IMPERIAL BEACH, Calif. — You go, Abbie girl
|By Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY|
|Two dogs, Abbie Girl, an Australian Kelpie, in front, and an English Bulldog named Dozer, ride the waves at Coronado State Park.|
How does an Australian Kelpie, bred to be a hardworking ranch hand, do an about-face and become an aimless surfer dude?
Easily, says her owner, Michael Uy. She has many talents, only one of which is herding sheep. The girl also enjoys mountain biking and rock climbing.
“But surfing is her No. 1 love,” says Uy, 39, a software program manager in San Diego. “We surf together almost every day after I get off work.”
Abbie girl is front and center in a dog-surfing craze spreading along California’s beaches. These coastal canines fuel the real-life action scenes in the film Marmaduke, due in theaters June 4 from 20th Century Fox.
One of the story lines about the popular comic-strip character centers on the Great Dane being pressured to enter a surfing contest after his family moves to Southern California. Lee Pace, William H. Macy and Judy Greer are human stars in this live-action comedy in which the dogs speak. Owen Wilson is the voice of Marmaduke, an awkward teen Dane who is a very reluctant surfer up against champions such as Abbie.
Abbie got the nod to be a film extra (and earn $400) when the professional animal trainers who work with the Great Dane that plays Marmaduke saw Abbie surf in a contest, Uy says. Several of the other surfing dogs cavorting in the rough water with Abbie and Uy this particular day also will be extras in the film, which Uy says will show dogs surfing some spectacular waves.
Dog surfing is mostly recreational, but Uy and the dedicated followers bouncing up and down in these San Diego-area waves are taking it to new heights. Five competitions, up from two the year before, were held in California last year, drawing hundreds of dogs and thousands of spectators. The number of surf classes for dogs also is growing.
Abbie didn’t need classes, Uy says. “There’s nothing I’ve trained her to do. She is just a natural. I pick bigger swells and she beaches them.”
She started out surfing on a boogie board in a pool learning how to balance, but that didn’t last long. These days Uy holds her board until the perfect wave arrives and then releases her.
“She can steer,” he says. “She knows if it’s a bad wave. She will back it down and wait for a good one.”
Abbie’s biggest wave so far has been 6 to 8 feet high. Her longest ride? 100 yards. Many of the dogs hop off the board in shallow water, but Abbie has style. One of her signature moves is called an Aussie tailspin, in which she slightly dips a back hip and spins herself around on the board a couple of times. The girl is a pro. She also has sponsors: Oakley sunglasses and INT Softboards, a surfboard company that makes a smaller board for dogs.
She keeps in shape, too. Uy trains Abbie on a treadmill. He starts her off on a slow trot and then cranks it up. He has a primer for dog surfing on her website.
“We’re hooked,” he says.
Abbie and Uy are devoted to each other. He rescued her in 2007 from the Silicon Valley Humane Society.
“Abbie had a dramatic past as a shelter dog,” says Uy. “Someone had brought her in after finding her on a roadside near death in Modesto.”
He says Abbie was afraid of everything — people, doors, dark rooms, other dogs, cats, cars — and he spent months rehabbing her, “taking her everywhere and introducing her to the world.”
Peter and Gabi Noll have a 5-year-old Bernese Mountain dog, Nani, who is one of Abbie’s surfing buddies and also worked on the set during Marmaduke filming. Bernese are a big, heavy-coated breed usually happiest when the temperatures drop below freezing.
“When I put my board shorts on in the morning, she runs to the garage door to get into the car,” Gabi says. “Once we go, she talks all the way to the beach. She’s always smiling.”
So is Doug Hukstad and Gigi Bagaporo’s bulldog, Dozer. When asked if they have to coax their dog into the ocean, they laugh.
“He loves it,” Bagaporo says. “Because bulldogs are so stubborn, there’s no way I could make him do it if he didn’t want to. He’s got sheer determination to surf. He protects his board. No one else can get near it.”
Bagaporo is standing on the beach cheering Dozer on, when suddenly he takes a spill and has to be hauled out of the water by Peter Noll. The dogs wear harnesses and flotation devices that make them easy to grab. Dozer shakes off and heads back to the ocean.
“You can’t keep him from surfing,” Bagaporo says. She resumes her stance on the beach and starts cheering.
“We’re like soccer moms,” she says. “At one of the competitions, some people asked us to calm down because we were cheering so hard. We laughed at them and kept cheering.”
This group of friends formed the San Diego Dog Surfing Association to help raise money for charities. Proceeds from the Surf Dogs 2010 Calendar went to charities such as Best Friends and Ronald McDonald House.
The calendar also encourages people to adopt shelter dogs. The surf competitions include mixed breeds. Booda, a male Lab mix, won second place in the team category last year at the fourth annual Loews Coronado 2009 Surf Dog Competition.
Today, these friends head off to share a meal at the indoor cafe at Loews Coronado Bay Resort. The resort is dog-friendly, offering classes for people who want to bring their dogs and learn to surf. Costs start at $349 for deluxe overnight accommodations, including a beef tenderloin and salmon dinner for you-know-who. Dogs never had it so good. They can sail here, too.
Abbie girl is stretched out beside Uy as they sit in a big open area with comfortable chairs and order dinner. It’s burgers and beers all around. The dogs? Crashed out beside them, even when the burgers arrive. These are tired dogs.
Catching the wave
Dog surfing is making waves in the canine agility sports world, too. Agility classes were among the first ways people could get involved in activities with their dogs outside of hunting events. The sport was born in England, where it provided entertainment between horse jumping events, and it’s recognized by the American Kennel Club.
For the past 12 years, the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge has hooked onto America’s love for agility events by holding national contests and showing the events on ESPN. It showcases dogs performing in flying-disc events, agility competitions, diving events and head-to-head pole-weaving contests. This year’s Western regional included dog surfing for the first time.
Surfing’s time is here, Uy says, and make no mistake: It’s for athletes, just like all the agility events. But, really, why do these kinds of activities with dogs?
“If you’re going to bring a dog into your life, he should be part of your life,” says Dina Demeo, who, along with John Grover, has produced the Surf Dogs Calendar for four years. “Why leave your dog at home? He’s part of the family pack. And dogs love these activities. Leave them at home and they’re sad. A happy dog makes for a happy owner.” She’s dogless now, but she used to take her dog kayaking and windsurfing before he died.
Uy says he hopes that as more people get into the sport with their dogs — taking classes with them, holding their boards, fetching them out of the water — they’ll “realize that trust is the foundation that lets you and your dog take on any challenge and make it fun.”
There is no lack of trust between Uy and Abbie. She jumps up and stands on his shoulder all the while he’s talking in the shallow water. At his command, she jumps down, then leaps onto her surfboard, ready to go hunt the next wave.
You go, Abbie girl.