ENCINITAS — Ahlia Hoffman flew through the air with seemingly the greatest of ease. Though she wasn’t on any flying trapeze.
Instead Hoffman was hoisted some several feet into the air, held there by the strength and raised arms of Travis Long, a pair of tandem surfers riding along a small, crumbling wave on an 11-foot, 6-inch surfboard near the Oceanside Pier on Sunday.
The word Hoffman would use to describe that experience: “Exhilarating.”
“There’s no feeling like it — being able to see the wave behind or underneath me, the wind in my hair and on my face,” she said. “To fly at that speed upside down or whatever down a wave, there’s nothing like it. It’s a total adrenaline rush.”
Long’s experience of riding the wave is a little bit different, though.
“For me, I’m thinking about a lot of different things — I’m thinking most often of keeping her safe,” said Long.
And as the anchor of sorts, once Long has caught the wave and raised Hoffman into one of the lifts, he’s then able to steer the board and surf just as though he was alone.
The duo competed in the professional tandem surf heat of the Oceanside Longboard Surfing Club’s annual event on Sunday, placing second and earning the Encinitas residents a qualifying spot in the Duke’s OceanFest competition in Hawaii later this month.
A little less than two of those years have been surfing with Hoffman, and in the 10 or 12 events they’ve competed in so far they’ve done “quite well,” Long said.
“She’s a great partner, she’s very dedicated,” he said of working with Hoffman.
“The way I gauge a good tandem girl, they don’t have to know how to surf, it’s kind of how a woman deals with fear,” Long said. “And there are some women that are just fearless. Ahlia is definitely one of them.”
As someone who admits growing up being afraid of everything, Hoffman, a yoga teacher and author, said it was only by luck and chance that she discovered tandem surfing.
“I grew up being afraid of everything,” she said. “And as an adult, I wanted to be fearless. It was first a conscious decision to pursue the things that I used to be afraid of.”
To do this, she began traveling on her own, going skydiving and checking other adrenaline-fueled adventures off her list.
“For surfing, I don’t really think about anything that’s going to promote any kind of fear. I just take a deep breath and smile and have fun. Really there’s no fear involved,” she said.
The sport can be rough on its participants where bumps and bruises from falling can be a common occurrence.
And half of the time they’re out there, Hoffman said, she’s yelling at Long.
“Get away from the pier.”
“Don’t throw me down so hard.”
“Don’t get my hair wet.”
Those were just some of the things she yelled out to Long during Sunday’s competition.
But Hoffman has a lot of trust in Long.
“He’s a really strong waterman,” she said. “He knows what waves to go for. We have strong communication. And number one, he keeps me safe.”
Hoffman and Long have five sequences and can choose between 10 to 12 different lifts that they’ve learned. In all, the ITSA recognizes more than 60 different lifts.
While surfing is a major component in contests, Long said what really matters is how good the girl is.
“And I truly mean that as a compliment to women because the women in our sport are really one-of-a-kind,” Long said.
The popularity of the sport, which saw Duke Kahanamoku bring it to the forefront in Hawaii during the 1920s, does seem to be growing, Long said.
“We’re lucky enough to have a pro tour these days,” he said. “It’s not like we’re quitting our day jobs, but we have a little bit of sponsors,” he said.
For more information about tandem surfing or with sponsorships to help get them to Hawaii contact Hoffman at email@example.com or Long at firstname.lastname@example.org.