Originally published in USA Today 10 Best
Humans aren’t the only ones who love a sunny day at the beach and catching tasty waves. Dog surfing has been gaining momentum around the world, and becoming a popular activity along the coasts and wherever pets and their owners gather by the shore. There are plenty of enthusiastic participants in the sport, including celebrity surf dogs, as well as pet owners who just want to hang ten with their favorite furry friends.
One of the most celebrated surf dogs today is Abbie, an Australian Kelpie rescue pup based in Silicon Valley, California. She is known as the longest-competing and most award-winning surfing dog of all time.
Abbie’s owner, Michael Uy, actually didn’t plan for Abbie to surf initially. But she loved to swim with him in the ocean and would often rest on surfboards. Eventually, she hopped on top of one and the rest is history. They’ve been competing in surfing events for the past 12 years, she’s won two Guinness World Records, flown in private jets, been featured in movies, has a custom board and a loyal following on social media.
Abbie the surfing dog — Photo courtesy of Michael Uy
Uy says, “Abbie absolutely loves the beach and participating in the surfing events. Because the dog surfing community is so welcoming, we’ve met so many great friends over the years. It’s an awesome culture and we’re really stoked to be a part of it. When we travel to Hawaii, it feels like we’re home, because we see so many of our friends.”
In the United States, there are a growing number of surf dog (and pet) competitions that attract an avid fan base. These include several notable events in California, such as the Surf City Surf Dog event in Huntington Beach, the Imperial Beach Surf Dog Competition and others.
Uy added, “Dog surfing is such a fun sport and it’s a true partnership with your pet. If you both love the water, I think surfing is one of the greatest activities that you can do with your dog. But the most important thing is to make sure your dog really enjoys it.”
Here are a few places you might see some furry friends catching a wave.
Duke’s OceanFest at Waikiki Beach, Hawaii
3 dogs take to the waves at Duke’s OceanFest — Photo courtesy of Duke’s OceanFest
In Hawaii, 2019 marks the fifth year for the dog surfing competition at Duke’s OceanFest, a non-profit, week-long water sports festival sponsored by Hawaii tourism every August in Waikiki Beach.
One of the festival’s many events features a surfing dog competition, officially called, “Calvin and Susie Presents Going to the dogs SurFur competition.” This event is open to all levels and offers several categories, including solo (for dogs who can stand on the board by themselves) and tandem surfing, as well as SUP (stand-up paddle boarding) with pets.
The event features commentators on the beach and always attracts a crowd. Participating dogs receive goodie bags and are awarded a variety of prizes, which may include trophies, medals and gift cards.
Kelli Bullock is the contest organizer and board member for Duke’s OceanFest, which is now in its 18th year. She explained, “The surfing dog contest has grown substantially and always generates a lot of excitement. In the first year, we started with three surfing animals – two dogs and a pig, and this year we expect to have over 20 dogs registered for the competition.”
Cherie the French Bulldog in Newport Beach, Calif.
Cherie the Surf Dog — Photo courtesy of Amy Nykolayko
Cherie is a seven-year-old French Bulldog owned by Dan and Amy Nykolayko, of Newport Beach, California.
Cherie’s first competition was in September 2013 at the Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon in Del Mar, California. So far, she’s competed in 16 competitions in California and Hawaii.
Since the Nykolaykos are not surfers, they enrolled Cherie in ongoing surf lessons at the Helen Woodward Animal Center several years ago, where she showed a talent for riding. Dan is in the water with Cherie at all times when she surfs, and he always selects the waves for her.
He says, “Surfing with your dog is a total bonding experience. Cherie and I have been doing this since she was a year-and-a-half old, and our relationship strengthened tenfold in the first year or two that we started doing this.”
Among other accomplishments, Cherie placed second in the “solo dogs” category at Duke’s OceanFest in Honolulu in 2017, and twice, Cherie has taken third place in the “Shredders” division at the Imperial Beach Surf Dog Competition.
Dan Nykolayko says, “These are a true testament to how far Cherie and I have come since 2013. First and second place went to two very seasoned surfers with their super talented dogs. To be able to place third with a little 27-pound French Bulldog and her owner who has never surfed means so much to us… it really shows people that anyone can do this sport, no matter how small you are or how inexperienced in the water you may be.”
Over the years, the Nykolaykos have found a fun and friendly community in the dog surfing world and often participate in dog surf meet-ups at local beaches. Dan said, “To be honest, I was surprised at how much fun it would be. I always joke around that when dog surfing was first suggested to us, I thought it was the dumbest idea that I had ever heard. However, after the first surf dog class, we were absolutely hooked. We’ve met some pretty awesome people along the way, as well.”
Luna the Pointer/Lab mix on Maui, Hawaii
Luna the surf dog & friends — Photo courtesy of Maui Surfer Girls
Some dogs love to surf for the fun of it. On Maui, Dustin Tester is the founder of the surf school and camp, Maui Surfer Girls. She adopted her dog, Luna, a 70-pound Pointer/Lab mix from the Humane Society in 2010.
Tester has been surfing with Luna casually for about ten years. She says, “She was so natural on the board and instinctively comfortable in the water from day one. Training her was a breeze and I believe she was destined to be a surfer. On our first try, she jumped on the board and held on for the ride. Now she usually rides an eleven or twelve-foot soft top. When she wipes out, she swims over and gets back on.”
Tester explained that safety is always top of mind when Luna is in the water. Although her dog does not compete in surfing events, she’s frequently in ocean and understands a lot of commands, like ‘up’ and ‘up to the front,’ and ‘off.’
Tester added, “Good communication is necessary for safety and fun. Luna is a super-active dog, she enjoys people and hangs out with our campers all the time. She really inspires the beginner surfers. We’ve even had a surfer bring in her own dog for a surf lesson, and Luna showed her how it’s done.”
Daffy the surfing duck on Oahu, Hawaii
Daffy the surfing duck — Photo courtesy of Susan Wilkinson
Surfing is not just for dogs, either. Other animals have been known to show off their wave-catching skills as well. On Oahu, Daffy is a 1.5-year-old Muscovy rescue duck owned by Susan Wilkinson. She and Daffy became fast friends, and Daffy became a fixture on the nearby beach, where Wilkinson volunteers with AccesSurf Hawaii.
The non-profit group helps children and adults with disabilities experience surfing. Wilkinson assists with water transfers, which involves helping people get from the land to the water.
Wilkinson says, “Daffy’s love for surfing was truly organic. I brought her with me to the AccesSurf events because she was so tiny – and everyone immediately fell in love with her. After months of attending the events, we realized that was doing so much good for others, especially for the participants who may never have surfed before.”
“We initially put Daffy on a massive surf board. She didn’t jump off and loved it. She just continued to improve and now she’s on the beach a few times a month. She certainly attracts a lot of attention from locals as well as visitors. She’s become a combination therapy animal and surf ambassador,” she said.
Daffy can usually be found at most local AccesSurf events, and she’s also registered to compete at 2019’s Duke’s OceanFest.
When it comes to the surfing pet competitions, Bullock pointed out, “The Duke’s OceanFest surfing dog event is as much fun for the participants as it is for the spectators. In Hawaii, we are really all about people who surf with their pets, regardless of whether there is a contest or not. There are a lot of owners who enjoy being active with their pets and get in the water with them on a regular basis. It’s truly not about the competition – it’s just always a fun day at the beach for everyone.”
Cosmo the surf dog — Photo courtesy of Duke’s OceanFest
Tips for surfing with your pet
Dan Nykolayko, owner of Cherie the Surf Dog, offers a few tips for teaching your dog (or pet) to surf:
“Take the time to introduce your dog to the water, and get them used to the motion and the sounds. Start in shallow water with white water waves and eventually start working your way out as your comfort level increases.”
Choose the best waves for your pet
“The most important piece to the puzzle is wave selection. If you choose the right wave, your dog doesn’t have to do much…they’re far more athletic than you are, after all.”
Let your pet be your guide
“If you notice that your pet is starting to get stressed out, go to shore, play ball or just rest and try again later.”
“There are schools and instructors specializing in dog surfing lessons, including Helen Woodward Animal Center.’
“Raising money for animals in need, whether for the Helen Woodward Animal Center or French Bulldog Rescue Network, gives our silly little hobby some purpose. Over the years, we’ve raised over $15,000 through dog surfing.”