Surfin' USA goes to the dogs as canine surf season opens

SAN DIEGO Fri May 21, 2010 11:21am EDT

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SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Surf's up -- and Buddy, a Jack Russell terrier, is stoked.

The wiry canine, who weighs about 15 pounds, has been surfing for 10 of his 12 years alongside owner Bruce Hooker, 53, from Ventura, California, usually hitting the waves three times a week and walking up to six miles daily to stay fit for the ocean.

This Saturday he will be competing with about 60 other dogs in the fifth annual Loews Coronado Bay Resort Surf Dog competition in Imperial Beach which marks the start of the dog surfing season.

"He's really passionate about it. He sees this as a game and he wants to play. I'm sure he's ridden more waves than any other dogs," said Hooker, a salesman and lifelong surfer who serves as Buddy's coach and spotter.

"My job is to get him into the critical part of the wave," said Hooker, proud that Buddy came first in his "heat," or weight class, in last year's contest.

The popular San Diego area contest, like many of the growing number of dog surfing events being held in southern California each year, is a fundraiser for pet-related charities, said Loews General Manager Kathleen Cochran.

This year proceeds will be donated to the San Diego Police Canine unit. The rules of the contest? Every canine has 10 minutes to catch his or her best wave and will be judged on confidence level, length of ride and overall ability to "grip it and rip it," Cochran said.

"I personally look for attire, whether they come dressed seriously with board shorts on, what's going on with their tails, whether they're wagging them or sitting on them," said Cochran.

"For me that means they're having fun and that's what this is all about."

SURF DOG ACCESSORIES TO BOOT

As a special treat after the contest this year, dogs are invited to a wiener roast and advance screening of the 20th Century Fox film, "Marmaduke," based on the popular comic-strip character, which opens June 4.

The film is about a great dane who moves with his family to southern California and features, among other things, a surf competition, some of which was shot at last year's competition, Cochran said. Actor Owen Wilson is the voice for the dog.

While Loews was one of the original surf dog competitions several others have emerged in recent years, giving rise to dog surf clubs, lessons, and businesses that sell doggy surfing accessories such as custom boards, wet suits and life jackets.

Michael Uy, a 40-year-old software product manager, is a dedicated fan of dog surfing which he says is not only fun for the owners but also good for the soul.

He credits the sport with transforming his Australian Kelpie Abbie, a 4-year-old rescue dog, from "traumatized mess" into a loving pet and champion surfer.

"Dog surfing requires the dog to trust you and you to participate in the sport which is unique to all other dog sports," said Uy.

"That type of team work helped build up this bond we've been working on since we first started rehabilitating her. As that bond grows stronger, dogs are amazing animals. They start to shine." Like Buddy, Abbie quickly took to surfing and has placed in every competition she has entered. She and Buddy each have sponsors, websites and Facebook fan pages.

Yet not everyone's a champion, and that's fine with librarian Nicole Tallent, 35, whose beloved English bulldog Betsy with her wide, squat body, doesn't really care about good technique.

"She loves to bite the waves and loves the water," Tallent said. When placed on a board "she just stands there, she doesn't fall off and she rides all the way to the shore. We do it for charity. And it's a riot. People love to see bulldogs surf."

(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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