ENCINITAS — Having gone weeks without surfing together, facing a beach closure due to a sewage spill and a hurricane affecting whether or not the competition would even be held, the prospect of competing in Hawaii’s the Duke’s OceanFest for tandem surfers Ahlia Hoffman and Travis Long was, in a word, uncertain.
That uncertainty continued for the pair when Hoffman pulled a muscle in her shoulder while practicing their lifts in a pool.
But then the beach was re-opened, the hurricane had moved on and Hoffman got the medical assurances that no further damage could be done to her shoulder.
So the world’s current fifth-ranked tandem surf team out of Encinitas would get to surf in the waters where the sport got its start after all.
Though, for the only team from the mainland U.S. to make it through four heats and into the finals, it wasn’t an easy day out among the waves.
During the finals, Hoffman said they got pitched off a wave pretty badly, the leash on their surfboard breaking, forcing them to swim after the board.
Long, Hoffman said, started after the board, with time slipping away from them during the event. All the while, Hoffman’s arm was seizing up and her shoulder was on fire from her injury as she swam to Long and the surfboard.
Yet, after getting back on the board, they managed to catch one more wave before time ran out.
“I thought for sure we got last — fourth place,” Hoffman said, adding that even a fourth place finish would’ve been better than last year when they placed fifth.
But during the awards ceremony, Hoffman and Long weren’t the names called for fourth place.
Hoffman said she thought there might’ve been some mistake.
“And then they called us for third and I was shocked. I was so excited,” she said.
With the third place finish, the pair has qualified for the second time in a row for the ITSA World Championship of Surfing at Hawaii’s Makaha Beach later this December.
Long said that for the championships, they’ll be looking to establish a couple of go-to sequences that they can immediately pull out on the waves.
Most of that training is done at Suckouts in Cardiff or at Swami’s, which, when they’re going through their routines on land, can draw a crowd.
Long is also anticipating really big waves in Makaha in December, so part of their training will be working on psyching themselves up for that.
“We’re hoping to do really, really well and that’ll give us our next world ranking,” Hoffman said.
What about their ultimate goal?
“I want to be world champion,” Hoffman said.
“I like it,” Long said. “I like her spirit. That’s why she’s my partner.”
Doing well in the competitions is the culmination of hard work and time they’ve put into their craft, especially the trust the two have built as a team.
“But also, for me personally, what I’ve overcome to even make it this far,” said Hoffman. “I have to thank my friends and family and community for their encouragement, their support, their love as I’ve gone through all of this. It hasn’t always been easy.”
Before heading back to Hawaii, Hoffman and Long will compete in the Dale Velzy Surf Contest and Luau Sept. 19 at Doheny State Beach.
While they both have full-time jobs, (tandem surfing isn’t it for either one), the duo is still looking for travel sponsorships to help get to the competitions.