re-sized tandem surfing

Tandem surfing – have you ever heard of it?

Surfing is all about balance and skill and difficult enough to master with panache as it is – but TANDEM SURFING? Sort of like ice skating on waves? Now that really is extreme… does it classify as an extreme sport? That’s up to you to decide…

Tandem surfing is not something new, and in fact the photograph below is positively modern. It is known to have been practiced as early as the 1930’s.

Begun in Waikiki where men and women surfed endlessly (nothing’s changed!) it seemed only natural to try surfing together and so tandem surfing was born. To really show off, the Waikiki boys would take tourists out for rides on their boards and to give them a more exciting ride they would pick the girls up into a shoulder sit or shoulder stand. Actually, no-one was aware of this, but it was easier for him to tandem surf with an untrained girl if she was ‘off’ the board. It is harder to turn and control the big tandem board with her standing on the deck. As soon as she is hoisted up on to his shoulders, he can ride and turn the board as though he were surfing alone. And so a new competition event was born.

Initially, tandem lifts were very basic and relatively easy, so normal size girls could partner the man. Now, more than 50 years after competition events first began, the lifts have evolved into complicated routines with intricate balance that requires small athletic women or girls. The rules are strict though: the girl cannot be lighter than half the bodyweight of the man, so if he weighs 200lbs she can be no less than 100…

The sport really developed in the 1960’s thanks to people like Pete Peterson and the Steve and Barrie Boehne of France. Peterson brought many new lifts that he had learned from  Muscle Beach – a famous place at the time where acrobats and weight lifters used to work out. The lifts grew from the basic 6 to over 25 by 1970. The Boehne’s were the first to combine several lifts on one ride. They specialized in transitioning from one lift to another while Barrie remains in the air without restarting from the board, and so the sport became much more interesting to do and watch.

It is interesting to note that nearly every lift that is being done today had been done by 1970.

Tandem surfing briefly died out in the late 1970’s, but Steve and Barrie decided to actively recruit new people into it and subsequently spent 25 years teaching new teams all the techniques and secrets that they had developed  over their competition years. “We help anyone, even our competitors, because once there were no competitors and we have learned that it is better for the sport to grow than to keep our techniques a secret just so we can win contests,” they said.

By 1995, tandem surfing had returned to Hawaii and there were dozens of teams in California.

And by 2007 the World Tandem Tour was taking place in 5 different countries: Maui, Hawaii; Noosa, Australia; Seignosse, France; Huntington, USA; Santander, Spain.

2009 saw the World Tandem Tour maturing yet again. More competitions have been devised and a specification book has been created and coefficient (stars) will be given to the contests. Professional judging and prize money are the rewards.

ITSA is the official international standard board for the sport and each major country gets its own representative. The main goal of ITSA is to develop the activity of Tandem surfing, promote it and professionalize it. Thanks to rorycad for the above video.


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