Lexi Kaleiia Is Maxim’s July/August 2024 Cover Star

The stunning South African surfer, model and content creator is our most recent Maxim Cover Girl competition winner.

(Photography: Gilles Bensimon, Styling: Clementine Brown, Hair and Makeup: Celia Evans using Merit Beauty, Production: Rachael Evans for RE.Pro Agency)

For Lexi Kaleiia, the first time’s the charm. This year’s Maxim Cover Girl competition queen had never entered a beauty pageant or modeling contest before she threw her hat in the ring. Kaleiia was one of some 10,000 hopefuls vying for the crown, a $25,000 cash prize and a trip to Venice, Italy, for this issue’s cover shoot with famed photographer Gilles Bensimon.

Jumper: CHROME HEARTS (Gilles Bensimon)

“I saw the call to enter on Maxim’s Instagram page; I’ve been a follower for a long time. I decided to go for it because I turned 18 and was finally old enough,” Kaleiia says. “I had no idea I was going up against so many other women!”

But don’t get it twisted: Kaleiia’s MCG competition success isn’t a case of beginner’s luck. As her 130,000 social media followers can attest, the surf-loving influencer has a real talent for posing in alluring outfits—most are bikinis of her own design, which she hopes will soon be available to purchase. Given her upbringing, one might say that Kaleiia was destined to “carve” out this path to success.


“I’m from Cape Town, South Africa, specifically the seaside suburb Bloubergstrand, where my parents owned a guest house,” she recalls. “Growing up in a surf house that was two minutes from the beach and five minutes from one of Cape Town’s popular surf spots, I was basically at the beach every day. Because I was in a bikini all the time, I decided to start my own bikini brand. I started modeling my bikinis when I was 14 and began taking modeling and content creation seriously when I was 17. Now it’s my full-time job, and I love it!”

Blouse: VESPERTINE LONDON; Briefs: SLOGGI; Hat: PRADA; Slippers: PIEDÀTERRE VENEZIA (Gilles Bensimon)

Alongside her manager and best friend Tj Kaleiia, the beauty has bootstrapped her career thus far with considerable results. In addition to amassing a sizable social following, the rising star has also landed the covers of both FHM South Africa and Paris’s fashion-forward Moevir Magazine and a feature in FHM USA.

Now repped by by Cape Town–based talent agency 20 Model Management, Kaleiia has even found her niche as “Nature’s Model”—a moniker, bestowed by her father and displayed in her Instagram bio, that truly captures her vibe.

Blouse: FRAME; Skirt: PATRICK MCDOWELL (Gilles Bensimon)

“My dad used to call me ‘Nature’s Model’ because I’ve always loved being in nature. I’m passionate about keeping things real and natural, and that’s something I keep in mind as a content creator and model. Nature is just my place of peace and harmony. Especially being in the ocean—if it’s to swim, surf or just play around in the waves—it’s the place where everything comes together for me.”

Cape: Stylist’s Own (Gilles Bensimon)

Kaleiia’s work ethic and introspective vision undoubtedly helped her garner enough votes to beat out droves of Maxim contest competitors, but her success was no sure thing. She initially advanced by putting herself out there on social media as much as possible, especially on Instagram.

Dress: ZEYNEP KARTAL (Gilles Bensimon)

“By consistently posting every day, my following grew more and more, and influencers with large accounts reached out to me,” Kaleiia says. “I became friends with quite a few of them, and they also helped me by posting my content on their Instagram Stories. Much of my Instagram growth happened during the Maxim Cover Girl competition.”

Coat: ROBERTO CAVALLI; Briefs: ELISSA POPPY (Gilles Bensimon)

Strategically, she’d also been sure to mention the competition during her multiple podcast appearances. But deep in the quarterfinals, it was still anyone’s game, so Kaleiia pleaded with her followers: “Only the top two participants from each group can move on to semifinals, and [I’m now third] in my group,” she posted. “If there is anything I can do to convince people…to vote, please feel free to let me know in the comments or through DM.”

Shortly thereafter, Kaleiia got creative on the streets of her coastal hometown. “I stepped out of my comfort zone and walked around some popular areas in Cape Town with a sign to get people to vote for me,” she says. “I was committed to this competition; it was practically my entire life for a while.” Her tenacity paid off, and Kaleiia advanced to the semifinals and amassed the most final-round votes from four judges.


“I believe I stood out because I don’t just model with my body; I model with my soul,” she adds. “I express all the intricate parts of my being that I can’t express through words. Modeling is a form of art that I’m passionate about, and I think the judges and people who supported me saw that.”

But even in victory, Kaleiia remains humble and dedicated to spreading positivity. “My goal is to rub off my confidence on other people and make them feel and realize that they’re beautiful. One of my best friends actually found the courage to start modeling because of me and what I do. Now, after only a few months, she’s grown her following, is organizing her own photo shoots and has been scooped up by an agency!”

Cape: Stylist’s Own; Briefs: ELISSA POPPY; Tights: HEIST STUDIOS; Boots: JIMMY CHOO (Gilles Bensimon)

As a Maxim cover star, the only uncertainty in Kaleiia’s future is where—not if—she’ll find success. She’s considering a few different lanes—pursuing dream modeling jobs with brands like Guess, Calvin Klein and Victoria’s Secret; growing her YouTube presence or even starting a gamer-girl channel; and collaborating with mega-influencer Rachel Cook, whom Kaleiia cites as her “Nature Twin” and a major inspiration.

“Being a Maxim cover model is such an amazing opportunity,” Kaleiia says. “And so many more opportunities can come from it; I can’t wait for it all to come together.”

Bodysuit: ELISSA POPPY (Gilles Bensimon)

As for that $25,000 prize money, “I want to invest some into my modeling career and create an amazing portfolio so I’m ready for every opportunity. Some of it will go to taking my content creation gear to the next level. I also plan to buy a sailboat, so I can travel around the world and create more amazing content for my socials. Plus, I’ve always wanted to live on a boat!”

Whether it’s on the water, the ’Gram or a designer label’s billboard, we’re sure Kaleiia will use her Maxim title to sail into a bright future. Get to know her better via our Q&A below:

What was it like shooting with Gilles Bensimon?

He’s awesome and easy to work with. He helped me a lot with posing. And he has a lot of creative input. It was so interesting working with him. I’ve never shot with a photographer of that caliber before, and he’s done shoots with so many of my idols. So it was pretty surreal.

Did you do anything to prepare for this cover shoot?

I listened to music to pump myself up and get me in the right vibe and mood. And I looked at a lot of photos of Claudia Schiffer and my other modeling idols just to get some ideas of what I can do with facial expressions and body movements.

What were you listening to?

To get pumped up, I listened to “Be Someone” by KVSH and “Lines of the Broken” by San Holo. On the set, there wasn’t really music. It was a very nice vibe; everyone was talking and laughing the whole time. So we didn’t really need any music.

This was your first time in Venice. Did any of the Venetian sites really strike you?

Everything was so beautiful, but the coolest thing was this huge black statue of a skeleton in a park that was close to the house we shot in—I swear it was three stories tall. I loved all of the sculptures and statues.

How’s the boat search going?

There’s one boat that looks very promising. If I buy it, I’m going do a tour for a YouTube video. I watch and learn from a lot of sailing videos on YouTube. I’m quite frankly obsessed with sailing and the ocean.

Tell us more about the plans for your bikini business.

I’ve not really worn any other bikinis since I started my brand. Right now, they’re all made by me and Tj. I want to come up with a few more designs and save enough money to start manufacturing in Mauritius. Once I’m able to do that, I want to finish the website and start selling. At the same time, I need to focus on my modeling career, because I also want to use my modeling career to boost the bikini business.

Why Mauritius?

A lot of the material that we use to make these bikinis comes from there. We chose Mauritius because the people who work in factories there get paid a lot better and get treated better.

Who are some other influencers/models you look up to? 

Rachel Cook, Natalie Roser, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Megan Fox, Milla Jovovich, Pamela Anderson, Kate Moss, Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid, Charlize Theron, Candice Swanepoel…I could go on and on about this.

Who are three people that you’d love to have dinner with and why?

Rachel Cook because she inspires me with her content and with the way she loves nature; Claudia Schiffer because I’ve always looked up to her as a model; and Donatella Versace because I absolutely love her work and always will. Her art is so elegant, sexy, classy, creative and beautiful. I also hope to be scooped up by her one day!

What are your daily essentials?

The ocean or any form of nature (except natural disasters), a good meal, a great laugh, some music and good company. And a camera—you never know when you might find the perfect spot for a quick photoshoot.

Do you have any secret talents?

I used to be a professional hip-hop dancer when I was younger. I danced in loads of competitions and once went to Amsterdam to take part in one of the biggest competitions in the world. Unfortunately, I had to stop dancing because I injured my upper back, neck and both my knees.

What’s a random fact that you love?

I love the fact that most of Earth’s oxygen comes from the ocean. Most people don’t know that. 

What kind of music are you listening to?

I love rock, alternative, dance and electronic. Lately, I’ve been listening to “Sugar” by Robin Schulz, “Summer” by Calvin Harris and “Maps” by Maroon 5. I seriously can’t go one day without listening to music.

What are your all-time favorite movies and TV shows?

The three movies in the original Ghostbusters series are my absolute favorites. My favorite animated movies are Aladdin and Treasure Planet , and my favorite series is That ’70s Show.

You’ve also got plans for a gaming-centric YouTube channel.

Yeah, I really love any kind of game that has anything to do with horror or shooting and killing stuff. I’ve played a lot of Call of Duty, and lately I’ve been playing Doom Eternal. But I just want to keep it as a fun thing. It’d be great to make my vlogging YouTube channel a part of my career, but I want it to be chill, fun and consistent.

Who are your favorite video game content creators?

I love Jacksepticeye and Markiplier.

What do you want to be doing in five years? 

I want to have a successful modeling career, first and foremost. I want to have traveled throughout much of the world—maybe even sail around it once. I want to have a successful vlog and gaming YouTube channel. I want to have strong relationships with many different people. And I want to be sure that I don’t bring anything into my life that will have a negative effect on any of these goals.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2024 issue of Maxim magazine.