Hawaiian Pilot Gains Recognition As Accomplished Tandem Surfer

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
Martin and her husband perform in a tandem surf tournament in Hawaii.

Capt. Karin Martin (Hawaiian) is a woman on the move. When she isn’t traversing the skies as an Airbus A321 pilot for her airline, she’s riding the waves as a competitive tandem surfer. Learning to surf as a teenager, Martin began tandem surfing in 2005, achieving some early recognition for her participation in world championship competitions. She continues to enjoy the sport with her husband as an activity they can share and as a way to stay in shape.

Martin grew up in a flying family with a father who flew for the U.S. Air Force and a mother who was a flight attendant for Continental Airlines and, later, Hawaiian Airlines. Enjoying the lifestyle associated with airline flying, Martin knew a career in aviation was in her future.

“I loved being able to nonrev on Hawaiian whenever I wanted. Hawaiian Airlines employees are kind of an extended family of mine,” she said, adding that she continues to be recognized by several of the carrier’s senior employees as “Audrey’s daughter,” in tribute to her mom.

A University of California, Santa Barbara alum, Martin held a variety of aviation jobs before flying the Dash 8 for Island Air in 2005. She served as the pilot group’s Master Executive Council chair for a period of time while also instructing at the Hans Hedeman Surf School in Honolulu, Hawaii, teaching beginners the nuances of catching waves and transitioning to a stance. In 2008, Martin moved to Hawaiian Airlines where she’s been ever since.

Following a flight, Capt. Karin Martin (Hawaiian) poses for a photo on the flight deck with her husband, Roderick, and daughter, Sanoe.

About the time Martin began flying for Island Air, some friends introduced her to tandem surfing. “It was so much fun,” she said, adding that her younger days participating in gymnastics and, more recently, in yoga quickly helped her acclimate.

Tandem surfing includes the dynamics of pairs figure skating and requires coordination, balance, and effective communication in order for the two partners to perform acrobatic poses and stunts while riding waves and managing the unpredictable ocean environment as a team. Tandem surfers use boards that are significantly larger than standard surfboards and longboards, measuring 11 to 12 feet in length and 27 to 29 inches in width.

The International Tandem Surfing Association coordinates competitions while promoting the sport’s Hawaiian heritage and history. As part of these contests, rides are scored on a 20-point scale, based on presentation and the degree of difficulty of the moves the couples perform.

Martin began tandem surfing with Pauly Chambers, entering numerous tournaments including the Buffalo Big Board Surfing Classic, held in February in Makaha on the west side of Oahu.

She and Chambers performed so well that they qualified for the International Surfing Association’s World Championship in 2007. Riding the Queens Surf Break at Waikiki that year, they placed 14th. The following year, the pair made it all the way to the semifinals of the same event, finishing in eighth place among the 24 qualifying teams.

Eventually, the two split, and she met Roderick Martin while training for another tandem contest. He was new to the sport, but the two enjoyed their time together and decided to enter the Duke Kahanamoku OceanFest in 2012. They earned an impressive fifth-place finish for their very first event. A year later, they were married.

Since then, they’ve surfed in more than a dozen tournaments, including the Duke Kahanamoku OceanFest, Braddah Mel’s Surfing Championship, and the John “Pops” Ah Choy Surf Fest—often placing in the top five. Martin noted that they currently try to compete in two to three tandem events a year.

Not surprisingly, Sanoe, the couple’s daughter, can be seen on occasion attempting some tandem runs with her father on calmer ocean days.

“We always want to do better and never want to stop trying,” said Martin. “We have friends in their 70s who still tandem surf. They’re the inspiration that keeps us working out and eating healthy.” Martin noted that the tandem surfer community where they live in Hawaii is a close-knit family, supporting and encouraging all involved to shoot for the stars while taking to the waves.

This article was originally published in the October 2023 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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