Author’s Note: This is part 3 in a series about the Surf Dog Phenomenon in Southern California.
In Part 2 of Pups in the Pipeline we reported some exciting Surf Dog events scheduled for this season. We had lots of fun at SurfinPaws, held on July 11th at Huntington Dog Beach, which raised $5,000 for the Orange County SPCA. And on the beach that day, 7 dogs found their forever homes.
Rene Bruce, the organizer of SurfinPaws, held clinics before the event to help prepare potential contestants. Likewise, the organizers of the next big competition, Surf Dogs Surf-A-Thon, benefitting the Helen Woodward Animal Center, are holding three clinics in August at the Del Mar Dog Beach, where the Surf-A-Thon will take place on September 13th.
“It’s all about having fun and developing bonds between the owner and dog,” Rob Kuty, owner of San Diego Pet Training, told us. Surf Dog teams consist of all types of dog breeds teamed with human surfers as well as non-surfers.
Pat Weber, owner and head coach at San Diego Surfing Academy, who pairs up with Kuty to conduct the clinics, was surprised to find that the types of dogs normally associated with the water, such as labs and retrievers, don’t necessarily enjoy surfing. They love swimming so much they often just jump off the board to play in the water! As far as the human types, there’s no requirement to already be a surfer, but having experience with wave selection and timing makes it a bit easier to learn how to effectively set up a teammate for a nice ride.
Weber and Kuty view the clinics as an excellent way to assess whether surfing will be a fun activity for both the human and the pooch. Training starts on the shore to get the dog used to standing on the board. To avoid confusion, Kuty reminds everyone to praise their dog while on the board, for however long they stay there. Often humans are so enthralled about seeing a pup on the board that they forget to give praise until the magic moment has passed! The next step is to take the board to the water’s edge to allow the dog to feel the water sloshing around their paws and to get them used to the surfboard motion caused by the water. Not until both members of the team are confident do they head out into the surf.
The perfect surf conditions are a sandy beach with slow rollers and a gentle break, thigh-high for smaller dogs but no bigger than waist-high for larger dogs. Although you may be constrained by dog access regulations, Weber adamantly advises against taking your pup surfing where the bottom is rocky. And Kuty wants everyone to realize this is not an “extreme” sport, so if the surf is good for a human surfer, it’s probably not a good day for a surf dog.
Besides having fun, Kuty and Weber’s goals for the clinics include demonstrating safe Surf Dog techniques. They agree with Bruce Hooker, teammate to the legendary surf dog Buddy, that doggie life preservers are essential. Besides the obvious function of flotation support, the padding protects the dog from accidental bumps and the handle on top allows for easy retrieval. The preservers are usually brightly colored making them easy to spot in the glare of the sun and water.
Additionally, these experts use only soft, foam surfboards or boogie boards which not only help keep the dogs safe but also give them a more secure gripping surface than a fiberglass board would. Pro surfer and dog lover Guy Takayama has even designed a special Surfah Dog Surfboard with rubber fins and a stainless steel handle on the nose. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of his Surfah board is donated to the Helen Woodward Animal Center. A surfing leash is sometimes used as a gentle positioning reminder to keep the dog from falling off the board. If a leash is used, it should be thin and lightweight and be employed only for training purposes.
Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon clinics are scheduled for August 8, 16, and 22. Register online for the clinics and don’t miss out on the great insights from Kuty and Weber’s combined 40 years of dog training and surfing expertise.
Mark your calendars for the next two surf dog events, and come on out for a couple of fun-filled days at the beach:
September 13th ~~ Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon ~~ Del Mar
October 11th ~~ Surf City Surf Dogs ~~ Huntington Beach
Have you attended a Surf Dog Clinic? How did your pup like the surfboard? Tell us about what you learned here.
Photo credits: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times & Gus Ruelas/Purina via AP