Kalani Vierra and Krystl Apeles-Erickson won the world championship of tandem surfing in 2015.
They won again in 2017.
The Kauai duo is looking to earn their third International Tandem Surfing Association world championship on June 28 at Waikiki beach.
They have put in countless hours of preparation to be at this level and it’s their success that motivates them to push harder and try new things.
Like going to the Olympics.
Vierra and Apeles-Erickson hope to introduce the world to tandem surfing during an exhibition at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. That exhibition will be the conclusion of a three-year documentary being made about the tandem.
“It’s about the history of tandem surfing, honoring Duke Kahanamoku and following us in our last three years,” Vierra said. “She followed us to Australia and France a couple of times. She’ll be here next week and she’ll be staying until the championships in June and then her final part of the documentary is the 2020 Olympics exhibition.”
Vierra, the county’s Ocean Safety Bureau chief, is hopeful that he and Apeles-Erickson will get the nod to perform in the world’s biggest athletic stage.
“We’re volunteering to come and do an exhibition during the Olympics because the Olympics in 2020, surfing is going to be the first time as an official sport,” Vierra said. “So we want to go over there during surfing portion, during the break and do a tandem surfing exhibition and see how the world will react to watching tandem surfing. Because just from our own practice, people haven’t ever seen tandem surfing before and they’re totally blown away.”
For their coach, Jack Leonard, it’s not about building the strength of the two world champion athletes, but getting the best possible performance.
They train under his watch in the gym about once a week, besides all the practice on boards in the ocean.
“What we’ve done over the years is try to imitate the ocean by creating different geometry in the gym,” he said.
For instance, they use a a custom-made board made from sapele, South African hardwood, and place it on top of a Bosu ball and try different configurations.
“So we pick the beach that it imitates and we keep figuring it out until we know which configuration to match the contest that we are going to train for,” Leonard said.
He counts out the seconds as Vierra and Apeles-Erickson perform daring twists and flips, all while Vierra balances on the board. Over the years, Vierra has mastered another balancing act as well.
“I always had a love for the ocean and I always thought the lifeguards were like professional surfers because they are right at the ocean most of the time,” Vierra said of how his love for surfing transitioned into a full-time career with the county. “Growing up, I got in trouble myself and I saw people getting in trouble and I thought there was nothing I could do about it because I had no rescue experience.”
It was around the time that Vierra had his daughter that he got a call from a friend, recommending that he take the lifeguard training class, even if it was just to learn safety for his six-month-old daughter, or for other surfers he may encounter that needed rescue.
“So I said OK and I started,” Vierra said. “I wasn’t much of a good swimmer, but I was pretty strong in the water until I took the lifeguarding class and that’s when I learned how to do the proper swim strokes.”
After the training, Vierra applied to be a lifeguard and 22 years later he is in charge of the OSB and is a six-time world champion who is always open to learning new ocean sports.
It’s not a bad life for the man who once dreamed as a kid to be the best surfer in the world, looking up to local surfers like Larry Bertlemann and Dane Kealoha. Now he has the younger generation looking up to him as he attempts to win yet another world championship and have an exhibition at the Olympic Games next summer.
Younger tandem surfers often ask for advice about training and how to improve.
Vierra, whose latest passion is hydra foiling, is glad to help.
“I’m all about sharing and not only with tandem, but canoe paddling is another, and the hydra foiling. There’s a lot of younger guys looking up, or even guys my age that are starting to get into the same sport that I like and I’m here to share the best knowledge I can and especially if it’s pertaining to safety.”
He said he went through a lot of trial and error that led to injuries.
“If somebody helped me out during that time, maybe I could eliminate injury or a lot of the research and development phase,” Vierra said. “I try to share the best that I can to help people get better at what they want to do, especially if it is a safety portion that I can help them from getting injured.”