Lance Maki, MD, has accomplished many things in his life. He joined the Air Force and flew KC-135 tankers as an aircraft commander, and he served as a flight surgeon and T-38 instructor pilot. As an OB/GYN physician, he worked in private practice. Now he is a bicoastal hospitalist and intimacy therapist. Still, it’s what he does in his spare time that attracts the most attention.
Dr. Maki is a tandem surfer and ballet dancer.
Tandem what? Ballet dancer? The kind who wears tights, stands on his tiptoes, and leaps into the air?
Make no mistake. At 5 feet, 10 inches and 190 pounds, this 68-year-old doctor is no weakling. Ballet requires the strength and coordination to leap high into the air while doing the splits. Tandem surfing demands even more skill and similar strength. The sport requires surfers to lift someone half their weight or more above their head and hold them in various poses while riding four- to six-foot high ocean waves on a surfboard less than two feet wide.
“We live in a crazy world,” says Dr. Maki, explaining that very little compares to surfing with dolphins and manatees. “When you enjoy life, you’re well-rounded and have that mind-body-spirit connection. You’re going to be a much better doctor and much more pleasant to be around.”
Practice, Persistence, and Prayers
Dr. Maki’s fascination with the ocean began in 1960, when his family vacationed in California. The following year, when he was in high school, they moved from his hometown in St. Johns, Mich., to La Mirada, Calif. During his senior year of high school, he says he surfed 150 days.
Back then, surfing was simply fun, nothing more. While attending California State University at Fullerton, he rarely surfed. There were too many things to do. In 1967, he married Kristine, now a nurse practitioner, and he joined the Air Force in 1972. He served as a pilot for the next 12 years.
The couple had six children from 1970 to 1982. Two years later, on an Air Force scholarship at age 37, he attended Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine in Lubbock.
After graduating from medical school in 1988, he returned to active duty and completed his OB/GYN residency at Wright State University and Miami Valley Hospital, which were affiliated with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. He spent another four years as an OB/GYN doctor and flight surgeon at Griffiss Air Force base in upstate New York. After retiring from the Air Force in 1996, he moved his family to Tipton, Ind., where he started an OB/GYN private practice.
That same year, his 14-year-old son started exhibiting normal teenage behavioral problems. Before it got out of hand, Kristine suggested that Dr. Maki enroll him in a structured and positive activity like surf camp.
“I said there aren’t any oceans in Indiana. I can’t surf anymore,” recalls Dr. Maki, now a devout Catholic who prays for a good and safe surf once he gets past the breakers.
Still, Kristine persisted, so Dr. Maki found a surf camp in San Clemente, Calif. As it turned out, Michael didn’t care for surfing and, as Dr. Maki quickly discovered, surfing wasn’t like riding a bike. It takes a while to remember how to just stay on the board.
“I went surfing and was absolutely terrible,” he says. “I was ready to quit, but people encouraged me to get on a big, old, fat surfboard, and pushed me into a wave. All of a sudden, it was like I was back surfing in high school.”
Dr. Maki’s renewed interest in surfing quickly evolved into his favorite passion. The family moved again, to Florida in 2002. Dr. Maki has worked as a locum tenens hospitalist for Ob Hospitalist Group at various facilities in California and Florida.
Through his surfing network, he learned about tandem surfing. Although Kristine and his friends believed he was “too old” and “too much of a klutz,” he was determined. So, in 2007, he traveled to Hawaii and—at the age of 60—learned how to tandem surf. Ironically, Kristine found him the perfect tandem partner—a family friend who was five years his junior and half his size and weight.
For almost two years, they trained with an Olympic gymnast learning lifts.
“He would have us lie down on the mat and, over and over again, get up as fast as we could and go into a lift,” he says. “Florida waves are very short-lived. We worked like mad at that.”
Dance, Dance, Dance
Besides surfing every other day, Dr. Maki has taken 90-minute ballet classes twice a week for the past five years. He works with a trainer for an hour, also twice a week.
“Without bragging, I have to say I’m much better now than I was when I first started surfing back in 1960,” he says. “I do pushups, calisthenics, and use a ballet bar and a balancing training board called an indo board.”
In 2012, he and his tandem surfing partner went on the International Tandem Surf Association’s world tour. They surfed in contests in Virginia, California, Hawaii, Florida, and France, earning 11th place overall.
But this year, he’s taking time off. Not to worry, though. When he turns 70, he plans on returning to the World Tandem Tour.
The break, he says, will allow him to focus more on his ballet. For the past three holiday seasons, he has played the role of Herr Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker at Cocoa Village Playhouse in Cocoa Village, Fla.
“I hope to be dancing ballet and tandem surfing until I can’t walk anymore, because they’re so much fun,” Dr. Maki says. “If you have a positive attitude and do your best to be happy with what you’re doing at work—some days can be brutal as a hospitalist—it carries over to your patients and they heal faster. You don’t get healed by medicine alone.”
Carol Patton is a freelance writer in Las Vegas.