Author Kimball Taylor Illustration Graham Roumieu
There are 65 canines entered into the fifth annual Loews Coronado Bay Resort Surf Dog Competition, and not one of them has been scolded for digging in the sand. A crowd of 2,000 cheers them on (more than attend most human surfing contests).
As the starting time approaches, the contestants appear wound up, barking nervously. But most go with the flow, chasing tennis balls, panting and lapping water from communal troughs. There are dogs in sunglasses, Aloha shirts, life vests and swimsuits. There are big dogs and small dogs, water dogs and dogs clearly not meant to swim.
Few are as adept as Zoey, a proud, shrill Jack Russell terrier. Zoey is the reigning champion, and this year she’s looking to win her fourth consecutive trophy. No wonder: Her owner and trainer is local big-wave surfer Scott Chandler.
“Honestly, I haven’t taught her a thing,” Chandler says as Zoey prepares for the first heat by nudging a squeaky rubber bone across Chandler’s beach towel. “She’s a total natural. And she’s very mellow.”
The head judge for this year’s event is the Loews Coronado’s general manager, Kathleen Cochran. As she blows the starting whistle, dogs and owners take to the water with surfboards in a chaos of shouts and barks— “Oscar!” “Lacey, come!” “This way, Chelsea!” Cochran says her scoring criteria are evolving. “Do they have all four paws on the boards? Do they sit or wag their tails? Are they confident? Confidence is key.”
None of the dogs (even Zoey) has mastered the art of paddling out; instead each owner wades out with a pooch under one arm and a board under the other, then places the dog on the board and gives it a shove as a swell approaches. Many dogs sit casually (if warily); some actually walk the board and “ride the nose.” Many simply fall off .
As it happens, Zoey spends much of the morning in the water. The winner in her category is an Australian kelpie named Abbie Girl (who wins a free night at Loews). “Next year she’ll be better prepped,” Chandler says. As though on cue, Zoey looks up from her towel and lets out a confident bark.