On Sat. Aug. 4, the third annual World Dog Surf Championships took place at Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica. Yes, the third annual World Dog Surf Championships.
As the number of dogs per households in the United States increases, the sports we include our beloved companions in also seems to increase. Each year the number of spectators who attend the Pacifica World dog surfing championship increases in size. And, luckily for the crowds who come to watch this fun event, the number of dogs competing increases, too. More than three dozen dogs of various sizes competed this year, but only nine won titles.
Even though dog surfing seems to have become the newest dog sports craze, dog surfing is not a new phenomenon. The 1926 silent film Sons of the Surf featured Hawaiian David Kahanamoku and his surfer dog Spot riding the great breakers on the same board, known as tandem surfing in the competitive dog surfing world and a category in today’s dog surfing competitions. Dog surfing contests, like the one in Pacifica, are a newer phenomenon than the sport itself. According to the World Dog Surf Championships website, the first dog surfing contest was conceived and proposed by Kevin Reed, author of the book The Dog’s Guide to Surfing, in 2006. The debut event took place in San Diego and was an instant success, and now there are competitions throughout the United States and abroad.
Dog surfing contests offer a variety of categories, allowing for dogs of all sizes to compete. Breeds can vary from min pins, pugs, and corgis to Australian kelpies, goldendoodles, Queensland heelers, and golden retrievers.
The most important part of this contest is making sure the dogs have fun. Many owners of these fur-surfers stress how they knew from the moment their dogs got in the ocean for a first try that they seemed to be having fun. In fact, many jumped on the board all by themselves, they said.
Watching the dogs compete in the ocean, you notice how happy they are. Many dogs ride the boards to shore, jump off the board, and run right back in the water. Judges take notice of all these little intricacies, the length of time the dog is on the board, the way the dog rides the wave, whether the dog can do a trick on the board, whether the dog can ride with another dog or human on the board.
Abbie Girl, a rescued black-and-tan Australian kelpie who came in third place in the medium dog category at Pacifica holds the Guinness World Record in surfing for having ridden the longest wave by a dog in open water. Found on the roadside, she was adopted by Michael Uy, who would take her to the beach to help her build self-confidence. It wasn’t long before she became the world’s best-performing surf dog. Many of the fur-surfers have gained so much attention from these surfing contests that they have become celebrities and ambassadors to a variety of causes and charities.
Gidget the pug rocks her celebrity status. She took first place in the small dog category at Pacifica and attracted the Bay Area pug community to come out and support her. She has a website and over 17,000 followers on Instagram. Her No. 1 fan is Belinda Carlisle from the Go-Go’s. Her owner, Alecia Nelson, describes Gidget as having a variety of special talents besides surfing. She can balance on fitness balls, paddleboard, bark on cue, circle on cue, and attempt obstacles when given commands. In spring 2017, she participated in a fundraiser for the Make A Wish Foundation and helped raise more $4,000 with SO CAL Surf Dogs. Most recently, Gidget collaborated with Carlisle and hosted a silent auction with lots of cool Gidget-themed items signed by the lead singer to raise funds for the Animal People Alliance.
Derby, a goldendoodle, came in first place in the large dog solo category, and Derby also took first place in the tandem dog and dog event, with Teddy, another goldendoodle, also aboard at Pacifica. Derby and owner Kentucky Gallahue, who both sport matching Mohawks, were recently featured on TMZ. Kentucky was elated that Derby just keeps improving his surfing skills. During the World Dog Surfing Championships, Derby surfed standing backward all the way to shore. When Derby isn’t surfing, he can be found raising awareness and money for one of the many charities he supports, and recently both were spotted at the sixth annual Paws FUR Pink event, a nonprofit benefiting human and canine cancer causes. Numerous dog surfers have gained the reputation of being activists for a variety of causes.
Ricochet, a female golden retriever who was unable to compete at Pacifica, is recognized for being one of the Original San Diego Surf Dogs that started the dog surfing circuit, according to her website. Her owner realized her natural ability to “surf with a purpose” as she calls it when she jumped on a surfboard with a quadriplegic boy. Ricochet immediately realized she needed to offer canine-assisted surfing. Ricochet raises funds for people with disabilities, as well helping children with autism and war veterans, and she even helps provide food to homeless animals.
The dog surfing community is a conscientious group of individuals who love the sport, love their dogs, and have combined both to benefit groups in need. At the recent World Dog Championship, the Bay Area rescue group Rocket Dog Rescue was a recipient of fundraising efforts of PFE Team raising $1,000.
Dog surfing may not be for everyone, but getting off the couch or computer and doing something physical with your pup is something everyone should consider. And remember the fur-surfers motto can be applied to any sport you and your companion try: “The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun.”
Ruth Villasenor is the co-owner of Paws & Claws, A Natural Pet Food Store & Grooming Spa, 3436 Dimond Ave., Oakland, 510-336-0105. Learn more by visiting PawsNClawsOakland.com.
Main article photo by: Photo of Ruth Villasenor and Derby courtesy Ruth Villasenor; dog surfing photo by Chuckee-istock