The Annual World Dog Surfing Championships Come Ashore Saturday
Hang ten toe beans, brah.
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This Saturday in Northern California is the sporting event of the year for beach-going animal lovers: The Annual World Dog Surfing Championships. While that might initially sound like an I Think You Should Leave sketch, I assure you competitive dog surfing is legit. Look, I’m sure there was probably a time when people didn’t think Keanu Reeves could surf either. And with apologies to sporty canine enthusiasts, no one’s ever looked more confident (or cuter) on a board than Johnny Utah in Point Break. But these pups can seriously ride waves. Not to mention, some do it with skills that’d even make Kelly Slater proud.
Pups Who Hang 10, Bruh
First conceived by Kevin Reed, the author of The Dog’s Guide to Surfing, and organized by TasteTV, the World Dog Surfing Championships hosted the inaugural contest in 2016. The event is broken into four weight classes of small, medium, large, and very large with dogs competing for first, second, and third in their perspective groups by a panel of judges. There are also competitions with two dogs surfing in tandem or a human and dog surfing in tandem, as well as a beach fashion award for the best-dressed pup. But the big prize is the Top Dog Award, bestowed upon the animal who scores the highest among all surfing categories.
“Judges usually look for the size of the wave, distance, open-face waves, and tricks like riding backward or turning, etc.,” Alecia Nelson whose Pug, Gidget, took home the Top Dog Award in 2018, tells The Wildest. However, competitors and pet parents have to be mindful that this event can occasionally be a bit more chaotic than a standard surf competition, thanks to varying degrees of experience with the traditional sport.
“Interference can come into play if you have launched your dog and another competitor launches after you and knocks into your dog. The first launcher has the wave usually, but not all judges catch this,” Nelson adds.
Good Sports, On and Off the Beach
That’s not to say that the vibe at the World Dog Surfing Championships is overly intense or competitive. In fact, it’s generally quite the opposite. Or as Stephen Drottar puts it, “This is not a little league parents situation. We’re all stoked and supportive of one another.” His Labrador Retriever, Rosie (aka Rippin’ Rosie) will be competing in her second World Dog Surfing Championships this Saturday. And as someone who has been surfing for over 40 years, the friendly environment is one aspect of this event that Drottar really appreciates. He explains to The Wildest that it often even surpasses the atmosphere felt while strictly humans are surfing, despite the stereotypical easygoing image of that subculture.
“In surf culture, sometimes people get a little aggro or edgy in the water. Surfing is always joyful but it’s a limited commodity,” Drottar says. There are only so many waves and there are so many people out there trying to catch them. So sometimes people get a little edgy out there.” Except for when Rippin’ Rosie comes around, of course. “Rosie and I will paddle out in the water, and the energy level changes. People start smiling, and they come over to pet and say ‘hi’ to Rosie in the water. It makes them happy, and it makes her happy,” he adds.
Catching a Wave Together
More than anything, that seems to be the primary reason pet parents take up this activity — because their dogs love it. Plus, surfing brings them closer to their people. Dan Nykolayko, whose French Bulldog, Cherie, won Top Dog in 2019, notes that it helped form the relationship he now has with his pup. It might have even eased a budding sibling rivalry shortly after adoption. “Dog surfing really is a bonding experience between you and your dog. Cherie and I weren’t very close when we started this adventure. Her brother Ace was my dude. But as we learned more and more about the ocean, we began to read each other better. She became trusting of me, I was able to understand her needs, and we got to be very close,” Nykolayko remembers.
Drottar says that surfing provides rewarding physical exercise for his pup by tapping into Rosie’s innate desire to be helpful. He notes Labradors’ history with Newfoundland fishermen, helping them to retrieve fishing lines and nets. “They want a job. Rosie, after we go down and surf, when we’re done, she’s just stoked because she did her job, and we did it together as a team,” Drottar says. For other dogs, surfing is simply about their love of the water. “Observing from a dog’s perspective, especially Gidget, she always screams when arriving at the beach and runs into the ocean. Excitement is always a good sign. It was apparent this Pug liked the beach and to surf,” Nelson says, before adding that the salty water appears to help soothe Gidget’s ears and skin, which is often aggravated by allergies.
Surfing For Good
Aside from the mental, physical, and emotional amusement to be had from both pet and pet parent alike, another reason to be amped on dog surfing is the charity it provides. Each year, the World Dog Surfing Championships partners with animal welfare organizations to help raise funds and awareness for their causes. For 2023’s contest, Oakland’s Rocket Dog Rescue and the Peninsula Humane Society out of San Mateo were selected as beneficiaries of the event.
“The World Dog Surfing Championships help support these charities by bringing awareness to them, helping them fundraise on-site at the event, as well as helping to place rescued dogs up for adoption. Last year’s event for example saw several dogs adopted by attendees before, during, and after the event,” a spokesperson for the competition and TasteTV told The Wildest. They added that this year’s recipients were selected due to their focus on helping home dogs in need.
The competition’s humanitarian efforts trickle down and inspire its contestants, as well. For example, Nelson founded The Surf Gidget The Pug Healing Hearts Foundation in the years since her pup took home the proverbial trophy. The nonprofit rescues and trains abandoned dogs before connecting them with disabled children and survivors of abuse or human trafficking. Additionally, Nykolayko mentions that Cherie has helped raise thousands of dollars for the Helen Woodward Animal Center and the French Bulldog Rescue Network over her 11 years of surfing.
How to Make Your Dog a Surf Bro
If you want to give your pup a shot at surfing, Drottar, Nykolayko, and Nelson all agree that admiration for and comfort with the water is the primary prerequisite for all dog surfers. The surfing pet parents also encourage safety precautions, including a solid life vest and patience during training. Besides, most surf dog parents seemingly share a similar story as to how their pet initially learned this skill — fairly innately. All three pet parents remember their pups hopping on and staying on the board instinctively early in training or even before they started training.
So, if your dog is equally a surfing natural, don’t stress too hard about how to qualify for The World Dog Surfing Championships next year. According to Nykolayko, “The only thing you need to compete is to have a dog that loves to catch waves. No other qualifications are necessary.”
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Sean Zucker is a writer whose work has been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He has an adopted Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and whose behavioral issues rival his own.