Learning to surf can be a daunting endeavor. If you’re lucky enough to have an experienced friend guide you through the gear choices and give you some tips so you don’t look like a total kook, you’ve still got to contend with variable weather, wave conditions, and you better acquire a taste for saltwater. Just in case all of that wasn’t intimidating enough, now you have to face the fact that there are dogs out there who can probably handle a wave better than you.
On a recent weekend in Huntington Beach, California, 64 dogs competed in the seventh annual Petco Surf City Surf Dog Competition. The weekend-long event features a multi-heat dog surfing contest with prizes in four different weight-class divisions and even tandem heats with the dogs’ owners. Photographer Dominique Labrecque was there to capture the action.
Photo: Cherie the French Bulldog shows some impressive focus as she charges this wave on her signature pink board. Cherie’s owners, Dan and Amy Nykolayko, enrolled her in dog surfing lessons after watching her chase larger dogs into the ocean every time they took her to the beach.
Faith, the surfing Pit Bull, rides this wave straight into the crowd of adoring fans. Faith was adopted by owner and self described “foster failure” James Wall in 2012 after he rescued her with with every intention of finding her another home. She won him over with her personality and good looks, and then she sealed the deal by turning out to be a surfer girl to boot. Faith has won several surf dog awards in the medium dog division.
Haole Boy’s surfing days can be traced back to riding on the back of a golf cart as a pup, a habit that his owners, John and Kim Murphy, attribute to the development of his exceptional balance. Haole Boy won over locals and tourists alike in Huntington Beach by taking home the third-place prize in the “shredder” division at this year’s competition.
Haole Boy’s surfing days can be traced back to riding on the back of a golf cart as a pup, a habit that his owners, John and Kim Murphy, attribute to the development of his exceptional balance. Haole Boy the surf dog won over locals and tourists alike in Huntington Beach by taking home the third-place prize in the “shredder” division at this year’s competition.
Demonstrating an impressive grasp on the biomechanics of lowering one’s center of gravity to increase stability, Bono from Brazil finds the sweet spot in this wave while his competitor looks on. Bono and his owner, Ivan Moreira, took home the award for tandem ride at this year’s competition, an honor that is sure to delight their 24,000 Instagram followers. When he’s not shredding the waters of Brazil and California, Bono volunteers at Casa Ronald McDonald, where his surf stories always bring a smile to everyone’s face.
With a little help from his owner, Labradoodle Kona Kai attempts to hang ten on this party wave. The Huntington Beach Junior Lifeguard crew was on hand all weekend to ensure that all participants were safe. The competition was a huge success for the Labradoodle, who ended up taking home the second place prize in the extra large division.
Beans The Whippet used to swim out to surfers and jump on their boards, prompting owner Jen Havens to get the dog her own board and enter her into a surf dog competition in 2009. Beans also gives back to the community through her therapy dog visits to the Rosemead Library.
Major is a relative newcomer to the sport of dog surfing, having taken his first lesson just two months ago. Prior to riding his first wave, Major tried out stand up paddleboarding with his owner, Dana, but spent most of the time jumping into the water. He turns one in November and is using his youthful zeal to his advantage, pictured here attempting to be the first dog to ride a wave on just his hind legs.
Joey, a West Highland Terrier, is seen here forced to bail off his board when conditions get a little hairy. He held his head high and got right back on the board, inspired to maintain a brave face for all the dogs that he and his owners remain involved with at Westie Rescue of Orange County and Beyond.
Thankfully, the only shark sighting at this year’s Surf Dog Competition was JoJo, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi who sported a finned life vest to intimidate his competitors and impress the ladies. After being attacked by two large dogs a few years ago, the vet said JoJo would be lucky to survive, much less walk again. Through his healing and recovery process, JoJo’s owners got him on a surfboard and he has fully recovered.
Kalani the Golden Retriever goes for style points on this wave, throwing some spray and riding backwards. You can find Kalani and her owner, Andrew Lew, perfecting her surf style at her home break, Del Mar Dog Beach. Kalani can also be found at the La Jolla Veterans Administration Hospital, where she volunteers with the certified pet therapy program.
Turbo, aka “the Turbonator,” looks down the face of this wave without a lick of fear, likely earning himself some coveted “confidence points” from the judges. His owners, Gary and Jenna Lavaliere, keep him properly fueled for his surf workouts with his favorite food, canned duck.
Abbie, an Australian Kelpie, is the longest competing and most awarded surfing dog, according to the dog’s personal website. After being rescued at six months old by the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, Abbie was adopted by her owner, Uy, who has used surfing to help her rehabilitate from previous trauma. The dog holds not one but two Guinness World Records, and last year she was the first dog ever inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame. She hasn’t let it go to her head, though, still preferring to hang with the locals at her home break, 15th street in Del Mar, California.
The crowd goes wild for Sugar, a rescue dog that regularly rides a five-foot shortboard (most surfing dogs ride soft top longboards). Sugar’s owner, Ryan Rustan, adopted her in 2011 and credits her with helping him stay on the straight and narrow after being plagued by addiction and legal troubles in his youth. Despite the sweet name and touching backstory, Sugar is a fierce competitor, taking home the first place prize in the prestigious shredder division at this year’s competition.
This first place tandem dog ride was shared by surf dog veterans, Kalani (front) and Hanzo (rear). Hanzo has been riding a skateboard since he was just eight weeks old and still takes to the asphalt on flat days. Hanzo’s owner Miho Felland, credits the Boxer with aiding in her transition from Japan to the States by forcing her to get out of the house and meet people. Kalani and Hanzo have been pals since Hanzo joined the So Cal Surf Dogs in 2011, a group that Kalani and her owner helped found two years earlier.