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What is Dog Surfing?

Dog surfing with sunglasses on.

We know what you’re thinking – Dogs can do what now? They can surf.  They can surf with you, on their own, in pairs or in a pack. They can even surf on your back!  All Zuessing around aside, dog surfing is a serious sport.  Dogs participate in surfing exhibitions and competitions in various coastal towns around the world.  In the United States, you can find dog surfing events in Hawaii, and along the California, Texas, and Florida coasts.  Dogs can even earn championship titles. Sound cool?  Read on.

Dog being pulled on board in the water.

Dog surfing includes maneuvers on surfboards, bodyboards, skim boards, windsurf boards or bodysurfing.  Dog surfing first occurred in California and Hawaii as early as the 1920s.  In the 1930’s a silent movie showed a terrier performing the “hang ten” maneuver on a surfboard in Hawaii.  After that, dog surfing became both famous and popular. 

Dog surfing

The first surfing competition was held in 2006 in Imperial Beach, California.  Since then, it has grown quickly.  Now, competitions are held in Hawaii, California, Texas, Florida and even in Australia, France and soon the U.K. You can find a list of competitions here. The best part about the competitions is that proceeds typically get donated to dog shelters and rescue organizations. 

Bulldog surfing on a pink surfboard.

The most well-known Dog Surfing competition is the Loews Coronado Bay Resort Surf Dog Competition in San Diego California (the first and largest in the United States). Also, pretty famous are the NorCal Dog Surfing Event and World Championships (a.k.a. “The World Dog Surfing Championships) in San Francisco, the Surf City Surf Dog ComPETition in Huntington Beach, the Imperial Beach Surf Dog Competition, and the Hang 20 Surf Dog Contest in Jupiter Florida. 

Two dogs surfing together.

Dogs compete in heats based on weight class. Usually there are weight classes for small, medium, and large/very large dogs.  There are also tandem classes where dogs surf with a human or two or more dogs surf together. 

Twelve dogs and a man on a surfboard.

In 2012, 12 dogs successfully surfed on a board together at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort Surf Dog Competition.  That one was recorded in the Guinness World Book of Records!

Dog surfing on a yellow board.

What does a great surf dog look like? While some say that certain breeds are best suited to surfing, like this list here, the truth is that the greatest surf dogs come in all shapes and sizes.  Some of the best surf dogs are mixed breed, rescue pups and purebred Pugs, Australian Kelpies, Min Pins and Golden Retrievers.  There are numerous lists of the “greatest surf dogs in the world”, like this one.  We say any dog can learn to surf!    

Woman and dog sitting on a surfboard.

If you are sure your dog likes water, waves, and the beach, they may be a good candidate for surfing.  You will need a life jacket, doggy surfboard, and plenty of treats. The first thing to do is get them comfortable wearing the life jacket and introduce them to a surfboard.  Patience is the key. It will take a while, possibly months, for a dog to learn to surf, just as it does humans.  While a lot of trainers recommend starting to train a dog when it is a puppy, there are plenty of rescue and adult dogs that learn to surf.   

Dog surfing on a padded board.

Most competitions don’t allow epoxy or fiberglass surfboards. There are soft top surfboards for dogs.  You can also put a traction pad on a surfboard to make it dog friendly.  Wax won’t work.  Once you have the right surfboard, bring it inside and train your dog to approach, stand, and sit on it comfortably. Treats and praise will help them learn and get comfortable with the surfboard.  The goal is to teach your dog to stay in one spot on the board, whether sitting or standing.  That way, when you also sit or stand on the board with them, they will always know where to be. 

Golden Retriever sitting on a surfboard.

To teach them where their spot is, you can put treats right in front of the position you want them to be in.  Once they have learned where their ‘spot’ is, you can teach them to sit and stay.  When you are sure they know how to do that, you can sit on the board in your ‘spot’ where you would normally stand to surf.  This will get them used to being on the board with you and remaining in the same place.  If you are sure that they know what to do, you can take it to the waves. Start in shallow water and then take it deeper.  Remember to take it slow so that they don’t get spooked!

Man training dog to stay on a surfboard in calm water.

There are more advanced terms and skills you and your dog can learn. Virtual lessons can be found hereThe most important lesson is teaching your dog where their ‘spot’ is.   Once they are on their ‘spot’ in the water, your job is to keep the board perpendicular to the beach (i.e., nose in or nose out).  You can control the board by pushing it from the back while your dog is on it.  You can move the board over waves by pushing the tail into the water.  When the wave touches the board, you can gently launch it by pushing it forward. 

Dog surfing over a wave.

Only your dog should be on the board at this point, and you shouldn’t hold them so that they learn to balance on the board by themselves.  You should never leash your dog to the board.  If your dog is not able to stay on the board in waves, you could try teaching them to stand on a surfboard in calm water first.

Don’t live in or near a surf town?  Lucy Pet created the Gnarly Crankin’ Wave Maker. It is a 53-foot-long water tank that simulates waves and allows a dog to try out surfing.  It is pulled by a truck and available for pet-friendly festivals and events. It has even been spotted on the streets of New York City! 

Man and dog surfing over a wave.

Once your dog has learned the basics of surfing and can manage to stay on the board as it gets pushed forward by a wave, they can move on to more advanced tricks.  They can learn to surf with other dogs and with you.  If it turns out that surfing is just not right for your dog, but you have a feeling they like a challenge, they could always try Dog Parkour or Dog Flyball.  Both sports are great for land loving dogs!

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