Dogs catch a wave at annual Woodward surfing contest


Teacup chihuahua Bing Bang has been learning to surf ever since he was four months old.

Four years ago Ocean Beach resident Naomi Masiello bought a $20 kiddie pool from Walmart, filled it with water and put Bing Bang on a boogie board in the middle of it to teach him how to balance. He’s been surfing ever since.

On Sunday, Sept. 12, he was one of 40 dogs who competed in the Surf Dog Surf-a-Thon contest at Del Mar Beach. She said he did well, and he only fell off the board three times during his 10 minutes of competition time.

“It’s the best way to enjoy the beach with the dog,” Masiello said.

The Helen Woodward Animal Center, a no-kill animal rescue in Rancho Santa Fe, has been holding the Surf-a-Thon fundraiser for 16 years. This year the event raised about $14,000 for the animal shelter.

More than 300 people crowded Del Mar Beach around the event on a sunny day without a cloud in the sky, a cool breeze tempering the heat, and the ocean’s glassy water glittering in sunlight.

Judges scored the dogs on a number of criteria, including the length of their ride, size of the wave, whether they stood on all four legs, whether they rode an unbroken clean wave, confidence — and their smile.

Here’s how the surfing worked: each dog had a small team of people to guide their surfing. One team member swam or waded out and pushed the surfboard, with the dog standing on top, into a wave. Another team member retrieved the dog after the dog completed the wave or fell into the water.

In one part of the competition, people rode on surfboards along with their dogs.

Some dogs simply stood on the board, bracing themselves. Some surfed backwards, and some accomplished tricks.

The crowd cheered when Bamboo, a 7-year-old “Double Doodle” — a mix between a Goldendoodle and a Labradoodle — his surfer, riding the same board, simultaneously caught frisbees thrown to them by another team member as they were riding a wave.

Pam Lucado, an Orange County resident who has been training dogs for surfing contests since 2008, said the trick was three years in the making, and she and her team had been practicing it with Bamboo for at least a year.

Lucado said dog surfing is a great sport because the dogs have as much fun as their owners do.

She said she advocates for others to do more activities with their dogs, rather than just having a dog confined to the backyard.

“You’ll be surprised what they’ll volunteer to do,” Lucado said.

Dan Nykolayko drove down from Newport Beach with his French Bulldog, Cherie, to compete in the contest.

The water was a bit choppy and the waves were lacking in power, he said, but he’s happy that Cherie still got in two long waves.

He said a key to dog surfing is wave selection, picking the right wave that will be long and smooth.

He said Cherie has been surfing for eight years. She started with surfing lessons at the Helen Woodward Center.

“It brought Cherie and I together,” he said. “It’s a bit of a bonding experience.”

In the end, one of the dogs from the “extra small” category — Petey, a West Highland white terrier — was crowned the winner. This year was his first time competing in the Surf-a-Thon, but he has been surfing since he was eight months old, according to event officials.

— Kristen Taketa is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune