Pat Weber of San Diego Surfing Academy with Robin, 9, of Boston area, at S. Carlsbad Beach. (Photo: Lori Hoffman)

Can someone learn to surf in just 1 day? How about learn to surf and participate in a surfing competition in 2?

If your teacher is Travis Long, the answer may be yes. At least that’s what this tandem-surfing pro and surf instructor with San Diego Surfing Academy has been saying ever since I touched down in Southern California a couple hours ago, and before then, when we were emailing coast to coast. Who could pass this up?

There’s just one small thing: Forget not knowing how to surf, I barely know how to swim. And come to think of it, I don’t own a bathing suit. Plus, I have a bad lower back. Other than that, this sounds like one great idea.

At least Travis thinks so. He’s even got us booked in a tandem-surfing competition, slated for the very next day. Swami’s 19th Invitational Surf Contest is an annual event put on by Swami’s Surfing Association at Cardiff Reef, CA. As the guardians of “sun, sea and surf since 1964,” this is one of the oldest surfing clubs in all of California, and … I’m starting to freak.

Swami’s 19th Invitational Surf Contest, at Cardiff Reef, CA. (Photo: Lori Hoffman)

Lesson 1: Don’t Freak (Yet)
It’s Saturday morning, and after squeezing into a wet suit, the first lesson begins on South Carlsbad State Beach, 30 minutes north of San Diego. “We can teach you in 2 hours what would take you 2 months to learn on your own,” says Travis.

First comes the pop-up demo. I’m goofy-footed, Travis determines. He has me draw a line in the sand and lie in the center of it with my hands by my ribcage. Then pop-up! Front foot out at 11 o’clock and back foot out at 9, shoulder-width apart.

After going over a few rules — never turn your back on the ocean, never let the board come between you and a wave — we’re on. Travis and Coach Pat Weber, a Florida-surfer-turned-owner of San Diego Surfing Academy, grab a Makai foam longboard; I follow them out into the ocean. After a couple missed cues, plus a few wipeouts and burning gulps of saltwater, I hop onboard again, then stand up and hold on, for dear life, to Coach Pat’s shoulders.

Could the third time be a charm? Coach Pat and Travis spot a wave, push me in unison, with perfect timing, in its path, and for the first time in my life … dude, I’m surfing! A few more like this and we’re ready to nail tomorrow’s Swami’s Surf Contest … right?

Instructors Travis Long and Pat Weber cheer on author’s first surfing stint. (Photo: Lori Hoffman)

Lesson 2: Frame Everything as a Success
Tandem surfing can be one awkward sport if you’ve never done it before. Or, as Travis’ surfing partner, Tanya Parks, says, “It’s the most intimate non-intimacy in the world.” That sounds pretty accurate, as I find out once she lends me her dude for the day.

Travis Long and Tanya Parks tandem surf at Cardiff Reef. (Photo: Lisa Singh)

Travis and I are on the surfboard, after having shuffled out into the water, so as not to step on any stingrays. He’s on my back, and tells me to spread my legs. It’s moments like this, you just have to embrace it. Pretty soon, he’s telling me, “Faster, harder!” About paddling, of course.

Then it’s pop-up time, together … now! First try, wipeout; second try, same thing. I’m starting to feel a little … frustrated. This isn’t going to happen, and the heat is in just over an hour. That’s when I hear a voice. I look around. It’s from a ripped-and-tattooed surfer named John. “Frame everything that happens out here as a success,” he says. “There’s no judgment … whatever happens today, it’s all a success.”

I hop back on the board, pop-up and 1 … 2… 3 … we’re surfing tandem!

Lesson 3: Show Time!
It’s show time — some of the world’s leading contenders in tandem surfing are here today, and my nerves are starting to kick into high gear. Walking out in front of the crowd, all waiting for the heat to begin, I flash a “shaka” sign, the “hang loose” gesture of the surfing world, with one very shaky hand.

Soon I follow Travis out into the ocean, and paddle as fast as I can with him. Nearby, tandem-surfing pro couple Mark and Debbie Gale do an Arabesque lift; it’s like an IMAX movie unfolding before my eyes. Travis, meanwhile, waits for a wave. A few minutes (and tries) later, we’re on, surfing tandem. I hoist an arm around his left shoulder and extend my legs out to the side. Two moves, 1 wave. This is the best 5 seconds of my life!

Carried to finish line: Travis Long and author at Swami’s Surf Contest. (Photo: Jerry Jaramillo)

We’re going home with “the hardware,” just as Travis predicted. Fifth place. Not dead last! (OK, the last went to a dad surfing and his young daughter … but whatever, people.) I’m still celebrating this one!

Just as today’s emcee Ozstar de Jourday, of local WindanSea Surf Club, says, “The best things in life are free — the air, the water, the sunlight, your eyes, your mind, your heart — so take a big, deep breath, and feel the power of love, man.” Surfing skills, optional.

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5 Responses

  1. BNP says:

    The surfing looks fun, and San Diego and its environs are terrific! I photographed a Super Bowl there way back in the day. But hey Lisa, surfing can't be THAT easy! Richmond, VA says hi to our intrepid traveler!

  2. Trip Ideas says:

    Awesome…so great to see a surf school and knowing its so close to home makes it all the better. I remember back when I was like 11 yrs. old and going to the Paskowitz Surf School at San Onfre [this was the 70's we're talking about]. I already knew how to surf well at the time, but it was the camaraderie and just camping out that made it so great. Surf's Up…Two Thumb's up for you guys! Roman T. Murrieta, CA @

  3. freelancearg says:

    Great San Diego , great city. I recommend in europe to practice
    Kitesurf Spain.

  4. montero1991 says:


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Lisa SinghLisa Singh is an Interactive Producer at Her multimedia career has spanned print and online publications. One of her first stories involved following a convicted felon into the Mexican...


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