The dog, the barge, and the scars I’m going to have a hard time explaining

Well, we did it. Brody and I survived our first surfing competition.

Let me start by saying I never would have dared even show my face there had I not known the local surf dog community previously. They’re an accomplished bunch, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars and setting world records and getting on Times Square billboards and the like. They are also really good surfers. Next to them, Brody and I with our handful of goes on the board and our lackluster ability, were total rubes. But like all genuinely cool people, they were happy we, and everyone else, was there.

Brody and I had a quick lesson the day before with our friend Pawl Griffin, the absurdly adorable PBGV that is the P&G Petcare official VP of Canine Communications. Basically his job is to go to various events and be a good ambassador, even if it means surfing. He performed swimmingly, pun intended. He was fortunate enough to be taught to surf by two of the world’s best surf dog instructors, Peter Noll and surf pro Guy Takayama, who had him standing on the board and cruising in within minutes.


It wore him out.

The waves were gorgeous on Saturday. We frolicked in thigh high waves and gently rolled into shore, foolishly convincing ourselves that this was what it was always like. The next day, the day of the contest itself, would prove us wrong. But at the time, we were happy, my hair stayed dry, and I had nary a bruise to show for it.

Brody was in the last heat of the day, shortly after the costume contest where Ricochet and Judy took to the waves in a pile of wet yellow feathers. Told you they didn’t take themselves too seriously (and that is a compliment.)

I, on the other hand, was terrified. The waves were over my head today, choppy and rough under gray skies that threatened to open up at any moment. We had a different instructor for the contest, Secret Surfice Agent Phil, who took one look at Brody and said, “Oh my god, is he, like, 120 pounds?” (For the record, it’s 80.) Nonetheless, after evaluating his sturdy and furry frame, Phil decreed we would surf not on a regular longboard but on a stand up paddleboard, a wide Cadillac of a board that can best be described as a fiberglass barge.

This is why I asked Iams for help. Because there was no way me and my 120 pound dog and a 120 pound paddleboard would survive in those waves by ourselves, life jackets or not. I know my limits. But with Phil steering the board and me charged with keeping Brody on it, I figured we had it made. You saw the picture on Monday. You have to trust a dude in Spam boardshorts.


As we waited for our heat to start, I surveyed the competition. 10 of us in total, each color coordinated with our dog. Some, like the guy with the Go Pro strapped to his dog, were clearly pros. Others were unknowns. Brody and I had style going for us, that and Mike Arms giving us the thumbs up from the side, but that was about it. I silently said a prayer for two things:

1. Dear God, please don’t let us drown or get stung by a stingray.

and 2. Please don’t let us come in last.

I mean, I purposefully kept expectations low.

When the horn blew, we picked up our boards and ran to the water, scattering spectators left and right with our massive floating barge. Getting out into the waves in a competition like this was like storming the beach at Normandy in reverse, Phil rushing out ahead of us, me staggering in the undertow to keep up while getting slapped in the face with water. Dogs hurtling towards you balanced on boards but only moderately capable of steering away, projectiles which you were responsible for dodging. In the midst of this swirling maelstrom, I lifted Brody onto the board, a dead lift worthy of the finest Russian weightlifters, and we got him turned around.


“Are you riding with him?” asked Phil.

“No,” I said. “I think you get less points that way.”

Brody, who up to this point had been fine riding the waves solo, was a little less than thrilled on this occasion, since the second the wave carried him off he was no longer able to see me due to its rather large height. So he jumped off. And jumped off again. To me, paddling expectantly, happy to get on again but really mostly wanting me by his side.


“I think you need to ride with him,” said Phil. And he was right. First place, last place, disqualification, at that point, none of it mattered. My dog was kind of having fun, but I wanted him to really have fun. So I hopped on board.


I wasn’t really wanting to hop on board, as this meant my bedraggled, sand-embedded visage would be photographed much more closely than I would wish by the throngs of spectators clogging the shore, but what are you going to do. Brody needed me. With me steering behind him, reassuringly talking to him as we glided in, he happily stayed put on the board all the way to shore, looking steadfastly ahead like the Captain of the Surfing Barge that we was.


And seriously? Truthfully? It was a TON of fun. It’s reinforced my desire to get back out on a paddleboard post-haste.

When the horn sounded, we ran in, my daughter helpfully wiping away my badly-thought-out mascara. Brody greeted his fans.


I gave our rashguards back to Chad from Iams, who set up the entire adventure, and sent him to return them. He came back a minute later.

“Guess what?” he said, as I gave Brody a bowl of water.

“We came in last?” I said.

“You came in seventh!” he said, sounding as surprised as I felt. Seven out of ten, a veritable Jamaican bobsled team of a success, not a win but for someone with as little experience as we had, a major success. And then, “Are you ok?”

This was a refrain I was to hear over and over the next two hours. Apparently, in his zeal to get on and off the board, Brody gave me a Wolverine-worthy swipe or two with his bear claws. Love swipes, really. I didn’t feel a thing.

It looks worse than it is, though I’ve decided to skip shorts for the next week because most people are too polite to ask and simply blush and look away. Next year: Teflon wetsuit.

There’s no victory without pain, right? The agony and the ecstasy of extreme dog surfing. I am convinced to this day that had I not gotten on board with Brody, he would have pooped out within another wave or two, gone in early, and we would assuredly have come in last. Which would have been fine too, but how awesome is it that we did better as a team than we did by ourselves. For me and Brody, that is truly our story.

If you want a feel for what this insane beach party is like in person, here’s a video from the day. We’re not in it but a lot of dogs you might recognize are:

Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon 2012 from David Hebble on Vimeo.


Pawcurious: With Pet Lifestyle Expert and Veterinarian Dr. V.

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