'Our only real requirement is that the dog enjoys the water," says surfing instructor Teevan McManus. "If your dog does not enjoy being in the water, there's zero chance [it will enjoy surfing]." On Sunday, August 20, McManus will conduct surf lessons for dogs, after which the animals will ride against each other in a "Surf Dog Small Wave Competition."
As owner of Coronado Surfing Academy, McManus primarily teaches humans how to surf. Through the Su'ruff Camp, he has taught over 20 dogs. One of his recent students, a cocker spaniel, "did a full 360 on the board and kept surfing" while the dog's owners were filming. "It was one of the best dog tricks I'd ever seen." McManus's goal is to get the dogs surfing by themselves. "I had a couple of really tiny dogs that wanted to stand on the front of the board, so I'd ride with them perched on the nose."
Dogs learn how to surf on a custom surfboard made by INT Softboard Technology in Carlsbad. The board is nine feet long, as are boards made for people, but it is a few inches wider for easier balance. Rather than the usual foam-top for beginners, the top is slick so that dogs cannot dig their claws into it. "You still have to wax it up; it's pretty much like the real thing," says INT employee Bobby Hansen. So far, the custom board made for McManus is the only dog board INT has sold. "These [custom dog boards] would probably retail for $385," Hansen speculates.
"When we started doing this, my dog was a little bit hesitant," McManus says of his pet sidekick, Murphy. "But now, once I lay my board in the water, he jumps onto it. He's ready to surf."
McManus likens teaching dogs how to surf to teaching children how to ride a bicycle. "First we try to get the dog comfortable on the board. We'll take the board and the dog into extremely shallow water, ankle to knee deep, and work a reward system to get the dog to want to jump and sit on the board. Then we ease them further and further into the water. We hold on to the board and when a wave comes, we'll walk with [the board] and then let go and let the wave take over and [the dogs] cruise in. Sometimes they'll stay on the board all the way till they hit the sand. A lot of times they'll look back at us while they're surfing, like, 'What am I doing?'"
For the competition, dogs will be judged on confidence level, style (or "overall ability to grip it and rip it"), and duration on the board. "There's been talk of a best trick," says McManus, "but keep in mind, this is dog surfing."
Brian Keaulana, a legendary surf instructor from Maui, says in the book The Dog's Guide to Surfing, "Once they've been surfing, dogs know they aren't like all the other dogs. They've got a little attitude. They know they're a part of something very special." The book offers tips such as how to keep surf wax out of dogs' mouths and suggestions such as life jackets for dogs.
McManus's experienced surf dog, Murphy, will attend the event, but will not be competing because of his unfair advantage. "He's got some good skills," says Murphy's proud owner.
After the competition, Loews will host a reception at which dogs will be served a "surf 'n' turf dish," a mixture of beef tenderloin and salmon prepared by the resort's chef; meanwhile, dog owners can sip "mutt-tinis," also known as "cosmo-paw-litans," donated by Skyy vodka. Dogs can get pedicures and watch the "furry fashion show," which will showcase "doggie couture" from Lucky Dog Boutique. The pet-clothing models stand to win more than just admiration -- every dog in the fashion show is up for adoption.
Surf Dog Small Wave Competition and Fundraiser
Sunday, August 20
9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m: Surf lessons for dogs
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Surf dog competition
106 Carnation Avenue (near Camp Surf)
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.: Reception and awards ceremony
Loews Coronado Bay Resort
4000 Coronado Bay Road
Cost: $25 adults, $10 children, dogs are free (all proceeds to benefit PAWS of Coronado)
Info: 619-424-4000 ext. 6048 or www.loewshotels.com/hotels/sandiego