The Most Challenging Sport You've Probably Never Heard About
Tandem surfing is the combination of surf ability, strength, flexibility, focus, balance, trust, and courage. As a tandem team you need to be coordinated and have precise timing as well as excellent balance. The sport also requires stamina, strength, and focus. Here are the top reasons why tandem surfing is the ultimate fitness challenge:
1. A tandem guy has to be an excellent surfer and able to balance while holding a woman over his head.
Travis, my tandem surf teammate, has been surfing since he was a kid and developed his skills and ability surfing solo before he added in the tandem element.
First and foremost, to be a good tandem team, the guy has to be a strong waterman and surfer. Being able to judge swells and choose waves is an integral part of staying safe and having a good, fun ride. The ability to hold a woman over his head while simultaneously surfing is definitely an acquired ability. Travis is responsible not only for holding me up and balancing on the board but also maneuvering the board and continuing to surf the wave.
2. A tandem girl has to be a good surfer, swimmer and paddler.
It’s important that I don’t freak out at any point while tandem surfing — being a strong swimmer and not afraid of heights has helped me build the confidence to tandem surf professionally. Building the coordination to both surf a wave, and then perform yoga/acrobatic lifts while staying balanced definitely makes tandem surfing a formidable feat.
3. Both teammates have to be prepared for anything.
Oftentimes while paddling out through big waves, I wind up getting hit pretty hard either in the face or the chest. We have a number of tactics to avoid that, and we are always on alert. We also have to be prepared to change up our lift sequence on the fly. While riding a wave, if it’s particularly bumpy or hitting Travis, we may need to change our lift sequence suddenly. We have to be in communication, think on our feet, and synchronize our movements so that neither person falls.
4. Tandem surfers have to be strong, flexible, and fearless.
I need to be strong enough to hold myself up with one arm. I have to remain light in weight, yet build muscle to be able to hold my own body weight. In addition, I always have to work on my flexibility – as a tandem girl’s flexibility can set her apart in contests.
5. Tandem surfing requires trust and respect.
Some tandem surfers date their partners, and several teams are married. However, many teams — like Travis and me — are just partners in the sport and not romantically. Regardless of the romantic status, tandem surfing requires a man to respect the woman and make her safety his top priority.
In the same regard, the woman must have trust in the man to communicate, to hold her, and to keep her safe. Travis and I like big waves, and the speed of the ride is what gets my adrenaline going (especially when I’m upside down), but knowing that Travis will pull out of a wave if the drop is too steep. Also we will give other surfers the right of way even if we are deeper, in order to keep everyone safe and promote camaraderie and sharing waves. We respect other surfers, surf culture, and etiquette, and we like to share stoke – congratulating others on their fun rides and good waves.
Despite being half of my teammate's body weight, I work just as hard paddling for waves. My job is to paddle, help choose waves, and stay balanced standing up while Travis turns us. Once we’re both standing up, my real work comes into play. Once we’re positioned on the board, I go into the lifts. We both work hard to keep me balanced; it’s my strength and flexibility that helps keep the position looking effortless and graceful.
Tandem surfing requires so many elements to pull together a seamless sequence of lifts on a wave. I love tandem surfing for this reason — it challenges me physically, gets my adrenaline pumping, and is the most exhilarating team activity I’ve ever participated in.
Photo courtesy of the author