Based on a true story by surf basset Howdy Doody,
with surf dog mom Barb Ayers
(Part 1) Excerpt from the book in progress
Ah, the smell of the ocean. You sense her before you see her. Rhythmic breaths, rhythmic breeze, rhythmic tides. Back and forth, drawing you in. Irresistible.
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.
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. Doggie wonderland.
Dogs and dog people from all over the place hang here - and together we say….
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 did my best basset-squinty-eye-cool-dude-look-west-surf-check pose.
I’m thinking…. I’m Joe Cool in a wetsuit for the beach boy strut with a surfboard.
I’m way more into the feeling, than the look, I swear. It's how I roll, it’s what surfers do.
Seagulls swirl, "caw-caw-cawing" overhead.
The pelican patrol escorts you out to sea, sky surfing in straight rows of bird V- formations, like military airplanes. Yes, I'm a dog and I know what airplanes are. You live in OB under the airport flight path and get what that’s all about.
A little airplane buzzed overhead, pulling a long banner with human words on it. There’s a beach full of people and dogs – plenty here to see whatever that message is. But it’s just blah, blah, blah, to me.
A skinny dude slides around on a skim board in ankle deep water like he’s surf dog Laird Hamilton. I bet Laird got his start that way.
Laughing kids splash around without wetsuits, as if ocean isn’t cold - we all know it really is. They bounce up out of water as waves roll by, so their faces don’t get wet.
I'm thinking.... Tourists! Spray in the face is one of the greatest gifts of surf dog life.
We locals, we surf dogs, hang our toes on the nose of a surfboard.
Leaving all thoughts and cares behind, about where you’ve been and who you were.
Rescue dogs like me are rescued by this place and the people that hang here.
Ocean owns us surfers. But she’s not always easy. You gotta pay attention. You gotta do your time. Just like you do with your newly adopted family.
Ocean cold zaps through your wetsuit. Cold enough to make you squint.
Bright sun warms your back.
Dog hairs swirl around, weightless, like dancing kelp as we wade deeper into water, then start to paddle out.
I’m going for it.
Here she comes - a big, gnarly wave, barreling right at you.
Going against instinct. Paddling right toward her - dog vs. beast. Trying to get past her. To find the calm, the joy, the ride on the other side.
Ocean pulls you to her - you roll back and forth, a little rag muffin, beat-up dog toy bouncing in surf. All you can do is roll with it. Don’t let it throw you off.
Now wave is rising up, ready to smash you, crash you, break you. You're shaking deep inside.
That Oh crap moment that makes you want to run way, or turn around.
Like all the other stuff you’d rather not face head on.
But I stand tall – I stand my ground.
She comes right at me – we are face to face, wave and I.
And then, at the very last second, she caves.
And then I'm all… no biggie man, it’s nuthin’. Easy breezy surf dog style. Day in the life!
Stay ahead of the surf break. Get into the lineup. Dive under the wave, or paddle hard, right at her, and fly over the top. Timing is everything, each moment of surfing. The hardest part is getting out, past breaking waves, against gravity and the supernatural force of nature and all that bad stuff that ever happened in your life.
On the backside, you slow-mo paddle into position and wait for something magic to happen.
Pick one out – find your way – take that sweet ride – make friends with waves. And people.
Waves are good. Waves are like friends – they help you find balance.
Be bold. Be flexible. Be brave.
My new Mom’s laughing right behind me on board. She paddled us both out here – I don’t mind the help, really. She adopted me from the pound about a year ago and here we are, facing the ups and downs of life together.
Here comes another wave. Hurry – it's fast moving – right now!
Mom’s all paddle-paddle-paddle-hard! Facing off against the wave. With me in front! And we’re charging that big, bad wave woman, as the girl in back paddled and pushed.
We went there together, Mom and I.
And at the very last moment, we skyed it – flew over the peak - bouncing down on the backside. To safety.
That wild wave must have been three times my height – that’s what surfers call triple head high. And we rose up to meet it like it was nothing at all.
My own head-high is filled with emotion. It’s hard to describe.
Who’s your Daddy?! Your big bad basset man…
Crap- that was a super close one. We were almost too late.
Another wave is coming, right after. No time to think. They come in sets, one after another after another, like most of our challenges do.
Getting your butt out there without drowning is the hardest part of surfing.
No, maybe it's the just showing up part.
The I’m not running away again this time. The I’m gonna stay and try.
Compared to that…. being chained to a wood pit in the mountains when you’re a puppy, left out as coyote bait in the back woods… or being adopted and rejected by two moms in two years… standing on a board and riding a wave is super easy.
Just hang loose.
This one is a sneaker – it looks all mellow and easy and then suddenly it changes. It gets mean. That wave almost broke right on top of us – it’s a close-out.
You know, like when they look like they’re perfect and you’re feeling good about it - then they sneak in and do something mean you weren't expecting? Like throwing you back to the pound?
Or a wave, like a cat, all pouncy and stealth-like. That closes-out on you without warning. Dang cats, always pushing innocent doggies around.
“Whew, we dodged that one, hey, big boy?” Her laughter – my surf dog moms,’ right behind me on board. Backin’ me up.
“OK, we’re almost there – hang on for that cowabunga, dude experience,” she says, all soaking wet, smiley-voiced.
I'd never say this out loud but... I might not be up for this without my momma on board.
This time we flew over the wave – hairs flapping in the breeze, over the top of the last breaking wave. Almost home free.
Break on through to the other side....
Salty taste. We rode that one out and stuck the landing together, neither of us falling off or floating off toward Baja or some other ocean. We made it - outside! Past the impact zone!
So, mid air, I nonchalantly shake it all off. Slow-mo water droplets in flight.
No biggee. Typical day in the green room. It’s what surf dogs do.
Mom bubbled all those funny little human words behind me like something important just happened.
I’m thinking, Geesh, that was close.
You fling everything you have, to get over that mountain - momentum and hope and good intentions carrying you to the other side.
Long, flowing ribbons of water, like drool - streaming behind, like that overhead airplane banner flapping in the breeze, carrying words dogs can't read. At Dog Beach, where we don't talk. We do.
We nailed it!
Almost lost it. But not. Smiling inside.
There was no better place to be, drawn to a life of adventure and thrill and running away from the old ones you were.
Finding your way against the ups and downs of life. Against the odds.
The very essence of surfing.
If it were easy, everybody’d do it.
Quick! Turn around, face the shore – another wave is coming up behind us. Get into surf rider position.
Mom’s all, “paddle, paddle, paddle – we can get this one!”
Here’s a nice big swell, building up… hurry, quick… swivel around, look up, check the lineup, point just right. Feet in position - not too far forward, not riding back. Step a little left; whoops, I mean a little right.
Wait for it…. that perfect, effortless moment, suspended in time.
Lifted up by the wave – by life - mid air, sailing, flying.
Surf is UP and you rise up with her.
Surfing at last. And time stands still.
Wooo HOOOOOO, what a thrill.
Footwork – stay flexible. Stay with her as wave changes.
Hang loose. Hang Ten. I mean Twenty.
Step forward a little - your weights' a little too far back, wave will sneak right out from under you.
Too far forward and you pearl - tumble and fumble and bumble underwater, body buried, rip tide dragging, threatening to drown you. Frantic, you’re flailing all around toward the light. You need air so bad you suck in salt water.
That sucks. Is that what they mean by that?
Wipeout. We call it pearling - surfers do. I know that’s weird.
Be patient, Zen-like. Don’t fight it.
Your drowned-rat brains bounce back up from the undertow at last - for your great big gulp of clear blue sky.
Shhhh – don't tell anyone that just happened.
Been there, done that - dragged down, wiped out - on the water. And off.
But that wasn’t now - that was a memory. Every wave, every ride, every make-or-break moment - that fear comes back, from deep inside.
Ah, this one looks perfect. Just the right one. This one could really work out.
And this wave, this woman, she picked me.
And in this moment, he rose up from the one he had been. So bad, so many times, a rogue runaway rescue mutt.
And it lifted him up – she did – the wave; his mom; and they rose up together.
And he stood up, and he stood tall. And he moved just a little, to stay in the sweet spot. And he found it – for the first time in all of his life.
And he rode it – the ups and the downs, like it was nuthin’ at all.
Because he’d had a lot of experience as a third-time's-a-charm rescue dog.
He ran away, was blown away, rescued and reinvented.
And he received the gift -- of surfing, of home, and family. New life.
All that running away and sadness and grief and hating it, and hating them - had led to this very moment.
The ride of life.
In his own home town. On his own home beach. Where he finally belonged - and forever will.
(To be continued)