What You Need to Know About California's World Dog Surfing Championships

Tandem riding is one of the surf competitions categories
Tandem riding is one of the surf competition's categories | © World Dog Surfing
Katie Watkins

Watch canines catch the “ruff-est” waves at Northern California’s annual event.

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Every August dozens of the furriest surfers—and their owners—head to the San Francisco Bay Area for the World Dog Surfing Championships. Many are decked out in costume as they hang 10 (er, 20).

Held in Pacifica, the dogs enter the water with their owners, who then push the boards into waves for them. The four-legged surfers are then judged on two main criteria: “No. 1 is stay on the board and No. 2 is looking happy,” Sam Stahl, one of the judges, told NPR. “No one wants to see a dog terrified at the end of a surfboard.”

Riding solo

Each heat lasts 10 minutes, and dogs compete against pooches of their same size, across four categories that range from small to “very large.” They can compete solo or tandem, with either a human or another dog as their partner. Dogs can earn up to 10 points each round. Besides the surfing, there is also a costume and a ball-fetching competition.

“It’s subjective,” Stahl told the San Francisco Chronicle, with regard to the judging. “It’s a feeling. You’re looking for ability to stand, ride, move in the wave. You’re looking for style. How panicked or how calm the dog is. That makes a difference.”

While many canines are fairly new to the sport, there are a few seasoned experts. Dog surfing legend, Abbie, has been the reigning top dog in the medium category for the past two years. An Australian Kelpie, Abbie has been surfing since 2008. In 2014, she became the first dog inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame.

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The Pacifica competition has been held since 2016, but dog surfing events have been going on for much longer. The first competition took place in 2006 at Loews Coronado hotel in San Diego. An annual Surf Dog event is held in San Diego, along with one in Huntington Beach. The sport appears to be growing in popularity as more events are popping up in the U.S. and around the world.

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