Snoot to Snoot: Q&A with Surf Dog Turbo

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When Lucy Pet Products flew me out to Pasadena, California, to catch a wave on their Rose Bowl Float, it was a time of many firsts for me. It was the first time I saw the Hollywood sign in real life (and two days later, it was changed to Hollyweed!); it was the first time I’d ever been in a parade before (and let me tell you, now that I’ve done the Rose Bowl, I’m ruined for other parades); and it was the first time I’d ever met a surfing dog!


By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about Lucy Pet Product’s Rose Bowl Parade float. Not only did it break a couple of Guinness Book of World records (Longest and Heaviest Float Ever, in case you’re wondering), but it also garnered the Extraordinaire Trophy for most extraordinary float in the parade. And if you saw the float, you’d know why – surrounded by a flowery ocean-oasis was the Gnarly Crankin’ K9 Wave Maker, filled with 10,000 gallons of water and starring the K9 surfing team.

Dale & Karen Photography

(Photo credit: Dale and Karen Photography)

While waiting for the parade to begin, I got to know a couple of the surf dogs – one of them being Turbo, who was being chaperoned by his dad, Gary. Turbo and I got along famously, becoming BFFs right from the start. In fact, if I started to pet another dog, Turbo would immediately get jealous, and break it up by hustling his way under my arm and into my face.

But who could stay mad at that face?

Gary told me all about the work that he and Turbo do – they teach surfing lessons to dogs (and their owners); he’s a foster big brother at their local rescue; and they travel to the biggest dog surfing competitions the US has to offer.

Based in the San Diego area, Turbo and the SoCal Surf Dogs crew can be found surfing at Del Mar Dog Beach and Ocean Beach Dog Beach. Rather than teaching dogs to how surf, the team teaches owners to surf with their dogs.  It’s a partnership between owner and dog – the dogs have some things to learn, but so do the humans!

Laura Fisher

Photo credit: Laura Fisher

And because surfers are so cool (natch!), the SoCal Surf Dogs crew aren’t in it for the money – instead, they donate their time and experience to the Helen Woodward Animal Center, instructing dog surfing clinics almost every weekend during most of the summer.

I had the chance to ask Gary and his wife, Jenna, about dog surfing lessons and Turbo’s claim to fame.

Q: How did Turbo get started in surfing?

A: He was adopted into a “surfing dog family,” so the opportunity was always there for him. Turbo took the opportunity enthusiastically from the first moment he was put on a board.

Q: How did Turbo get on the Lucy Pet Products float?

A: Turbo was invited to audition in the spring of 2016, and caught the eye of Joey Herrick (President and Founder of Lucy Pet Products) with his “downward dog” pose and enthusiasm for the Gnarly Crankin’ K9 Wave Maker. He participated in a demonstration on Hallmark’s Home & Family show the next month, and eventually was invited to surf on the float in the Rose Parade. He’s honored and proud!

Q: When Turbo isn’t surfing, what does he like to do?

A: Turbo lives for the water, and surfing is followed closely by swimming, body surfing and running at the beach, and playing in his swimming pool at home. He loves to wrestle and snuggle with his sister, Nixie, and whoever is his foster sibling at any given time. And FOOD! Turbo loves his cookies!  Most of all, Turbo loves to be adored and scratched and rubbed and petted and kissed. He never gets enough affection!

Deb Spoonhour

(Photo credit: Deb Spoonhour)

Q: How do dogs stay on the board? Are there special “paw enhancements” or tricks you use to keep them on the board?

A: First and foremost, you want to make sure your dog WANTS to stay on the board.  It wouldn’t be possible to force a 75 pound dog like Turbo to stay on the board if he didn’t want to, and we wouldn’t force a dog even if we could.

We do have some tricks to encourage dogs to stay on the right place on the board–because that’s vitally important.  Your dog has to have their weight over the fins, in order for the board to stay in the wave.  If the dog walks forward, the board “pearls”–the nose goes under water, and the dog can’t stay on the board, and can even be thrown.

Recognizing that dogs are individuals, and that owners use training methods they’re comfortable with, there are a variety of ways  for teaching your dog to stay in the right area on the board. Dogs who know the “stay” command well may have something of an advantage. Many dogs benefit from on-land training, becoming comfortable with the board and where their place is on it, before ever hitting the water. Using treats and praise is clearly very helpful.  Some owners use clicker training, hand signals, voice commands.  Use whatever positive training method that works for you and your dog, that encourages the dog to stay in the appropriate place on the surfboard and makes that place a happy place for your dog to be.

If a dog routinely jumps or walks off the board, it may be a sign that the dog doesn’t want to surf.  Not all dogs do. You won’t necessarily know until you give them the opportunity, but if your dog is telling you “loud and clear” they’d rather not be there, listen to them!

We use traction pads on our personal dog surfboards, and it does make the surface easier for paws to grip, but primarily it helps preserve the foam boards we use, protecting them from the inevitable dog claw scratches and punctures.

Dale Porter

(Photo credit: San Diego Dog Photographer DogTog.com)

Q: What kind of dogs do you get at your training sessions? Are there certain breeds or sizes of dogs that do better on a board then others?

We get ALL kinds–every size, shape, breed and temperament! The water-loving breeds obviously tend to take to surfing more easily, but we see dogs of all breeds and sizes succeed all the time just because they were given a chance. It surprises some folks when their webbed-foot, water-loving breed dog doesn’t want to surf, but it also surprises folks to find that bulldogs often do especially well, even though they aren’t “supposed” to be swimmers.

A dog with a low center of gravity has an advantage in terms of balance and stability, but we once taught a Great Dane… and dog legs don’t get much longer than that! Very tiny dogs can sometimes face extra challenges just because they weigh so little, but one of the best surfing dogs we know is a Miniature Eskimo. It really depends on the dog, and the owner, and choosing an appropriately sized board for that partnership.

Q: Does Turbo have groupies (the bitches love surfer dudes!!!!) …and we know how much he loves affection!

He wishes! 😉 Turbo loves everyone.  He’s never met a stranger, and he can’t imagine that it isn’t everyone’s dearest wish to pet him and love on him.  (If it isn’t, he’ll try to convert you.)

Now that he’s outgrown some of his puppy exuberance, he’s especially good with little folks. His love for the ladies is legendary. I have often found myself asked by lovely, giggling girls to use their phones and cameras to take their picture with him at the beach. He’s also a man’s man; he has a special relationship with his human dad, Gary, and Turbo loves to go to work with him when he can. He steals hearts everywhere he goes.

Dominique Labrecque

(Photo credit: Dominique Labrecque)

If you’re as addicted to Turbo as we are, you’ll want to follow him – online and in real life! You can see what events he’ll be surfing at on the SoCal Surf Dogs website, and stalk him socially on Instagram and Facebook.