2015 WORLD TANDEM SURFING CHAMPIONS
You’d be hard pressed to surpass Waimea Bay as a setting for receiving one of the most prestigious awards that a waterman could receive. Over ten years ago, waterman Kalani Vierra received the Quiksilver Waterman of the Year Award, and since that time, he hasn’t stopped excelling in all that he attempts! In 2004, during the Quiksilver, in Memory of Eddie Aikau, he was handed this accolade during the opening ceremony, along with most of his peers in surfing and lifesaving. This is just one of his many accomplishments!
After 10 years, I’m still in shock! It’s probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and what an honor! I still can’t believe it!” he responded, when asked what receiving the award meant to him. “To me, Eddie Aikau and Duke Kahanamoku are my idols, all because of what they have done as ambassadors of aloha and as lifesavers.” When asked whether it has changed his life, he remarked, “It definitely helped promote my career personally, and professionally, it resulted with personal respect and sponsorship support.” OHANA This champion surfer, one, six and sailing canoe paddler, who has been surfing for more than thirty five years, now resides in Poipu, on the Garden Island. He lives there with his wife Tracy and two daughters, Eliza Vierra and Kaleigh Rutt. He grew up on the south and west side of the island, and loves his tight knit community, with its beautiful, uncrowded beaches. The Hawaiian waterman has been fortunate enough to have made a living in the water, and is the Operation Chief of the Kauai Fire Department, Ocean Safety Bureau, as well.
His name graces the final results of so many events and races. This list includes the love of SUP (Stand Up Paddle), surf and distance paddling, longboard and short board surfing, outrigger paddling with OC1 and OC6, and hitting the outer reefs.
“I like tow-in surfing and sailing canoes too!” When he is not ‘above’ the water he is also below the surface. “I love to spear dive and scuba dive as well!”
The complete waterman has crossed one of the most challenging bodies of water, the Kaiwi Channel (between Moloka’i and Oahu). “I’ve crossed the Molokai channel twelve times on different vessels, and have even received some top honors in a few different divisions.
Back on the shores of Kauai, he fills his days with his work. “I am the director of the County of Kauai Keiki/Jr. Lifeguard Program, and we service and train over four hundred fifty keiki a year, ages 8 to 17 years old. We teach ocean safety awareness, CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation), first aid, rescues, drug awareness, and team building.” He takes pride in the fact that his keiki have won the state championships for twelve consecutive years.
Giving back to the community is second nature to Vierra. Three years ago, he got involved in the Make-A-Wish Foundation program. “We take youth with life threatening disabilities out to surf, and it’s so great to see their big smiles and the happiness they have. It’s my pleasure to give my expertise and share my ‘stoke’ of having fun in the ocean.”
AT THE GYM
To compete at such a high level of expertise, Vierra does his ‘land workout’ with Cross-Fit, weight training, yoga, running, biking, hiking, hunting, horseback riding, and camping. “I also assist in taking care of our horses, which my wife and daughters enjoy, for both rodeo and trail rides.” When asked how it compared to water sports, he remarked, “Its similarities are that it takes physical endurance, strength, and flexibility, and it keeps you spiritually balanced in life.” He hits the Cross-Fit three times weekly, and works with a gymnastic coach prior to competitions.
Recently, Vierra and tandem surfing partner Krystl Apeles, won the Tandem Championship at Makaha. He has won four other world tandem titles, two in 2007, and one each in 2008 and 2009. The first victory was with partner Blanch Yoshida in 2007, and then with his daughter, Eliza Vierra, in 2008 and 2009.
SURFING AWARDS, CONTESTS
2015 has been another great year for Vierra, as evidenced by his performance this past summer. He describes the experience, “In the OC6 Hawaiian Airlines Liberty Challenge in New York, we were awarded 1st place in the mix division. Earlier in the year, at the 2015 Olukai Hoolaulea, we won a 1st place unlimited sup 40-49 division, and 2nd place OC1 in the 40-49 di-vision. Other wins included a 1st place in the 2015 Molokai Paddle Board Championship’s three-man SUP relay team, with the Team Olukai sailing the canoe from Oahu to Kauai, and winning first place after seven and a half hours of paddling and sailing. Additionally, a 1st place in the 2015 Duke’s Fest distance SUP unlimited race.”
“It’s unique! Lots of people have never seen tandem surfing before. When they do, they are blown away!
TANDEM ON HUGE WAVES
“It all depends on conditions, but we’ve surfed big waves in the last two tandem events at Makaha. It was in the 10-12 ft. range (easy double over head). I feel comfortable in big surf, but I make sure my partner is feeling comfortable too. Safety comes first, especially if I am the captain of the ship!”
This Hawaiian has been to, in his own words, “Some wonderful places in the world!” He has challenged the waves in Florida, California, the Mentawai Islands, Bali, France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and Japan. “In the future, I would love to visit other places to show people there just what tandem surfing is all about.”
The ocean is a physical, emotional, and spiritual place for Vierra. He remarked, “It is all our responsibility to take care of our beaches and ocean. It is also our responsibility to take care, and to keep our local residents and visitors safe when they come to enjoy our beaches. We have to make sure our beaches and oceans are available for our future generations to enjoy.”
HISTORY ON TANDEM
He describes tandem surfing, “It’s unique! Lots of people have never seen tandem surfing before. When they do, they are blown away! Many people prefer to watch tandem surfing over regular surfing because of its strength, flexibility, and beauty. It’s like figure skating on water.”
Tandem surfing all started here in Hawaii. The ancient Hawaiians surfed tandem, as well as in modern times. In the early 1900’s, with Duke Kahanamoku, the Waikiki Beach Boys took tandem to the ‘next level’ by performing different lifts with their guests. Vierra commented, “It is certainly much more challenging than surfing by yourself!
It takes time to work with a partner and get the moves right. It all depends on whether you are doing it for competition or pleasure. For competition, partners have to work with each other in and out of the water, to perform and practice your routine or lift skills. You need to get together when schedules allow, and must practice the best you can to build up both your confidence and trust. Remember, it is a team sport, so you have to work together as a team. Each person has their own responsibility while tandem surfing, it is a ‘team.’ Just going out to have fun can be done at any time.”
With current tandem partner Apeles, Vierra has competed in five tandem surfing events in the last two years. “We have won three out of five, and placed second and third in the other two events. We have also travelled to Australia and New Zealand earlier this year, to perform in a few tandem surfing exhibitions.”
HOW TO TANDEM SURF
All you need is a big board that can carry two people, usually a big SUP or soft top board would work, find a female partner that is about half the male’s weight who possibly has surfing, gymnastic, yoga, and cheerleader skills. Paddle out to an easy or mellow surf break, and give it a try by catching a wave together and grow from there!” (For more details about tandem surfing, visit the International Tandem Surfing Association (ITSA) website for all the lifts, rules, and contest update information)
“I would like to see more tandem surfing competitions in Hawaii and around the world. I hope that someday, more surfer magazines will expose their readership to some tandem surfing. I also hope that tandem surfing and long boarding will be added to the surfer polls awards. Maybe someday, there will be a tandem surfing world tour event, similar to that of the world longboard tour. And the ultimate goal would be to see tandem surfing in the Olympics some-day! Mahalo to our sponsors at Honolua Surf Company, C4 Waterman, Bomber Eye Wear, Konared, Poipu Xfit, Puka Surf Hawaii, and Kauai Gymnastics. I would love to find a company that would assist with our travel expenses and help promote tandem surfing around the world.”
With his continued passion and expertise, this sponsorship will surely be realized!
With style and grace, she poses as though she is doing ballet in the air. She floats along, gliding on a wave, all the while suspended above her surf partner. Tandem surfer, Krystl Apeles, glides while climbing atop her tandem surfing partner Kalani Vierra (story pg. 7), with winning form. This stylish pair are the 2015 Tandem World Champions, and they are on a roll! In the recent past, they have entered five competitions, winning three of them, most recently, the World Championships at Makaha Surfing Beach this past December!
When witness to their winning style, one assumes that this Anahola native is constantly at the beach, surfing with her Fire Rescue Partner. However, this Kauai High graduate completed a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Hawaii, in Apparel Product Design and Merchandise. She is currently the owner of Puka Surf Company, a costume designer and dancer for Halau Hula O’ Leilani, and the Manager/Brand Developer of Executive True Blue, Inc. (dba Kauai Beach Boys, Island Adventures, and Da Life Outdoor Gear).
Among her other accolades are playing clarinet in college, and being selected to tour Eu-rope, performing as part of the Ambassador of Music Program. She was also selected as a member of the Golden Key International Honor Society. She remarked, “This has taught me that education and ambition are powerful tools.”
While growing up, Apeles enjoyed go-ing to the beach with her family, which included her mom, Eunice, her dad, Richard, and brother, Erick. The family enjoyed fish-ing and camping together, as well. “We’d lis-ten to my dad, my aunties and uncles, jam music all night long. I learned to love life simply, and to care for others. Everyone was family, and it felt safe.”
She added, “Family is what shapes you, and I feel blessed to have their guidance, love, and support.” Her family has shaped her into a champion!
While Apeles enjoys long boarding, free diving/spearfishing, and mermaiding for shells in the water, Tandem Partner Vierra has also involved her by introducing her to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for the first time.
“It was an amazing opportunity to help families who have a child facing life threatening illness, to embrace the joy and beauty of the ocean.” She added, “These brave children and their families were flown to Hawaii and are granted their wish, with one of them desiring a meeting and surfing with their hero Bethany Hamilton. With Make-A-Wish, the ocean is truly a healing place, and for a day, I can help them surf, build sand castles, and swim at the water’s edge. It was such a rewarding experience to see these families and their children’s pure joy. I look forward to participating again next year.”
Besides her daily entrepreneurial du-ties and surfing, she finds time with other activities like sewing and hula, Tahitian, and Maori dance. When asked how it compared to watersports, she explained, “For me, these activities keep my soul rooted to a place of joy and gratitude.”
While many tandem teams surf smaller waves, she remarked, “The last two years at Makaha were in bigger surf, around ten to twelve-foot range. It’s a great feeling, making the drop and flying down the face. Big waves are fun in my book…when you’re on it, ha ha! With tandem surfing, the difficult part is getting out to the surf or wiping out.”
When she is out there she has a confidence and it shows! “I do feel comfortable swimming, diving deep under the fluffy white, and sometimes getting worked in the wash. I always try to stay calm and respect the ocean. Kalani is a skilled waterman, a.k.a ‘Hawaiian Super-man,’ and I trust his decisions on how we paddle out, and which waves to catch. Safe-ty always comes first with him, and for that, I am grateful.”
Surfing has evolved into a worldwide respected sport and the same is happening for tandem surfing. Duke Kahanamoku was a surfing ambassador of Aloha in the 1920s. He shared his love and respect for the ocean, while connecting with people around the world. Tandem surfing has been practiced in Hawaii long before Duke, but he took tourists out surfing on his board in Waikiki, and soon the Beach Boys followed suit. They challenged each other in doing differ-ent poses and lifts. When tandem surfing made its way to Muscle Beach, California, the difficulty evolved to an acrobatic level.
The International Tandem Surfing Association (ITSA) held its first sanctioned World Championship in 2006. This provided tandem surfing an arena to perform, as well as to successfully blend the newly evolved expectations of both surf and acrobatics. Tandem surfing is just as enjoyable to watch as surfing, because it combines the strength and agility of surfing with the balance and artistry of acrobatics. The sport of tandem surfing easily captivates a wide audience because it is so dynamic.
Apeles was asked how one gets into tandem surfing, and explained, “With standup paddle boards so readily available, it is easy to get started. All you need is two people, preferably one that surfs and another that is light and coordinated. You often see fathers and daughters/sons doing it, and they are having so much fun sharing the waves. If you are looking to do more advance tandem surfing, I suggest contacting ITSA (www. itsatandemsurf.org) This way, you can connect with someone near your area for train-ing tips. The ITSA website also has the lift chart, rules and contest info. I would like to see tandem surfing recognized worldwide. I hope to see more exposure of the sport and more financial supporters to fund a tandem surf world tour. One day I hope tandem surfing makes it to the Olympics.”
Regarding Kauai, she commented about her home, “It is a gem when it comes to surfing, and I hope it remains uncrowded and full of good vibes.”
Surfing opened the doors for this small island girl to venture “off the rock” and see the world. Surfing has taken her to places like Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, California, France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and Costa Rica. “I hope to continue to travel and connect with people worldwide, and to share the stoke of surfing, and the importance of having dreams and fighting for them.”
In closing, she remarked, “Rich is the life you live. We only have one life and one earth, so let’s choose to make positive choices that make an eternal difference.”
As Apeles surfs the world and represents Hawaii in such a special way, when asked about sponsorship, she explained, “We currently do not have any main sponsors to cover travel. Coach Jack at Kauai Gymnastics Academy is our biggest supporter. He donates his time to train us, flies to contests to cheer us on, and pays our entry fees. We are grateful for all of his loving support. I am also grateful for the following sponsors who help us with training facilities and swag: Honolua Surf Company, C4 Waterman, Bomber Eyewear, Kauai Athletic Club, Poipu Crossfit, Kona Red and Puka Surf Co.”
She added, “I hope this recent win helps us to secure some financial sponsors that will give us the ability to do what we do on a higher level. I would utilize the financial support to push the limits of the sport, to promote surfing and tandem surfing world-wide, to be involved in the community and non-profit organizations, and definitely to inspire others to reach for their dreams.” We certainly hope that this happens too! Continue the Aloha!