COWABUNGA? NOPE, HOWLABUNGA, DUDES & DUDETTES…
Like most of us, I haphazardly subscribe to a bazillion diverse internet sites, web connections, and electronic media venues that mirror my own life interests; probably far more than are congruent with my meager daily time constraints to monitor and manage, too.
One of those many sites is the Sacramento Bee newspaper’s pet website, SAC PAWS. Each day, when I download all the automatic messages sent out from those many websites that I’ve left cookies with (some time or another), I’ll get a tag-link taking me to an article or feature appearing at some of them and the most recent one worth mentioning was from SAC PAWS, titled ‘Everybody’s Gone Surfin’ (a user blog entry by Sacramento California local area veterinarian Dr. Nancy Kay).
As a life-long surfer, the title immediately caught my attention, as instant visions of frothy green sets of waves rolling in to shore flashed across my mind’s virtual field of view. Since this item appeared at SAC PAWS I immediately assumed the blog material was about quite literally surfing and/or surf dogs, those delightfully web-pawed, 4-footed canine friends of ours who enjoy shredding waves when conditions are right, makai (‘seaward’).
You can imagine, perhaps, my momentary confusion when instead of a narrative about the novel topic of fearless surfing doggies hanging 5 on the nose of a board, I stumbled into a serious discussion of how the public often finds or links up with a vet for their dogs’ healthcare through surfing the internet. Dr. Kay has some very worthwhile advice for us, of course, on how to find and cultivate a worthwhile connection with a suitably high quality pet care facility, but this all got me to start thinking about my initial flash of associative thought: the sport of surfing and dogs who enjoy sharing ocean waves with us humming beans.
When you pause to take a closer look at the whole (and admittedly rather out-of-the-ordinary) matter of dogs on surfboards, it soon becomes fairly clear that surf dogs aren’t as rare or even as unusual as one might first think. In fact, in 2005 a small paperback compendium (128 pages) of stories and lore about dogs that surf was published by a San Francisco group called TCB Café Publishing. Titled ‘The Dog’s Guide to Surfing’ (ISBN 0-9674898-7-3) and covering many amusing aspects of hanging ten with man’s best friend, the chapters are written by a dozen or more individuals who are both committed surfers and devoted dog people.
A quick scan of some of the chapter titles tells you what to expect, such as ‘What is a surf dog?’, ‘Teach a dog to surf with trust’, ‘The surf dog of Santa Cruz’, ‘Surf dog safety’, ‘Howling gear for the surf dog & crew’ (doggie life jackets, etc.), ‘How to train your dog to surf’, ‘Great surf dog beaches’, and ‘Surf dog lingo’. Included at the end is a section containing informational resources for everything imaginable associated with dogs that enjoy surfing.
Written in an amusingly light and breezy manner, this is not an A-List Pulizer Prize contender, but it is certainly a worthy romp through some fairly uncharted surf terrain that might prove to be entertaining and even useful, if you’ve ever wondered whether Ralph (or Spot, or King, or whomever) had it in him to shred the waves on a surfboard.
As one of the world’s most unskilled, inept, and absolutely hopeless ‘old guy’ surfers (and a ‘Goofy-footer’ at that who began to surf the California Mid-Coast spots back as a high school dude, back in the mid-60s), and inveterate bibliophile, the moment I spotted this little book in the ‘Good Clean Fun’ surf shop (that’s its actual name) in Cayucos (CA), I knew I had to have it for my reference shelf.
I was admittedly a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more in it about ‘Shane’, the late, famed Hawaiian waterwoman Rell Kapolioka’ehukai Sunn’s surf dog, in the book. Shane is mentioned only briefly on page 8, despite the fact that his owner was one of the most beloved local Hawaiian surfers since Duke Kahanamoku and Eddy Aikau. Rell, whom you may not have heard of unless you surf, was discovered to have severely advanced breast cancer at age 36, right at the pinnacle of her fame as a world-class champion woman’s surfer and all-round Hawaiian waterwoman. After bravely fighting the disease into remission 4 separate times (while maintaining her competitive surfing career) , she sadly succumbed to the affliction in 1998, but only after becoming a contemporary Hawaiian legend and much-loved proponent of both the Hawaiian Aloha Spirit and women’s breast cancer awareness. During her lifetime it is said that Rell had a number of what the Hawaiians call ‘poi-dogs’ (translates to ‘mutt’ in mainland jargon) constantly living with her and her family on Oahu’s West Coast locale (Makaha Beach), some of whom she had trained to ride with her on her board. Shane was the best and the brightest of that ocean-going canine pack so it goes, and was well aware of his elevated status among the other ‘shore dogs’, strutting around on shore with a sort of natural doggy swagger that clearly advertised ‘Dis one da kine surf dog, brahs, garans!’ [Note: for an article on Hawaii's own Aunty Rell Sunn, dial up this URL: http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewarticle.asp?id=36156 ]
As I said earlier, despite my life-long love of surfing and surf history, I personally never had that keen sense of perfect physical coordination, balance, and timing that sets the Oahu North Shore ‘big wave’ riders apart from the everyday wannabe gremmies and hodads (that’s what 60s’ gen surfers called adolescent posers back in the day; the modern term for gremmies is ‘grommets’). That unhappy lack of talent notwithstanding, I compensated to some extent for this by writing about all things surfing with a vengeance and that’s probably why I am sharing this brief background on dogs that surf with you now. As someone who has also loved dogs and kept Siberians and Malamutes throughout my own life, the subject of dogs that surf just came up naturally.
The picture that heads up this story shows one of my own recently departed dogs, Raki, who was always the first to note when the winter waves were building on Molokai’s West Shore; he’s shown here sitting in front of some of my classic old longboards (with fixed skegs or fins, the blue one at the top being a genuine Dale Velzy made back in the early 60s). Raki was a purebred Siberian Husky who seemed to have a natural affinity for the ocean; so much so that every time we went to the beach, I had to take special pains to watch out for him, since the first place he always wanted to go was out into the ‘soup’. Raki never made it onto a board as a genuine surf dog, but it wasn’t because his little doggie heart wasn’t up to the challenge. Sadly enough, Raki was about as uncoordinated as I am, so whenever the surf got really large and scary we’d both beat a rather inglorious retreat from the breakers and resume posing on the beach (at least we both LOOKED great on the sand next to a board!). To my great regret, Raki contracted canine ketone diabetes (a severe form) and crossed the rainbow bridge over a year ago, but I suspect that he’s not content now to simply play ‘catch the frisbie’ with all the other doggies up there…he’s very likely out hanging five, cloud surfing.
Actually, teaching a dog to ‘surf’ isn’t as hard as it might seem to be at first, as the small book above points out. The key to success in getting your dog on a board is a strong sense of trust and respect between both dog and owner. Having said that, not all dogs are capable of surfing, although I’ve personally seen all breeds and types ranging from Queensland Heelers to Toy Chihuahuas get out there and fearlessly hang five on a surfboard. One speculation it’s fairly safe to make is that, to the best of my knowledge, there are as yet no surfing cats, so surfing remains one area of water activity thus far exclusively dominated by canines and not an area not yet even likely imagined by those wiley felines.
Once properly trained (and the book is a great help here), a dog can take his perch on the forward half of a board and usually remain low enough and still enough to stay in place, provided the surf is fairly mild and the ride smooth and stable. Just load up the board's deck with plenny of your favorite Mr. Zog's Sex Wax or Bubblegum Board Wax first; then it’s simply a matter of repeated effort and lots of wet dog fur smell around the house till everything clicks.
Among the other nifty material found in this book are chapters on surf dogs in Hollywood movies and television productions, how to take care of….ahem….’natural’ requirements of dogs at the beach, ways of maintaining good neighbor relations with all the non-dog beach users, books about dogs in surfing venues (adult and kids’ books), and even a chapter dedicated to safeguarding a dog win the water with a fitted canine lifejacket (CPFD, or ‘Canine Personal Flotation Device’). You’ll also read about some legendary surf dogs who have sampled waves as far away as Tahiti and Borneo and see a number of amusing illustrations (photographic) of surf dogs in action.
My own dogs (currently a purebred ‘rescued’ Siberian Husky named ‘Sooka’ and a Siberian/Malamute cross named ‘Peary’…after North Pole explorer Admiral Robert E. Peary) spend most of their time surfing tin their dreams, since we’re not very close to the ocean most of the time, but just let them near that wonderfully salty oceanic breeze with its tangy kelpy essence and they’re both off like a short to find all those important aspects of a beach trip: 1) dead sea life to roll around in and cover themselves with, and 2) surfboards on which to cadge a ride when the waves are mild. And this reminds me that in view of the fact that the fairly recent stand-up paddle-board craze (stand-up paddle boarding is actually a very old Hawaiian sport, but it has recently reemerged in a modern form, thanks to some high-profile surfing pros like Dale Parmenter and Laird Hamilton) is now in full swing, and in recognition of the fact that some popular swimming strokes were actually invented by dogs (hey…the ‘dog paddle’ to name just one, right?), I’ve no doubt that it won’t be long before we see a few canine surf shredders out there sharing SPBs (Stand-up Paddle Boards) with their two-footed pack members.
As for surfing itself (with or without our favorite surf dogs), the sport is ancient, having been originated in Polynesia (and most particularly in the Hawaiian Islands) many centuries ago. After a number of ups and downs, most in the recent century due to the condemnation of imported Christian morality that deemed surfing as a heathen, pagan expression of amoral hedonism, surfing reemerged in Hawaii after the turn of the century and was introduced to the mainland back in the 40s and 50s. From there it grew in popularity from an eclectic sport of outer-edge loners in the 40s and 50s to today’s trendy social prominence as a hip, cool, and highly commercialised activity raking in billions of dollars of corporate profit each year. For a brief history of Hawaiian He’e Nalu (Hawaiian surfing), visit the following URL and read an article on it: http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewarticle.asp?id=36200 . [Note: There are also a number of other articles at that site covering many aspects of traditional Hawaiian culture that you may find interesting.] Whether or not you actually surf (or have stubbornly tried to, largely unsuccessfully, for 63 years, like me), you have to admit that the image of a dog on a surfboard, whether on a longboard or a stand-up paddle board, is likely enough to produce a broad grin on most faces....even on that of the Grinch who stole New Year's.
What quickly becomes apparent is this: there really aren’t many things that dogs haven’t done at some time or another. Mountain climbing, flying, surfing...the list goes on and on. In fact the Swiss Matterhorn in Zermatt (arguably the most famous and recognisable mountain in the world) has been climbed endless times by ordinary, unpedigreed mutts that elected to tag along for the climb (at 14,692 feet, that's no mean accomplishment) because there were no interesting smells to squirt at the moment, lower down the mountain.
One of my own boyz, a now-demised Siberian named ‘DJ’ was especially drawn to flying and before going on afterburner across the rainbow bridge at age 13, he had acquired over 13 hours of air time in everything from small single-engine J-3 Piper Cubs to commercial 747s and even two-seat military jet trainers (a Serbian L-29 Albatros). DJ’s aeronautical feats were spectacular and he is greatly missed, of course, but he was never fond of the water and would probably shudder to think of getting his great big snow-shoe sized paws wet, unlike some current members of the family pack (already referenced). Like us humming beans, though, all dogs are as different from one another as we are. Some are born to fly, some are born to surf, and all…absolutely all…are born to sniff and squirt! [Note: I am reminded of that enormously wise expression of doggy philosophy that goes: "If you can't eat it, chase it, play with it, or hump it, piss on it!"]
Oh, and by the way, surf dogs are absolutely GREAT chick magnets (although they don’t work quite as well for inept and acrobatically graceless 63 year old surfer dudes, no matter how fit and healthy they are)!
Oops! No can stay, brahs & sistahs, North Shore’s runnin da kine, so we go stay go he’e nalu, eh! Howlabunga! [Translation: Thanks for tuning in, but the bath-tub’s overflowing and it’s time for some long-overdue doggie baths, so we’re off to surf the flea-shampoo bubbles….]. Aloha mai e!