offering, “Dekka: Kai,” is the product of a set of strike missions with the baby-faced poster child of big-wave futurism, Kai Lenny. It’s a bit of a departure for Dunfee, as his previous “Dekka” volumes have been more generalized postcards from the big-wave world. This zine, however, points the lens squarely at Lenny, charting his course through XXL surf over the 2017/18 season.
“I’d been doing the same type of ‘zine for a while, and I thought it’d be interesting to change it up,” says Dunfee. “Kai seemed like the best person to do this with, because I really think he’s the future of big-wave surfing. He’s fearless, he’s very calculated and he’s just so non-stop.”
On Dunfee’s first trip for the project, shadowing Lenny to the Puerto Escondido Challenge in Mainland Mexico, Lenny ended up winning the entire event. From there, they hit Nazaré, Mavericks and Lenny’s backyard coliseum, Jaws. At every venue, Lenny brought an approach to oversized waves and swell preparation that Dunfee had never seen before.
“Kai’s got such an amazing group of people that he works with on every big swell,” says Dunfee. “At Jaws, he heads out before sunrise with a boat and all these skis and it’s so well organized. He’s got safety people, he’s got a ton of different boards in the boat for whatever the conditions do, and he shows up prepared to surf all day long. Most big-wave surfers plan for one session, maybe for 4 hours, and they commit to a handful of waves. Kai’s out there all day, and he’s got this energy that’s hard to explain. He’ll take beatings and get caught inside just like everyone else–it’s not like he’s completing every wave–but somehow he manages to surf all day on these massive swells.”
The key to Kai’s heavy-water fortitude? Taco Bell. Just kidding, but sort of not.
“It’s funny, he shows up at Jaws with a cooler full of bean and cheese burritos,” says Dunfee. “He’ll bring like 40, eat a bunch of them between sessions, then go back out and charge 50-foot waves. He keeps the extra on hand to give to the other guys in the lineup. It’s pretty classic.”
Whatever his secret is, Lenny has spent the past year proving time and time again that he’s going to be one of the greatest big wave surfers of his generation, and “Dekka: Kai” offers a unique and intimate look into that period. Find a sample of the images below along with backstory from Dunfee, and click here to pick up a copy of the ‘zine.