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Paddle Boarding Goes to the Dogs

Breathtaking views of San Francisco are off in the horizon. The smell of the salty sea is in the air. You’re out on the bay, pulling the water hard and strong, passing others in kayaks and canoes as you stroke past on your paddle board.

Could life get any better?

Yup.

If you’re a pet owner, you could be paddle boarding with your pooch, in what’s becoming a small but growing trend that give the words “doggie paddling” a definite new twist.
“It’s become a thing,” said Mike Wang, owner of Mike’s Paddle in Alameda who has been renting boards for the last year on the Ballena Bay Marina. “Maybe about 5 percent of our customers go out on a paddle board with their dog. But everyone wants to be out paddle boarding with their dog.”

The idea got so popular that Wang offered a class this summer especially for paddle board dog owners.

Wang wanted to make sure his paddlers were safe, because paddling with a feisty, furry, four-legged friend isn’t just a walk in the park. For instance, all dogs should wear life jackets because when (not if, when) they fall (or jump) off the board, they can’t hop back up without the use of a harness attached to their vest.

And there are tricks to keep the dogs balanced on the boards. Pet owners should know that it’s obviously easier to paddle with a small terrier, Saint Bernards might be a no-no because of their size, and herding dogs like to hop from paddle board to paddle board and should be trained to stay on their own board.

But once the dogs, and the owners, get the hang of paddling together, the sport takes on new levels of enjoyment.

“It’s incredibly exciting for the dogs to work on their balance and to play fetch out there,” said Mahogany Gamble, 35, of San Pablo, who often goes out paddling with her Dutch Shepherd-Lab, Kayo, and her Lab-Mastiff-mix, Hiro.

Gamble has always loved to be out on the water. She’s been dragon boating in Oakland for years. A friend got her into paddle boarding and the two went out one weekend and had a great time. But they both kept their dogs waiting back at the dock. Next time, her friend said, we should bring the dogs. So they did.

And paddle boarding became even more fun.

“We had the time of our lives,” Gamble said, recalling how much better it was paddling alongside her pets.

Gamble was a bit concerned about how her dogs would handle the boards, and whether they’d stay balanced or move around too much. Good thing she’s also a dog trainer by day. So, she worked with her own dogs, figuring out what they could and couldn’t do. And through the same mutual friend, hooked up with Wang, who asked her to teach a dog paddle boarding class for a small group in Alameda in July. Sure, some dogs got wet, and so did their owners. But there were lots of smiles all around. “I am addicted to doing things with my dog,” Gamble said. “And so, being out on the water, being so calm out there and just looking out in every direction, and experiencing that with your dog, it’s just the greatest thing.”

Not every beach is dog-friendly, and not every boating or paddle board shop is either. So paddle boarders should definitely do some research before showing up with Fido all suited up and ready to go.

But all dogs are welcome at California Canoe & Kayak at Oakland’s Jack London Square, where owner Keith Miller brings Lucy and Skipper every day to the shop he has owned since 1982. He’s proud of his dog-friendly culture, where water bowls and treats are kept for any dog that passes by. He started offering paddle boarding to his customers in 2008, something that he said really started taking off in the last three years or so.

A small but dedicated crew comes to paddle with their dogs. On a recent Sunday, several paddle boarders, all with small dogs on the backs of their boards, were spotted weaving in and out of the kayaks and canoes that Miller regularly rents out. Sometimes Miller’s wife, Tammy, will be among them, paddling with their dogs.

The allure is pretty simple, Miller said: “A dog is a human’s best friend. I can’t imagine not having one. If you can spend more time with your dog, that’s always better.”

Lisa Fernandez lives in Oakland and is a digital journalist/producer at NBC Bay Area.

Main article photo by: Courtesy Mike Wang