Dogs stay cool at Imperial Beach Surf Dog Competition

Sporting a mohawk and sunglasses, Derby, a goldendoodle owned by Kentucky Gallahue of Point Loma, leaps off the surfboard during the Imperial Beach Surf Dog Competition Saturday.
(Howard Lipin / The San Diego-Union-Tribune)

No one was cooler in Imperial Beach on Saturday than the fearless dogs who competed in an annual surfing competition.

Not only did the 60 or so furry competitors keep cool in the water, some even sported sunglasses and caps to look cool at the 13th annual Imperial Beach Surf Dog Competition.

The dogs — of all shapes, sizes, breeds and ages — braved 2- to 4-foot waves, with currents that pushed them toward the Imperial Beach Pier.

Some stood on their surfboards on four paws, while some lay down on their boards. All stole the hearts of the estimated 100-plus spectators, who either flocked to the beach or lined the pier.

The competitors and onlookers, many of whom turned out with their own dogs, were treated to 70-degree weather.

In some heats, the dogs rode waves with their owners or handlers. In another heat, they rode their surfboards in tandem with another dog — one four-legged teammate in the front, one in the back.

“This is the best thing I’ve ever seen,” said Jessie-Kaye Orante as she cheered from the shoreline.

The Mission Hills resident, who is looking to adopt a puppy, said she had seen dogs skateboarding on YouTube, but never dogs surfing — and certainly not in person.

“I’m surprised at how well the dogs are able to stay on the board and how much they genuinely enjoy going on,” she said.

Among the fan favorites was Derby, a 6-year-old goldendoodle whose tail wagged nonstop in the water to onlooker’s amazement. Derby and his owner, Kentucky Gallahue, a Point Loma resident, sported matching Mohawks and sunglasses.

“He’s here to serve looks,” said one spectator standing on the beach as Derby caught some waves.

Gallahue said he and Derby learned to surf at the same time, after the pair moved to San Diego from Georgia three years ago.

When Gallahue would go into the ocean, Derby would follow. It was only a matter of time before Gallahue put him on a surfboard. To Gallahue’s surprise, Derby rode a wave to shore the first time he got on a board.

Just like that, it was Gallahue who had to catch up and learn to surf.

On Saturday, Derby took first place alongside pal Teddy, also a goldendoodle, in the tandem heat. Other first-place winners were Gidget, a white pug, and owner Alecia Nelson; and Skylar, an Australian cattle dog, and owner Homer Henard.

One of the strongest competitors was Giselle, a Rhodesian ridgeback mix who celebrated her fifth birthday on Friday. She stood on the winner’s podium three times, earning first, second and third in separate heats.

“I’m thrilled,” said owner Susanna Gan, of Pomona.

She described Giselle, a rescue dog, as a natural surfer, saying she learned the sport after the pair tried paddle boarding. While Gan, who doesn’t know how to surf, was learning to stand up, Giselle would trot on the paddleboard.

“I realized she was so comfortable,” Gan said. “She was walking up and down without any fear.”

Like other owners, Gan said there’s no question her companion loves the sport.

When Gan tries to sneak off into the ocean by herself to learn to surf, Giselle runs after her and tries to jump on the board. She does the same when she sees someone else with a surfboard in the water or on the beach, Gan said.

“A dog’s life is so short,” Gan said. “As long as she enjoys it, I’ll continue doing it.”

April Pasko and Shelley Bakalis took on quite the challenge: Their four Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers rode on one board for the tandem heat. It was an impressive feat.

“They love it,” said Pasko, of Encinitas. “It’s a party.”

The annual competition raises funds for the San Diego Humane Society. It’s part of a circuit that includes a similar competition in Huntington Beach in September.


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