Based on a true story by Howdy the surf basset with dog mom Barb Ayers
Excerpt from the secret Surf Dog Diaries book in progress
Recap from part 1:
Warm sand. Bare feet. Bare paws. Bare back. A sea of umbrellas and beach chairs, towels and tattoos. I smell a warm meatball sandwich by a dude in the sand.
Dogs dart around in circles, this way and that - chasing freedom and Frisbees and dog butts and fuzzy yellow-green balls.
Blue skies and ocean smelling breeze and all those brilliant rays of light and life. A smile grows wide from deep inside.
I'm a surf dog. Surf basset Howdy Doody, more specifically. I’m rolling up on all fours at my home turf, Dog Beach, in OB - Ocean Beach, San Diego. The first leash-free beach in the US.
I’m thinking, I’m going for it.
We wade into the ocean, my mom and I. We jump on a board and head out, toward the magic and the mystery of the surf break.
I’m standing up, hanging twenty toes on the nose of the surfboard, all basset hound manliness in front. A surf dog hood ornament.
Mom’s in back, paddling out. She’s a person, not nearly as efficient as us surf dogs. She paddles lying down, with hands, not paws. Giggling and making all those funny sounds. Words so cute, but I’ve no idea what she’s talking about.
Bright sun warms your back. Dog hairs swirl around, weightless, like dancing kelp as we go deeper.
I'm thinking.... Here she comes - a big, gnarly wave, barreling right at you.
And whoa- next thing you know, we’re up, and riding.
Surfing the ups and downs of life.
Looking up, looking over – I’m thinking…
Wooo HOOOOO! Surf dog Howdy Doody here! The Big Kahuna.
And right over there, down the wave, were two of my very best buds – a bulldog and a golden retriever. Both standing up with me, at the very same time, at the very same beach on their very own boards. And it was magic. There's no greater gift in life than sharing this moment with friends.
I’d never had real friends before, never really belonged.
Rescue dogs roll that way.
It was an incredibly long ride – ocean curls just kept coming up behind and chasing me, changing me. Waves pushing a little bit left, up toward where the San Diego River empties into the ocean, and the sea wall between OB and Mission Beach.
Then the surf changed and pushed back to the right – toward the OB pier. Ocean was playin’ with me. Teasing and testing me. Could I stay on when she tried to throw me off? I’d been thrown off before so many times. Mostly on land, with humans.
And with a light step, that wasn’t normally my way, and that basset hound dogged determination, we’d made it to this place and the wave was there – the test – and I rode it with everything I had. Everything I’d learned. From the rescue dog ride of life.
And Mom had been there, helping, every step of the way. Together, we were one.
Normally when Howdy ran away, his mom frantically followed, trying to bring him back home.
But this time, she’d let him go – in a good way.
Into the wave, on his own, riding the wave like one of the big boyz.
She’d paddled him out through the break, picked out the wave, paddled him into it, then slipped off behind and gave the board a huge shove at the critical moment, to launch him into the curl.
She got him his wave, his moment - and then she knew enough to let him go it alone. How’d she know that?
Seemed like hours and days passed - surfing suspended all time, all rational thought and all other feelings. That one-with-nature moment lasted forever.
That same wave that threatened to drown you, gave you pride and hope and peace and joy - the thrill of a lifetime – all, in under a minute.
It makes you want to race right back out after wave #1, for one more who-knows-what’s-gonna-happen-next Dog Beach ride of life.
It’s been said that the average surf ride is about ten seconds, but this ride lasted way longer.
The board with the dog took its time heading in – heading home.
All the way from outside the surf zone, back through breaking waves toward the beach, through indigo, to blue water and white water, to ankle biters, to bubbles, to shore. The fin of the board dragged up in sand. Howdy stepped off in ankle deep water.
Top dog style.
He smiled a big, toothy grin. Maybe it was there the whole time, for the whole ride. Who knows.
He felt like a king. King of the beach.
And together as one breed, dog and man - surf dogs all - we say or howl, bark
Surf is UP!
Howdy could see their mouths hanging open on shore - the sense that something amazing had happened.
He felt like, for once in his life, he got noticed. He was a throwaway dog in a former life. Many lifetimes ago.
They were clapping, laughing, running towards him.
And the surf dog shook it all off – the time and the tides and cold water and heavy thoughts he used to drag around - with a full-body side-swiper back-n-forth salt- water-in-flight slow-motion of the ocean notion.
He trotted off down the beach.
Dog Beach - his home beach. Cross roads of all breeds and all creeds. Dogs and their people and surfers and seniors and families with kids and lawn chairs and floating umbrellas and Frisbees and lots of dog-butt sniffing, too. Tattoo viewing. Yes, he knew what tats were, even though a dog shouldn’t.
His new mom finally swam in from the ocean, walking back up the beach to join him. She was panting, exhausted, dog-tired. He’d surfed; she’d swam. She’d paddled the two of them together out past the break, then hung back when he took off on board.
Now she was laughing and running toward him. She scooped him up and held him upside down, on his back, cradling him in her arms like a tiny puppy. Even though he was a big, manly surf dog, he didn’t try to wriggle out, or break free. Like old Howdy would have.
Because this was their most secret, sacred moment - her giving him the gift and him, stepping up. Believing.
He was big and small, young and old, man and dog, crazy and chillin,’ happy-sad, all at the same time.
He'd never needed anyone in his whole life before that moment.
He just let her coo and kiss him.
He totally deserved it!
Right then and there - he was King of Dog Beach.
And then hoards of people came running up, laughing and chatting and cheering them on.
“Whoa- what a good dog!”
"How’d he learn to do that?"
"How long did it take to teach him?"
"His wetsuit says Howdy – is that his name?"
His dog friends that rode the same wave he did, were just swimming in. Sopping wet dogs. Dragging, drowny dogs. They’d fallen off that beast of a wave. The one he rode all the way in.
Big Rich, the overweight boxer with a big, loud bark and this whole. I’m the Big Man body language. Even though he wasn't.
And Hookipa, the hot-babe golden retriever with a white, bright smile. And a big fancy pedigree. Born and bred for water, not like land-hunting low-rider basset hounds.
Not like him – not like Howdy.
He was so not your typical water dog.
With a low-man physique – short basset hound legs.
A long-board basset hound back.
And extra-wide UGG-boot feet. Toes splayed out in the sand. On a surfboard.
Grip it and rip it.
So maybe basset hounds were really bred for surfing after all – not just for hunting.
Maybe the whole low-rider-surf-dog-custom-basset-hound-specialty- package wasn’t just an accident.
And somehow this dog - adopted, rejected, returned to the pound, the 3-time rescue mutt, least likely to succeed - had shown everyone else, all water dogs and would-be surfers and gnarly surf dudes and beach breeds, how to get ‘er done. How surf dogs roll.
A stray, a mongrel, a runaway, an “incorrigible pet,” according to those judgey people he used to know.
A basset, a born “sinker" – like short boards that sink into water.
But here, now, a “floater” - a long boarder, riding with style and pizazz.
And with a whole lot of genetically engineered basset hound pride and stubbornness.
Which, when you think about it, is the most important secret to surfing waves of any kind.
He was maybe three years old, still in his first year of surfing. After riding out a couple of lifetimes already, all former failures.
Before he found Her, the surfer, Mom #3.
Third time’s a charm.
She wasn’t really #3, She was the Only One.
And he was Her One and Only.
Finally, they'd brought each other home.