The Sixth Annual Loews Coronado Bay Resort Surf Dog Competition at on Saturday attracted approximately 1,500 spectators and dozens of cameras as man's best friend crouched low to brace for wipeout waves and clinched claws into surfboards.
"We have a lot more newcomers this year than previously," said Anne Stephany with Loews Coronado Bay Resort.
Beginner's lessons began at 10 a.m. and were followed by three heats broken into under 40 pounds, 41 pounds and over, and tandem.
Local dog Eddie from Imperial Beach is a 4-year-old King Charles Spaniel and made his debut performance with his owners Jeff Gauthier and Brenda Shahan.
"I've never surfed, but now I have a dog and a board trying to get a dog to surf," Gauthier said.
Eddie, who "really wanted to get in the water," had a five-second ride and multiple wipeouts on a board supplied by the event organizers, Gauthier said.
The pooch's former caretaker, the late 1950s pre-Elvis teen-beloved crooner Eddie Fisher, rode in a crouched position, "goony-footed" with his feet to the back of the board, according to Gauthier who has lived in IB for 16 years.
"Now I get to see him go from amateur to expert. After all the wipeouts, I think he knows to stay on the board," Shahan said.
Small Dogs 1st Abbie Girl, an Australian Kelpie 2nd Moo, a mix 3rd Toby, a Shih-Tzu mix
Large Dogs 1st Kalani, aka Lil Surfer Girl, a golden retriever 2nd Shadow, a golden retriever 3rd Taj, a Lab
Tandem 1st Zoey, a Jack Russell terrier, surfing with owners Scott and Tyler Chandler 2nd So Cal Surf Dogs (five dogs total, a new record) 3rd Abbie Girl, surfing with owner Michael Uy
"Piggyback" Abbie Girl scored a particularly impressive feat for a dog who "was almost dead and found on the side of the road" as a puppy four years ago, according to her owner Michael Uy.
Sponsored by Ziwi-Peak dog food, Abbie Girl rode a 5-foot fish regular-footed board.
Her favorite breaks are those that crumble, especially Del Mar dog beach and Ocean Beach dog beach, Uy said.
"I'm going to say that Abbie Girl pretty much dominated this heat," said announcer John Weisbarth at the close of the second heat.
Competing canines drew the attention of news outlets around the country before the event and, on Saturday, about 150 camera-wielding spectators and photographers packed the shore to capture it all.
Victoria Fitch, an amateur photographer from Delaware, said, "cold feet is not an issue. It inspired me to take my dog surfing."
Fitch's 2-year-old yellow Labrador, Stewie, is a blind special-needs dog, who she hopes will find surfing therapeutic.
The East Coast native is visiting San Diego for Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, and said she doesn't know any surf dog events back East.
Labrador mix and first time competitor Sammi Jane is primarily a dock-diver, so "she didn't have the greatest day," but was happy to go out in the water regardless, according to owner Aaron LaRue.
Riding a 9-foot Wavestorm softboard, Sammi Jane demonstrated how to obey a "place" command by jumping onto the floating board.
Aaron and his wife, Megan Kelly-LaRue, run SoCal K9 Training, a professional dog training school, and said that with the right "place" training, most dogs can surf.
The first step is to use the "place" command to teach the dog to stand or sit on a bed or towel so that they can distinguish from the ground.
Then use the "place" command with a softboard on sand, with the board in shallow water, and eventually in deeper waters, Aaron said.
"If you want to get competitive, you got to go deep," said Abbie Girl's owner Michael Uy.
According to Stephany, the Loews Coronado Bay Resort Surfdogs event has grown from as few as 25 to 60-plus dogs and several vendors this year.
"It's kind of evolved into a legit sport," with companies marketing surf dog rash guards, boards, suits and life vests, she said.
Sponsored and organized by Loews Coronado Bay Resort, the contest was held to benefit donorschoose.org, a forum that allows teachers across the country to post classroom needs and for donors to choose what to sponsor.
Since it began raising money in 2003, the online charity says it has funded more than 200,000 projects with nearly $85 million for books, art supplies, technology and other resources to assist almost 5 million students.
Imperial Beach Mayor Jim Janney, Coronado Surfing Academy owner Teevan McManus, Loews Coronado Bay Resort General Manager Kathleen Cochran and Region Vice President of Banfield Pet Hospital John Bork served as the competition's four judges.