Photo: Dan Nykolayko
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When Cherie and Dan Nykolayko started surfing together, it became an unlikely path for them to bond.
“She’s always been a mama’s girl, but I think she loves her dad, too, especially since we started surfing,” said Nykolayko. “Being able to play in the water with Cherie and kinda read her vibe, it brought us closer.”
There’s just one thing: Cherie is a dog. A French bulldog, to be more specific. Somewhat unusually for her breed, she can’t get enough of the water.
Cherie and Dan are just two of many participants in the California’s burgeoning scene of dog surfing hobbyists.
Every year, the weird and whimsical sight of Wetsuit and life jacket-clad dogs catching waves draws crowds to competitions such as the World Dog Surfing Championships in Pacifica and the Surf City Surf Dog event in Huntington Beach. Many of the events serve as fundraisers for animal rescue organizations. For dog lovers, the spectacle is as wholesome and charming as it is impressive.
But how do dog owners get their dogs to the point of perching atop a board and catching waves with seeming nonchalance? It generally starts with two things: getting a dog comfortable with playing in the water, and getting the dog familiar with the surfboard on dry land. Owners present their dogs with the surfboards at home or on the sand. Dogs are rewarded with treats for looking at the surfboard, sniffing it, and finally sitting or standing on it.
After that, just add water. But not too fast. Shallow water is best, to start.
“Especially in the early days, when your dog is a complete beginner or whatever, you go out ankle-deep, shin-deep, maybe up to your knees, and you start slow,” said Nykolayko. “The last thing you want to do is put your dog out there and scare ’em half to death – that’s not cool.”
Once a dog is comfortable, her human is instructed to push her out, oriented on the board with her nose facing away from shore, then turn the board around when it’s time to ride a wave.
“It’s a slow bowling move, trying to get up to speed with the wave and give them a gentle push,” Nykolayko explained.
For humans, success is determined in large part by learning to choose the right wave. Lots of dogs are actually natural surfers, competitors say. They have something of a physiological advantage compared to humans.
“Dogs, let’s face it, are pretty athletic and pretty adaptable,” Nykolayko explains. “With four legs and a low center of gravity, you’re gonna keep your balance pretty well.”
Rest assured, though, even after it becomes a habit, the surreal nature of the hobby isn’t lost on the humans involved.
“If you’d told me 10 years ago, ‘You’re gonna have a French bulldog, and you’re gonna go to Hawaii to go surfing with her,’” Nykolayko said, “I’d be like, ‘What are you talking about?’”
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/dog-surfing-pacifica-how-to-train-beach-14047903.php.