When we were really young, my uncles would bring my brothers and I to Mākaha Beach. They would take us far in the ocean and make us swim all the way back in. It was sort of trial by fire, we had to learn the hard way! Later, my dad taught me how to surf on an old 9-foot single fin Hansen board that he had used himself as a kid. It had a little rocker and it made me feel like I was flying on the waves. Even now, my fondest memories are of waking up early in the mornings when it was still dark and walking from Charlie’s Reef to Mākaha to surf with my brothers.
Video Credit: NMG Network
I spent my early childhood in Mākaha, and then later in Maine while my father went to seminary. We lived on Kaua‘i for a few years before moving back to Mākaha when I was in high school. My grandmother’s family is from Mākaha since the late ’40s, so my roots here are deep.
I got into tandem surfing 8 years ago through my baby sister Keala. She wanted to try it out—I’m always down to do fun stuff with my sisters. We surfed together for about 4 years both for fun and in amateur contests. In 2016 she encouraged me to find a professional level partner and to try and go pro.
For people who have never seen tandem surfing, I describe it as an art form like ice dancing or ballet, except we are in the water. You have two people on one board: a graceful, flexible woman, and a man who does the surfing. The man guides the dance, lifting his partner into beautiful acrobatic poses while still surfing the wave. It takes a lot of skill and training. We have to put in the time and work, first on land practicing lifts, then executing the moves in the water while surfing a wave. I’ve gotten a lot of coaching and advice from the Mākahas tandem greats: my uncle Jason Patterson and his wife Kelly, my uncle Mel Pu‘u, and my uncle Brian Keaulana and aunty Kathy Terada, who are former tandem world champions.
Tandem surfing is also one of the most competitive forms of surfing. There are weight rules: the woman must to be half the man’s weight, no less, otherwise you get point deductions for every pound the team is off weight. Points are docked if you aren’t able to hold the moves for a certain amount of time, or for something as small as my partner’s toes not being pointed in a certain way. A score also depends on how well we surf. We can’t just go straight. We have to hold position and surf the hell out of the wave at the same time. At the contests in France, the crowds are insane, they gather on the beach to watch and cheer for the different moves.
In 2016 the International Tandem Surfing Association World championship was held here in my hometown. I wanted to enter and Uncle Mel recommended his old partner, Angelee Homma. We practiced twice and decided to go for it. With contests, I always feel a rush, a sense of anticipation and excitement, right before I go out onto the water. Then, when surfing there’s a sense of calm and focus. I’m not worried about the actual competition, I’m focused on the wave, my partner, and nailing the moves while keeping us safe. That day, we placed 7th overall in the World Championships! Top ten in the world! I was stoked.
I’ve surfed in France, Australia, and all over the continental US and the ocean is beautiful everywhere. But nothing compares to Mākaha. From 2 feet to 15 feet, from the beautiful obstacles that keep you on your toes to the different sections and backwash, you get it all. When I surf Mākaha, Iʻm connected to my ancestors and flooded with peace, joy and happiness. I can feel it in my bones. It’s the best wave in the world.