A dog that surfs? Yup, you read that right! Faith the Surfing Pitbull just competed in her 1000th surf competition, Surf Dogs, where she won first place in the tandem division. Go Faith!
Faith and her owner, James, sat down with us to give us the scoop on what life is like for a competitive canine surfer. Thanks so much for answering our questions and letting us get to know you guys a bit better!
Wilderdog: How and when did Faith get into surfing?
Faith (James): It was the summer of 2013, and I was volunteering as a Surf Dog Instructor for the Helen Woodward Animal Center, introducing other peoples' dogs to surfing. After the final lesson of the summer, around mid-August, a few of the other instructors and I had planned a beach day for our pups the following weekend. I figured 'why not bring Faith out and see if she has any interest'. After all, I have been helping everyone else’s dogs; it should be my pup's turn!
The following Saturday came and we went down to Ocean Beach Dog Beach, with a hand-me-down life jacket and board, and a very eager Faith. Faith was already familiar with the surfboard while on dry land so I pulled out in the shallow water a bit, where it was barely afloat. I called her over and asked her to 'place', and she hopped up with excitement. After doing this a few times we went a little deeper each time until I could give her a push in to a small wave and she rode to shore - success!! We kept this up until we were about waist deep and she was riding to shore like a natural. I entered Faith in her first surf event about three weeks later. She competed against a number of well-known surf dogs and still took 3rd place in her division!
Wilderdog: Was Faith ever scared of the waves?
Faith (James): Faith and I have spent so much time practicing over the years, and built such a bond that she doesn’t fear the waves, as she trusts I will keep her safe. When we go into bigger waves she'll often turn around to face me and will lick my face as I push her out and through the waves.
Wilderdog: Do dogs use regular human surfboards or specific dog-boards?
Faith (James): The surfboards the dogs ride are regular human foam surfboards like most people use to learn to surf on. There are a few dogs that do use fiberglass boards but they have traction pads in place for them to grip on to. Foam boards are often used for the safety of both humans and dogs alike, as they wouldn’t hurt as much as a fiberglass board should it hit someone.
Wilderdog: Has Faith ever been injured surfing? Are there any common dog injuries?
Faith (James): Faith has never been injured while surfing. I believe that is thanks to us practicing often, and me knowing our limits. If the surf is too big or conditions aren't ideal, I will not take her out. I want it to be a fun experience for both of us.
No, not really any common injuries come to mind, but it is a sport and the risk of an injury is possible. A lot has to do with the handler knowing both the dog's limits and their own. Unfortunately, I know of more dogs getting injured on the beach or a dog park than while out surfing.
Wilderdog: What does training look like, and how often do you surf?
Faith (James): When you first start out, the training can be very simple at home with getting your pup used to wearing a life jacket (they are required in any surf competition), and also familiar with the surfboard. I recommend laying the board on the ground and having your pup step up on it then having them 'place', reward them with a treat or even go as far as to feed them on the board. The positive reinforcement will let them know the board is a happy and safe spot to be. Once your dog is comfortable, take the board and pup to somewhere with calm water and start working on getting their sea-legs. The next step is to try pushing them in on a super small wave. Always make it a positive experience and soon you will have a happy surf dog!
Wilderdog: Do you do anything special to prepare for a big competition? Any good luck rituals? Does Faith eat anything specific that day?
Faith (James): Honestly Faith and I have no real pre-competition rituals that I can think of. Although, if it is an out of town event, she will share some of my breakfast from the hotel. Generally I try to not change our routine up too much from any other surf day at the beach.
Wilderdog: Tell us about Faith's best surf contest or day ever. Where were you, and what made it so much fun for Faith?
Faith (James): Faith's best surf day... that's kind of hard to pick one. The obvious choice would be at an event where she took top honors, but we have also been invited to attend the Neurofibromatosis California's Annual Huntington Beach Day. That was a lot of fun because Faith got to surf and share the surfboard with some of the kids in attendance. Not all of the kids were too fond of the waves but once they saw Faith out surfing they got the courage to venture out and ride along with her. Just seeing the smiles and joy my dog could bring others made it a pretty special day! Faith got to meet a lot of new people and get plenty of belly rubs also.
Wilderdog: Tell us a bit about Faith's awesome surf outfit. What does she wear, and how does it help her?
Faith (James): When you see Faith out and about she will typically be wearing her sunglasses and a fun shirt. People love to smile and take her photo, then follow up by asking about why she is wearing sunglasses and a shirt. I explain that the shirt and sunglasses are for UV protection from the sun, as white dogs are more prone to skin cancer than other dogs. Plus she looks good with them on!
Wilderdog: What else does Faith like to do for fun?
Faith (James): Faith loves to go out for car rides and meet people on walks. When not out and about she loves to cuddle on the couch next to someone and fall sleep while watching TV.
Wilderdog: I'm sure there are a ton of dogs out there who would love to get into surfing! Can you give us some advice for how to make that happen?
Faith (James): Best advice to get into dog surfing is make it a fun and positive experience for both you and your pup. Patients and practice will get you far. Some dogs will take to it quickly and some will want nothing to do with it. Remember, it is about bonding with your dog - don't force them to do something they don't like. You want them to trust you will keep them safe.
Wilderdog: I see you're fundraising for the 100 Wave Challenge, can you tell us a bit about that?
Faith (James): The 100 Wave Challenge is the largest annual fundraising event benefiting Boys to Men Mentoring. Boys to Men helps mentor teenage boys that may not have a strong positive male influence in their lives. Fatherless boys are four times more likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems that can lead to dropping out of school, going to prison, getting hooked on drugs, or joining a gang.
We got involved about three years ago after seeing something randomly on the internet. It sparked my interest to see how Faith and I could be a part of it. Granted I am no surfer, but Faith is, so I figured why not reach out and ask if Faith could take the challenge. A week or so later I got an email back saying 'yes!'; they would love to have Faith get involved. It was great; I got to spend a day at the beach with my best friend, help raise funds and awareness for an awesome program, and also just bring smiles to people's faces as Faith rode the waves alongside human surfers.
Thank you, Faith and James! Follow along with them on all of their surf competitions here - https://www.instagram.com/faithsurfs/