Steve Boehne drove from Huntington Beach to San Onofre on a freezing cold day in 1968 to try surfing with a young Barrie Algaw, who was already known for her aerial acrobatics while riding tandem on waves.
The petite, 5-foot, 89-pound surfer girl from Santa Monica had forgotten something important – her wetsuit.
“She didn’t want to say ‘I’m not going out.’ I didn’t want to say I wasn’t going out. So we paddled out without wetsuits in the middle of March,” recalled Boehne. “I caught one wave, lifted her into a swan, rode it all the way to the beach and said ‘I’m taking you in before I drop you in the water!’”
While they only caught one wave on that frigid, fateful day, the tandem duo has had a lifetime of wild rides together at surf breaks – and on streetscapes – near and far.
Their accomplishments as champion tandem surfers and skaters, as well as longtime surf shop owners in Dana Point, have earned the couple – they were married a few years later – a life-size bronze statue at the Watermen’s Plaza across from Doheny State Beach, joining a collection of other iconic Dana Point surfers who have had a major influence on the sport and culture through the years.
Barrie Boehne was hanging out at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, a young 17-year-old who watched in awe as the gymnasts and skaters practiced jumps, spins and twirls.
She was tiny, a perfect frame for the tandem surfers who would also show up to train before hitting the water.
Among those surfers was Pete Peterson, a famous early-era surfer from the ’30s who helped popularize the subculture of tandem riding.
Peterson asked Boehne if she wanted to try tandem surfing out in the water.
“I’m an adventurous girl, I’m open to anything,” she said.
There was just one problem. She didn’t know how to swim, a little fact she forgot to mention.
After their first fall, Peterson went after his surfboard (there were no leashes back then), coming back to find Boehne struggling to stay afloat.
“He got so mad at me because he had to rescue me,” she said. “He said ‘Why didn’t you tell me you couldn’t swim?’”
“You didn’t ask me!” she quipped back.
So Peterson, also a lifeguard, taught her the basics of dog paddling and her lungs got stronger, and she kept surfing.
Steve Boehne, meanwhile, had picked up surfing at about age 12, buying a tandem board a few years later so he could take his three younger siblings out into the surf.
He remembers traveling up to Santa Monica to hang with surf buddies and seeing Barrie for the first time.
“She’s flying in the air doing loop-de-loops,” he recalled. “She never remembers me from that, I was just an admirer.”
Peterson sustained a neck injury and Barrie needed a new partner. So that’s when the duo went to San Onofre on their first fateful surf adventure that cold winter day in 1968.
They dated while Steve Boehne went to Cal State Fullerton college, entering surf contests up and down the coast and then in Hawaii, Europe and Australia. They started racing catamarans. They started skiing and then snowboarding when that became popular, finding adventure wherever they could.
“She just took advantage of any opportunity, anything that was fun,” Steve Boehne said.
“I loved fun,” Barrie Boehne echoed. “I still do.”
Wild rides and wipeouts
When the surf was no good, Steve and Barrie Boehne would tandem skateboard, doing the same moves they were known for on the water on the hard concrete.
They would cruise along 19th Street in Costa Mesa, trying to avoid rocks and bumps while maintaining complex holds, Barrie lifted high above Steve’s head, getting the same adrenaline rush as when they were tandem surfing.
“I would keep the speed down, but still you’re going 15 mph,” Steve Boehne said. “If you hit a rock or you just lose your balance, she would splatter on the cement.”
Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
“He was real careful. We work well together,” Barrie Boehne said. “The balance, you had to be really precise and you have to feel him, where he’s going. It kind of comes naturally.”
They weren’t without their injuries while in the water.
One time, after a wipe out at Makaha in Hawaii, the sea surge was so strong Barrie Boehne’s knee broke her nose as she curled into a ball.
Another time, when a big set came in, Steve Boehne laid on Barrie on the board to hold on.
“The wave comes and smashes her head on to the board,” he said. “Blood all around the water. I take her to the beach, her chin is split open.”
The doctor told her to stay out of the water for six weeks.
“She was out the next day and catching the same damn waves,” Steve Boehne said.
Breaks and blood aside, they couple said they had a fun time traveling the world, wowing the crowds who came to watch their elaborate dance on the water, becoming the icons of tandem surfing.
Surfboards and beyond
Meanwhile, to make money, Steve Boehne shaped surfboards. His plan was to make surfboards for the summer after he graduated college and then get a “decent” job. But a recession hit.
“And I never got a decent job,” he said with a chuckle.
He opened Infinity Surf Shop with his new bride in Huntington Beach on Pacific Coast Highway before moving further south, first to Mission Viejo, then San Clemente, before landing in Dana Point, where they’ve been since the ’80s.
Boehne, who at age 76 is still shaping surfboards in the shop his son, Dave, now runs, has always been an innovator. Infinity was the first surf shop to make and sell stand-up paddleboards two decades ago – the first models using the bigger tandem boards and kayak paddles.
What he’s most proud of, he said, are the surf-skis he makes that allows people with disabilities to get out of their wheelchairs and into the water.
Tandem surfing has had its swells and lulls in popularity. In the ’80s, there was a big interest, then again in the ’90s, and again in the early 2000s. For years, the Boehnes held classes at San Onofre for anyone who wanted to learn.
But with many who knew how to brave the waves tandem aging, fewer people are seen dancing on the water in pairs.
“They are all older now, there’s no new blood,” Barrie Boehne said. “Tandem is a dying sport.”
Now both in their 70s, the Boehnes no longer travel the world to tandem surf. But on a recent day, Barrie Boehne can’t help but talk her husband into holding her above his head, despite her four broken ribs from a recent Segway fall.
Even if the sport goes extinct, their legacy will live on in bronze with a new statue created by Dana Point artist Bill Limebrook that shows them in tandem while on a skateboard together on Pacific Coast Highway, inspired by a 1975 film showcasing their talent.
“It’s amazing,” Steve Boehne said of the couple who was “just trying to go through our life having fun” ending up memorialized in bronze. “We lived in the right city and did the right things. We’ll be dead and gone and that statue will still be there.”
The dedication of the statue will be held at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 25, at Waterman’s Plaza. They will be joining statues of other iconic Dana Point surfers, including Joyce Hoffman, Bruce Brown, Hobie Alter, John Severson, and Phil Edwards.
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