Although a Relative Newcomer to Surfskiing, Manhattan Beach’s Tim Burdiak Will Soon Compete for His Third World Title in the Sport

The flying fish.

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  • Written & photographed by
    Kat Monk

Two-time world champion and three-time national champion surfskier Tim Burdiak will soon be on the hunt for his third world title in Riccione, Italy, at the Lifesaving World Championships hosted by the International Life Saving Federation. He will compete in the surfski race and the Taplin relay. After a four-year hiatus, this year’s Lifesaving World Championships is a streamlined showcase of the best lifesaving athletes from around the world in the Open division. 

The United States Lifesaving Nationals were held in August in Hermosa Beach. “The relay was amazing to watch,” shares lifeguard Tom Seth. “Tim got in the water 75 yards behind first place and paddled the guy down. They rode the same wave, but he sprinted to shore and tagged his runner two seconds before the other team for the win. Not only is he an amazing athlete but just a super fun guy to be around.”

A layman would look at a surfski and think it is just another paddle. It is a paddle, but the primary benefit of a surfski is its ability to glide through the water easily. It could be considered a cross between kayaking or canoeing and paddling. A surfski differs from a kayak in that the athlete is on top rather than enclosed. However, both are very easy to tip over. 

Once the technique is mastered, it works your core, legs and hips more than your arms and shoulders. “Your arms are not doing the work anymore; they are just connecting everything,” explains Tim.  

He credits his older brother, Nick, for influencing him and his two younger brothers, Dan and Andrew, to become watermen both at the beach and in the pool. Although he is at the top of his game now, that wasn’t always the case. 

“I think that his intensity and dedication are applicable in all the different facets in life, and that is what separates him from everybody else.”

At 9, while trying out for the Junior Lifeguards, a sympathetic timer may have steered his trajectory. Humbly and jokingly, Tim suggests the timer was lenient and might have pushed him through a bit, though he won’t name any names. But if he had never cleared that tryout, it’s likely he wouldn’t have achieved his position today.

Competing as a Junior Lifeguard for eight years, Tim consistently performed on top in paddling and Taplin events—a relay with a runner, swimmer and paddler. He also excelled on the water polo team at Mira Costa High School, but an unfortunate injury dashed his plan to play Division 1 water polo at Loyola Marymount University. Making lemonade out of lemons, he passed the rigorous testing process to become a Los Angeles County lifeguard while also majoring and graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in mechanical engineering. 

Tim is no longer a Los Angeles County lifeguard, as summer work conflicts with the lifesaving competitions. Luckily, alumni are permitted to compete in the events. Tim has worked as chief operating officer at Xero Solar in El Segundo for the last nine years, a role that affords him much more flexibility to pursue competitions and travel.

So far, he has competed in many types of paddling events, including prone paddleboarding, lifesaving (swim, paddleboard, surfski and run), flatwater kayaking, outrigger and even dragon boating (10 pairs of paddlers sit facing forward in two rows). 

One of Tim’s early mentor groups was an outrigger team called Malolo Taco—named for the lifeguards’ booth at the Manhattan Beach Hometown Fair where they sell fish tacos to help raise money for international lifeguarding competitions. Tim is competing with the Lanakila Outrigger Canoe Club this year after winning the Lanakila Classic long course race in February. 

In a quest to qualify for the Olympics, Tim turned to sprint kayaking from 2014 to 2019. He learned the sport with the help of mentors—even spending a season training in Australia with the good fortune of racing on the Sunshine Coast, Sydney and Victoria. Unfortunately, the U.S. men failed to qualify for a spot in Tokyo. 

“I think that his intensity and dedication are applicable in all the different facets in life, and that is what separates him from everybody else,” shares Tim’s mentor and Olympian Cliff Meidl of Hermosa Beach.

Tim discovered surfskiing in an Ironman competition and soon realized that the surfski portion was his best event. Although it was a discipline he didn’t know much about at the time, he is now a master and seeking a world championship for the third time. 

While surfskiing is not an Olympic sport, there are talks of including lifesaving as an exhibition event in the 2032 Olympics in Brisbane, Australia. “It is up for debate how competitive I will be in 10 years!” says Tim.