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Paws paddle at UK Dog Surfing Champships

It’s a test of balance, tricks and technique at Dogmasters 2021

Elizabeth Davidson

Posted 3 months ago

Is that a dog on a surfboard? On its own? No, your eyes are not deceiving you! It’s the 2021 Dogmasters – the UK Dog Surfing Championships.

The event is the brainchild of Mark Reeves, director of Shaka Surf Branksome, who started the UK Dog Surfing Championships “as a bit of fun” three years ago and found it was an instant hit.

Dogs compete in a range of events in the sea off Branksome Dene Chine near Poole, Dorset, and receive marks for their “dismount” and technique on the board. 

“It’s a dog-friendly beach,” says Mark, whose company provides instruction and equipment for surfing, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) and kayaking, including for dogs, at Branksome.

Dogmasters founder Mark Reeves (credit: Mark Reeves)

“People come down and put their dogs on their paddleboards, so we started the competition in 2018. It went viral, and this year we’re making it a ticketed event. We’re expecting to sell out.

“They do this in the US and Australia but we’re the only dog surfing championships in the UK.”

The event, on July 25 this year, comprises owner-and-dog tandem race heats and finals. This is followed (if surf conditions allow) by a solo dog surfing competition, with prizes for style, longest wave, dismount, effort, tricks and tail wagging.

“What happens will depend on the wave conditions. If we have waves, and they’re not too big, the owner will push the board with the dog given marks by our four judges – holding up their marks out of 10 Strictly Come Dancing-style – on their tricks, like spinning or jumping off.

Can Bear do it again this year? (credit: Mark Reeves)

“We will also have tandem paddleboard racing, where the owner kneels down and paddles and the dogs stand at the front. There are eight dogs in a heat. The owners run down the beach with them on a lead, get onto the paddleboards and race round a buoy and back.

“Our reigning champion is a Beagle called Bear.”

Bear, with owner James Clarke, won the championships in 2018 and 2019. The 2020 event was cancelled due to the pandemic. But will Bear reign again in 2021?

At the time of writing, 28 dogs are entered for the 2021 event, sponsored by inflatable paddleboard maker Red Paddle, but up to 32 dogs can take part, and the only criterion for entry is that the dog is confident and happy in the water.

The compere is a DJ from the local station, HOT Radio, and there will be live music, stalls, food and drink and an owner and dog fancy dress competition.

So, how do you teach a dog to surf? 

Training sessions with a dog behaviourist take place every Sunday on Branksome beach, using Shaka Surf boards. Paws on Board offers bespoke water sport lessons.

There are usually about a dozen keen canine surf students on the beach from 9am-10am on Sundays. The main thing, of course, is that the dogs enjoy it.

The Dogmasters crew (credit: Mark Reeves)

A spokesman for Paws on Board says: “Working with the whole-body system to create great range of movement throughout the spine, legs and neck, the method protects your dog whilst increasing strength, mobility and ensuring their safety. We cover everything from water confidence to calmness, all through the magic of surfing.”

Mark added: “The training is treat-based, training them to get on and off the board while it’s on the beach. Once they’ve learned that, they go out on to the water. But the training is for everybody, not just people who want to compete in the championships.”

Paddleboarding with dogs is taking off across the UK, from Newquay in Cornwall to Loch Lomond in Scotland. So, next time you see a Spaniel hit the surf or a Poodle on a paddleboard, no need to check your spectacles or book in for an eye test – dogs really can surf the waves!

Tickets for the 2021 UK Dog Surfing Championships start from £6 per adult and £4 per child aged over three, and are available on ticketsource.

The event takes place from 10am on July 25 at Branksome Dene Chine beach, Pinewood Road BH13 6FB.