Was it as Good for You as it Was for Me?
Posted on February 05 2021
WAS IT AS GOOD FOR YOU AS IT WAS FOR ME?
By Steve Boehne
The biggest south swell in ten years was on the assault. The real deal. The entire west coast was being hammered and Baja was on fire. There were just two of us out at K-181, our favorite river mouth break. Things were perfect, the day, the waves, the incredible coastline were hypnotic. The sets were big, rhythmic, and clean.
I was taking it all in, swallowed up by the glory of the whole scene. Suddenly it was one of those “holly sheet!” look what’s coming, outside experiences. The mammoth lines approaching slapped me back into reality. As we scratched like a mad dog toward the horizon, my mind raced: Oh geez, don’t break yet. Gotta make it to the shoulder!
As the lines focused on the outside reef they revealed their full potential…the possibilities were limitless. The first wave nearly took us out, but the third wave was perfect, paddle! Just ten more yards. The peak was feathering, but we were there. Oh ya! Turn and go! The drop was unreal…freefall into the pit. Drop, drop, squeeze the turn, prrrroject! The feathering lip wrapped over like the hand of God. The afternoon sunlight dimmed behind the wave face, the roar deepened. I drove for the open eye at the end of the cavern. Made it! Cut back now, all the way around, now pull it back around. Ya, oh ya, damn this is bitchen! The bowl bent and pitched, the off-shore wind textured the face, the speed was astounding, and the wave was made. I banked our 11’ tandem board off the bottom, up, up and over…kick out!
My partner was laughing! I would have just kept my cool and paddled back out quietly like most guys in silent triumph, my chest arched on her tight buns, but she’s laughing… she’s electric, ecstatic. I was struck by her wonderful response to the wave we had just shared. As we paddled back out toward the takeoff spot, she stopped paddling and sat up, her wet brown back against my chest. She turned to me with a smile and said: “ was that as good for you as it was for me”? “I can’t say for sure” I said with a wink as we began paddling again. “let’s do it again and compare notes”.
Not the same day at K181, but nice 8 footers.
Tandem surfing; it’s a beautiful thing. Surfers can remember a ride on a particular wave for their entire life. They carry a mental album of snap shots. But for most surfers these are solitary images. Because, for all its art and magic, surfing is a solo thing. It is often a battle of hostile egos. One surfer’s success in the water is often at the expense of another. Treasure turned to tripe. The tandem surfer, however, has a friend, a partner, a girl with him on every wave. She carries the same precious album of memories. It is a shared experience, two as one, a single mindedness. She understands his love of surfing.
When I first got into tandem surfing at age 15 it was different to feel so close to a girl as she shared with me the sport that I love. It’s not a sex thing, but kind of a sporty physical intimacy. Of course, a trim feminine body in a bikini on your surfboard can’t go unnoticed. When I was 18 I told a friend that I would always be in love with my tandem partner. I guess I’m lucky, I married mine.
Each lift that tandem partners perform is a step towards their goal of mastering the whole repertoire. But wave riding ability is a vital part. One form of tandem surfing involves no lifts at all but rather a blending of the two surfers standing united in perfect position for doing carving turns. This classic paired surfing is a joy to experience.
Tandem bottom turn at Makaha
But it’s the lifts that catch the eye. They have been passed down, the result of generations of pure fun. The lifts come from the first generation of tandem surfers like Pete Peterson, a consummate waterman and pioneer tandem surfer. Pete won the first World Championship of tandem surfing in in 1966 in San Diego. He brought many of today’s lifts to the sport, sharing them freely with everyone, competitors included. He started the tradition of tandem teams sharing the many techniques freely with each other.
When I was 15 years old, I bought my first tandem board from Hobie. It was his personal board. A few weeks later I was at San Onofre with a girl-friend and watched Pete and his partner, Patty Carry tandem surfing. When they came in, we introduced ourselves and said that we wanted to learn some tandem lifts. Pete and Patty toweled off and there on the sand beside the famous San Onofre grass shack they showed us some classic tandem lifts. Now, thirty-five years later we are teaching those same lifts on that same patch of sand. Of course, over the years, we have invented many new lifts.
Pete was one of the first Ca. surfers to travel to Hawaii to go surfing. In 1932 Pete and Lorrin Harrison went to the Army surplus store in LA. and bought sailor suits. Next, they went down to the Navy dock in San Pedro dressed as sailors and marched onto a ship headed for Hawaii. They took births, worked as deckhands the whole way over and were never discovered. When they reached Hawaii, they left on shore leave with the other sailors and got free transit to Hawaii. While they were surfing at Waikiki, they saw tandem surfing for the first time. The Waikiki beach boys would take the tourist women out for rides on their boards. To give them a more exciting ride and to show off for those watching on the beach, they would pick the gals up into a shoulder sit. Pete and Lorrin brought tandem surfing back to Ca. There are photos of Pete tandem surfing at Malibu in 1934. His competitive surfing career re blossomed in the 60’s, as he became one of the top tandem surfers.
Mastering the many tandem lifts adds enormously to the tandem surfing experience. Each one has an accepted form with special leverage, contact points and balance. The best learning still happens on the beach with friends. Teams hang out together at spots like San Onofre, Wai Kiki, Makaha and Biarritz freely sharing techniques with a giving spirit.
Tandem Lift "Front Angel" – Biarritz, France
Tandem teams function as a single, surfing unit, but some of the guys take all the credit. However, it’s the girls that make it happen, they’re as good as the guy. She leaps blindly backwards into a monster lift while he trims the board and balances their combined weight. She trusts his decisions in critical situations. Her confidence elevates him and gives him confidence in himself. In my case, it’s Barrie who maintains our focus during a competition. I tend to “loose it” if we’ve made a mistake. She gets me re-centered, focused and back into a positive frame of mind to win a competition.
In the 60’s, Barrie lived in Santa Monica where she started hanging out at the famous “Muscle Beach” next to the Santa Monica pier. Besides weightlifters, many professional circus performers, pairs ice skaters and gymnast practiced their routines on the grass patch next to the pier. Since Barrie was only 5’ tall and around 90 lb. she quickly became a favorite partner for the advanced lifts that these acrobats knew. She also became a star on the teeter board. This is basically like a giant kids “teeter-tooter” only when she would stand on one end and a 225 lb guy would jump off a 6’ ladder onto the other end, she would be shot 15 feet into the air like a cannon ball where she would do flips and back lay-outs.
This is a return trip to muscle beach in 1971 where barrie and I got to work out with her old partners from the 60’s.
This is where I first saw Barrie perform. I thought “my god, this is the most perfect partner (maybe female) in the world”. She was the star of the show and knew many difficult routines with the many male “bottom men”. I was just another admirer and even though I learned some lifts from the pro guys, I never lifted her then, and she does not remember me from that time. In 1965, my family moved to Virginia where I continued surfing in the summers. This is the time that Pete Peterson notice Barrie on the beach and invited her to try tandem surfing as he needed a new partner. That first year with Pete they won 14 west coast tandem contests in a row. But Pete had competed in the Makaha contest in Hawaii since the early 1950’s and had never won the tandem event there. He wanted a win there bad. They turned in a great performance on a very rough and bumpy day and Pete got his first win at Makaha with Barrie
pete & barrie shoulderstand - makaha
A few months later, they were practicing at Malibu. While trimming across a wave in a high overhead lift, Barrie slipped out of his grip and landed on his head. This damaged a vertebra in his neck. He was in the hospital for a month, and he was forced to retire from tandem, but not his single surfing.
After two years of college in Virginia, my family moved back to California. One winter day I saw Pete at San Onofre and found out that he had to quite tandem surfing. I was looking for a partner and he gave me Barrie’s contact info. She agreed to give me a try. I was pretty nervous about taking her out because I was really just a beginner tandem guy, and she was a tandem champion. She drove down to Huntington beach to meet me, and we went to San Onofre, an easy tandem spot. It was a cold overcast day in the middle of winter, and She forgot her wetsuit, so we both paddled out with no wetsuits and no surf leash. I was pretty damn nervous about screwing up my opportunity with her. We caught a wave and I lifted her into a swan, the easiest lift on the tandem lift sheet. Thankfully, I rode it all the way to the beach, stepped off onto the sand and said: lets quit before I drop you in that cold water. Then we went up onto the beach and I was able to lift the most perfect tandem girl I had ever met.
This photo is from that very first work out day with barrie in 1968.
The first trip Barrie and I made to Hawaii was in 1969. We arrived a week before the famous Makaha International Contest. In those days, the Makaha contest was the only international, televised surfing event. Pete had taught her the two take off, line up spots at Makaha, the “inside bowl” and the “outside bowl” so she was able to show me the right place to take off in the outside bowl on the biggest waves I had ever seen much less surfed in. It wasn’t quite Point surf”, but the outside bowl was a solid twelve feet with larger clean up sets. We paddled out to Pete’s spot and lined up a large banyan tree on the beach with a mountain peak at the end of the Makaha valley. We rode several waves and then a really big set came in and we took off. A tandem board with crew weighs about 345 lb. and won’t accelerate instantly like a single surfer, but we made the drop and made the bottom turn.
This is another day in the outside bowl at Makaha.
Then the wave feathered and closed out way ahead of us. We straightened off to “prone it out” Barrie “hit the deck” and I was prone with my chest right on top of her. We did everything right, but the lip of the wave was so big and powerful that it passed right over my head and smashed into her. As it bashed into her head, it smashed her chin against the deck of the board, splitting it open down to the bone. The board rebounded into the air, tossing her out from under me into the boiling soup. Presto, she was gone! But I was able to somehow grab the board and hang on. No leashes in 1969, so I continued to hang onto the board riding the wave into the channel. Barrie was momentarily knocked unconscious. As I sprint paddled back to the impact zone Barrie was hit by two or three more waves. When I got to her, she was dazed and covered in blood. We got to the beach, and I took her directly to the hospital. The doctor stitched her up and said that she shouldn’t go back into the water for three weeks. I felt terrible about what I allowed to happen to her. Gee, her first day with me at Makaha didn’t go as good as it went with Pete! It looked like our contest entry was over. But the very next day she insisted on us continuing to practice for the event. And we did, she, my partner was pulling harder than ever to help me catch those big waves! We got second that year and went on to win the next 6 years until the famous Makaha International contests were discontinued. They were all shown on tv’s Wide World of Sports.
Here is the 1982 Wide World of Sports introduction to one of the Makaha events.
Attitude at Makaha. This is a beautiful practice afternoon at Makaha.
Barrie is my wife, life partner and tandem partner. She won the first World Championship with Pete Peterson in 1966 and again with me in 1972 and 1994, four USA CHAMPIONSHIPS at Huntington Pier, six Makaha Contests and six Biarritz Surf Festival contests. We retired from competition in 2006.
Pete and I were blessed to have such a skilled and eager partner. She is the only athlete that I know of who has competed at a world class level for over forty years.
Now at 74 years old in 2021, as I look back at our 40 years of tandem surfing I can answer her question: Yes my love, it was as good for me as it was for you!