Dog Surfing: San Diego’s 16th Annual Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon Was Pup-tastic!

Athena Boutross, Contributing Writer

Surf’s pup! Last Sunday, the Helen Woodward Animal Center hosted its sixteenth annual Surf Dog Surf-a-thon in San Diego, California. Due to the pandemic, last year’s event was held virtually, making this year’s highly anticipated event extra special and exciting. Over 300 people gathered to watch 40 talented dogs of all different shapes and sizes come together with their owners to surf the glassy ocean waters of Del Mar Dog Beach. The best part of all: the event raised about $14,000 for the Helen Woodward Animal Center, a non profit organization that serves as a refuge for rescued dogs and cats and promotes the benefits of trust formed between animals and humans.

According to ‘World Dog Surfing Championships’, the history of dog surfing competitions stems back to about fifteen years ago at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort Surf Dog Competition in California. This event was such a hit that it was picked up by multiple different places around the world, including California, Australia, Florida, and the United Kingdom. Consequently in 2011, about 50 dogs participated in three categories including small dogs, large dogs, and tandem dogs, which is when two or more dogs surf on the board together. Now, the Surf City Surf Dog Competition is held annually in Huntington Beach, California where family and four legged friends gather together to experience a day of fun in the sun.

At the competition, dogs are judged based on the length of their ride, the size of their wave,  their stance on the board, the bumpiness of their ride, their confidence, and their smile. Essentially, each participant has to not only demonstrate a knack for the skill but also look great doing it. Considering the fact that the sea never stops moving under your feet, these dogs have built up an impressive balance and confidence in their riding .

During the competition, dogs are divided between five categories: extra small, small, medium, large, and extra large. At the start, handlers push their dogs out and set them up to catch the perfect wave. Other team members stand guard to retrieve dogs who fall into the water— don’t worry, life jackets are required. Once the wave is caught, the dogs take their approximately two to three minute ride to shore. 

Some handlers surf behind their dogs in a tandem ride, while other dogs ride solo, displaying tricks or their impeccable ability to ride the wave backwards. Derby, a nine year old goldendoodle in the ‘large dogs’ category, maintains his balance with a low crouch on the board. Him and his owner, Kentucky Gallahue, are infamous for their matching bright blue mohawks and sunglasses. So points for style? I think yes.

Other dogs this year included Petey, a West Highland white terrier representing the top extra small dogs. Giselle, a Rhodesian ridgeback, and Rothstein, a bulldog, bringing in the small and medium dogs respectively. Derby brought in the top large dogs, and last but not least Teddy, a labradoodle, was crowned head of the pack for the extra-large dogs. In the end, Petey was the overall winner of the 16th Surf Dog Surf- A-Thon, winning first place at his very first surfing competition. Despite the intensity of the competition, medals and hand-crafted wooden surfboard trophies were given out all around.

 Overall, while some canines displayed superb balance and  upped the complexity with tricks, every dog showed off their universal ability to put a smile on the faces of hundreds of people. This competition is not only an exhilarating and jam-packed event, but also one that clearly exemplifies the bond between animals and humans. It comes as no surprise that these pups have as much fun as their owners do riding the waves in the sun. All I can say now is to search up ‘San Diego Dog Surfing Competition’ on YouTube and you will not be disappointed to watch these sur-furs glide.


Petey, a white terrier in the extra small dogs category who won the prize for top dog, surfing a wave to shore during the 16th annual Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon (via Times of San Diego) :

 Derby, a goldendoodle in the large dogs category, showing up in style with a bright blue mohawk, black shades, and a tuxedo (via Times of San Diego):

Rothstein, a bulldog who won top dog in the medium dogs category (left) and Giselle, a Rhodian Ridgeback who won top dog in the small dogs category (right) surfing their waves to the shore (via Times of San Diego):