It is a cool, overcast Sunday at Windansea Beach in La Jolla. A few brave souls huddle around a thatched hut watching the locals ply the waves in a surfing contest. The gulls poke about. From the look of things, it's a typical fall day at the beach.
Not quite. Bobbing out on the swells amid the wet suit-clad surfers is a most unlikely sight. Perched atop a Boogie Board is a 25-pound, four-legged ball of fur. This is no surfer, it's a dog.
Yes, Rocky has hit the waves. Outfitted in a tiny, specially made wet suit, the tan and brown pup stares out to sea as his owner, Robin Marien, pushes the hard-foam board through the breakers. Suddenly, as a big wave rises up before them, Marien wheels the dog toward shore and gives the board a shove.
Rocky is off. Tail wagging, the pint-size surf mutt goes rocketing down the face of the wave, front legs splayed out for support. On shore, the crowd at the surf contest, lifeless until now, roars in approval.
The wave breaks, but this hot dog isn't finished. He rides the churning white water ashore, jumps off, then grabs the board with his teeth and awkwardly pulls it up onto the beach. Rocky bounds about gleefully, barking.
Arf! Woof, bark, yip! (Dog lingo for "Righteous! Gnarly wave, dude!")
From Malibu to the tip of Baja, Rocky has surfed them all. This sheltie mix is quickly making a name for himself, not only on the beaches of San Diego but in households around the country.
In recent weeks, the 8-year-old surf pooch has appeared on several network newscasts as well as such television shows as "Incredible Sunday" and "The Late Show." (He was shuttled to the latter by a chauffeur-driven limousine.) People magazine recently wrote him up.
Marien, a husky, sandy-haired carpenter and Rocky's biggest booster, sees a potential growth industry in the dog. He's planning a series of greeting cards featuring Rocky. And more.
"We're looking for a televised national ad campaign," said Marien, 29, of San Diego. "Maybe something for Coke or some dog food or whatever. Sure, he could do movies; he could do anything. He's very versatile, intelligent. And he knows hand signals.
"Heck, it's happened to Mike the Dog and to Spuds. And Spuds doesn't even do anything. He's just a face."
Like many an aspiring Hollywood star, Rocky had a humble beginning. Marien discovered the pooch when he was a mere pup wandering around the parking lot of the local Department of Motor Vehicles office.
As his owner tells it, Rocky got his start in surfing almost by accident.
During expeditions to the beach, the dog used to run along the edge of the water, barking and causing a commotion when Marien, a body-surfing aficionado, headed into the waves. Finally, about five years ago, Rocky got tired of watching, Marien said.
"A friend of mine was heading out on his long board, so Rocky just jumped on and went along for the ride," Marien recalls. "A couple days later, I was dragging my Boogie Board out into the water by its leash and Rocky jumped on that. I decided to tow him out."
The pooch rode his first wave all the way to shore. "We were stoked," Marien recalls.
Marien, who is married and has a new baby, is accompanied by Rocky just about everywhere, including to the beach and jobs at construction sites. In the summer, he and the dog surf just about every day after work and on the weekends, though they ease up a bit when winter hits.
"It's now to a point where Rocky will go out in 8-foot waves by himself," Marien said. "He goes out in 10 feet on a long board with my friend. He also jet-skis and water-skis. He can sail-board, too. And he rides on a motorcycle."
Together, Marien and Rocky have traveled up and down the coast in search of the perfect wave. Rocky's favorite surf spot, paws down, is Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Baja California. He loves the steamy temperature of the water and air, Marien said.
Marien said he and Rocky have given spur-of-the-moment exhibitions at several surf contests, including the Stubbies Pro in Oceanside and a local long-board contest, always to the adoration of the fans.
Rocky's most memorable reception, however, came at the OP Pro Classic in Huntington Beach a few years ago, Marien said. Marien sneaked the dog out into the waves on the far side of the Huntington Beach pier as the pros surfed the other. The crowd, which numbered close to 100,000, went wild over Rocky, Marien recalled.
This day at Windansea, Marien looked down at his dog: "Rocky! Surf?"
Rocky jumped to his feet and barked excitedly.
As Marien headed down the steps to the beach, Rocky grabbed the body board in his teeth and clumsily dragged it to the edge of the water.
With the waves lapping at his knees, Marien put the dog atop the board and began kicking out into the breakers. Rocky struck a defiant pose as they plowed through the waves, like some canine version of Washington crossing the Delaware.
Then it was back to shore, a four-legged Big Kahuna. People on the beach gawked.
"That's unreal," muttered one surfer as he walked from the water shaking his head. "I can't believe it."