Where the Surf Dogs Rule the Waves

A.K. Crump celebrates the coolest dogs in the world with his book, "The Dog's Guide to Surfing." Lesson No. 1: Don't bark at sharks.


Pawabunga! Who’s that shooting the curl, hugging the surfboard’s nose while a human surfer rides the tail? Why, it’s Buddy the Jack Russell terrier — or any of the other pooches whose true stories pack The Dog’s Guide to Surfing: Hanging Ten with Man’s Best Friend. A.K. Crump and Kevin Reed collected authentic anecdotes for the book, which has just been rereleased in e-book form for smartphones and iPads. Crump talked to Dogster about wags and waves.

Dogster: What inspired you to write a book about surfing with dogs?

A.K.: I wanted to do something that talked about surfing, and around the same time I wanted to do something for dog lovers, perhaps a guidebook. Then I saw the movie Blue Crush, set in Hawaii, where there was a four-second shot of this guy with a dog on the end of his surfboard, and the lightbulb went off.

I ran into three interesting problems: No one believed that dogs could surf, no one had heard of dogs who could surf, and no one knew how to teach dogs to surf. After a year of research, however, I was able to find people from around the world who had taught their dogs to surf, and collected not only the stories, but also their tips, recommendations, and experiences.

Many dogs love water and beaches. And surf dogs have been part of seaside culture in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Hawaii, and the mainland USA for at least fifty years. What is it about surfing that dogs enjoy? Are some breeds more amenable to this sport?

They say that dogs enjoy sharing the experiences of their humans, and the same is true with surfing. Of course, there are dogs such as Labs that love the water, but some of the best dog surfers aren’t water dogs at all. They’re just semi-hyper, ultracompanionable dogs who want to run around and be with their friends. Of course, a dog like a Chihuahua, which is fairly cold even on a warm day, is probably not the best breed to have in the water for a long time.

In your book, we meet many pooches, including Buddy the Jack Russell, who loves to ride a vintage boogie board on Hawaiian beaches. Buddy has chewed off about 30 percent of his beloved board, but successfully surfs four-foot waves without wiping out. Is it difficult to train dogs to surf?

The truth is that you can train a lot of dogs to do all sorts of amazing things if they have trust and faith in you. Surfing is a special matter, because you are trying to get them to stand on a moving object, and the result of failure is falling into the water. So they really have to trust that you’re not doing something that’s bad for their well-being. But once they do learn to surf, the stories are fairly endless. You can imagine how many people stop with their mouths open to watch a dog surf.

Some surf dogs share boards with their people, riding in front of them or side by side. Some dogs get whole boards to themselves. What are some of the skills that surf dogs need to learn?

Standing on the board while it is in the water, and then while it’s moving, are the two most important skills. But if you are out in the ocean, just making sure they follow the sound of your voice as well as knowing they should paddle back to the beach are very important. If a dog gets tired and is not having fun, then the skill the trainer should have is patience, and knowing when enough is enough for the day.

In your book, champion surfer Brian Keaulana says that once dogs start surfing, “they know they aren’t like all the other dogs. They’ve got a little attitude. They know they’re part of something very special.” Do they ever get to compete with their four-footed peers?

After I wrote the book I talked with a hotel in San Diego, and told them about a concept I had to organize a dog surfing contest. It would be located at the hotel, we would promote it around the world, proceeds could go to a local animal charity. I even prepared a step-by-step plan how to conduct the event.

The event was a huge success, and got international press coverage. In fact, it was so successful that each year more and more towns up and down California, and now even in Europe, have been having dog surfing contests. Since these were all based on my original idea and proposals, some people call me “the Godfather of the Sport of Dog Surfing.” Whenever I see photos in magazines and on television about local dog-surfing contests, that’s definitely how I feel.

Have some people thought, at first glance, that your book was just a joke?

Not really. The cover is very convincing — and if you like dogs, water sports, surfing, or just going to the beach, it’s going to be intriguing for you.

Do you surf? Do you currently have any dogs and, if so, do they surf?

I’m a big-time surf fan, but not yet a surfer. We don’t have any dogs, but a lot of my friends do, and living in San Francisco with all of the companion dogs around, you tend to feel like you have one — or a hundred — anyway. People around here talk to new dogs like they’re talking to someone’s offspring, which is how some people see them.

Sorry, but I can’t resist this pun: What’s next in the pipeline?

In the meantime, we’re currently working on a series of surf-dog competitions for Northern California, as well as an International Grand Championship for Surf Dogs. It would be later this year or 2013. Stay tuned.

Thanks A.K.!

So, Dogster readers, are you going to teach your pooch to hang ten? The Dog’s Guide to Surfing includes a list of reasons why surfing is harder for dogs than for people:

• Dogs can’t paddle boards out into the sea on their own

• Dogs can’t launch boards on their own (very well, at least)

• Dogs have more hair — which gets wet and heavy — than you do (usually)

• Dogs don’t wear wetsuits to keep warm (usually)

• Dogs’ toes don’t curl like yours, so they don’t have the same ability to grip boards or help themselves balance

• Dogs generally can’t see where they’re going as well as you can

• Dogs get bored if they’re alone on boards for too long

• Frisbees and sand crabs can be very distracting

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