By Cindi Courbat
Tandem surfing, that illustrious dance on water, is making a comeback thanks in part to an elite group of surfers here on the Space Coast.
Most notably is Lance Maki, a local physician who has had such an influence on tandem surfing over the past decade he has affectionately been called the “Father of East Coast Tandem Surfing.”
At age 62, Maki and his then 57-year-old surf partner Jaci Remrey, made surfing history as the oldest couple to ever compete in an international tandem championship event. Their victory took place at the International Tandem Surfing Association (ITSA) World Championship which was held in Cocoa Beach in 2011. Now in their sixth competitive surfing season, Maki and Remrey have ranked as high as 11th place in the ITSA world tour.
Not bad for a local grandma who never even stepped on a surfboard until age 55. Or for a man who, after high school, took a 30 year hiatus from surfing.
The Surfing Doc
Maki’s passion for surfing was reignited when he took his son to a surf camp in 2008.
“I suddenly realized I had been landlocked for the past three decades,” said Maki, who admits to spending 100 days of his senior year on the water.
Before camp ended, Maki bought a new board. In 2009, he became a certified surfing instructor through the National Surf Schools & Instructors Association (NSSIA.) At age 50, Maki competed in his first ever pro-am surfing contest held at Ventura Beach. That’s where he met California surfer girl Katherine Kohner Zuckerman.
Gidget Goes Surfing
The long-running TV series “Gidget” first aired in 1957. The show was based on the life story of Zuckerman, who at age 15 shared her private diaries with her Hollywood producer father. He subsequently turned her writings into a novel and a screen play.
The show also coincided with a series of beach movies featuring up-and-coming stars like Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello — even Elvis Presley. Suddenly a decade-long tandem craze soon packed American beaches from Malibu to Daytona.
In 2011, Zuckerman came to the Space Coast to attend the ITSA World Championship and to promote a new film called “Incidental Icon” which told her story. While here, she talked about inspiring so many young girls to surf.
“Gidget” was a friendly nickname attached to just about any female who surfed. It meant girl midget. Before “Gidget” and before lighter boards were invented you just didn’t see girls out on the water. The greatest thing tandem did for surfing was it got girls off the sidelines and into the game — before that we just sat on the shore and watched the boys have all the fun.”
Local Legend: Dick Catri
Hollywood’s interest in tandem coincided with a significant rise in the number of surfing festivals held at popular beaches.
“Back then, everybody had a surfboard and we went from one end of the coast to the other,” said local surfing legend Dick Catri.
In 1964, Catri and his business partner John Griffin started the East Coast Surfing Festival as a family-friendly event held annually at Cocoa Beach over Easter weekend.
Tandem on the Space Coast
“The ultimate goal is to get the perfect ride — and that’s not always easy here on the Space Coast,” said Amy Lashley, a Melbourne Beach resident and former tandem partner/protégé of Maki’s.
“We depend on the waves and waves rely on nature. Around here we can sometimes wait for hours just to get one good ride but if we were in Waikiki we might get 20 rides on just one wave,” Lashley mused.
Space Coast waves are notoriously unpredictable. The smaller the waves, the harder it is to tandem and yet — big waves can also present trouble if the wind is high and the swell is hard to predict.
“Surfing can be a lot like life. The ocean can be calm and inviting one day and stormy and violent the next. You have to go with the flow and make the best of it,” said Maki.
Although local waters may not be especially conducive to tandem, a growing number of surfers insist it is here to stay.
“I think we’re seeing a new surge in interest,” said Brian Stokes, a Virginia Beach-based surfer who heads up the East Coast Tandem Surfing Association (ECTSA).
Stokes and his wife Cindy were among six couples who presented a tandem surfing exhibition during the recent 49th Annual East Coast Surfing Festival held at Cocoa Beach.
During that event, two other Virginia couples joined local teams Kymmie Singletary and Ed Martinez, Amy Lashley and Justin Gladish, Tamara McHatton and “Evan” Scott Jecmen for a crowd-pleasing demonstration.
A World Class Tandem Team
In spite of fickle waves and technical challenges, tandem has become a big part of Space Coast surfing.
“When competitive tandem began, there were only six lifts. Today, there are 52,” said Lashley.
The hand-to-hand hand-stand was perfectly performed by local dance studio owner, Kymmie Singletary and her partner Ed Martinez during this year’s East Coast Surfing Fest.
“If anyone can get the toughest lifts, they can,” said Lashley. “That lift requires the female to go upside down as the couple forms a straight vertical line, like a pencil.”
Martinez is a former marine with perfectly toned muscles. Singletary got her start in tandem when Maki, one of her ballet students, recruited her as a practice partner. With only six months of practice, Singletary and Martinez make up the most dynamic duo currently surfing local waters. Tandem incorporates movements from ballet, gymnastics and cheerleading — and for that reason, Singletary is a natural.
Meanwhile, as the second oldest couple in the ITSA, Jecmen and McHatton prove height, weight and age should not be a major handicap. Jecmel is possibly the shortest and lightest man in professional tandem while McHatton is bigger than the average 110-pound female — a disparity that sometimes prevents them from competing due to tandem regulations.
“We may not get all the lifts, but we have a lot of fun,” said Jecmen.