It was impossible to tell if Molly Godiva really had any interest in being champion surf dog. What was clear was that she was having a pretty good time Sunday, trying to drag her owners into the water and barking at any dog playing catch nearby.
“She’s real quiet at home,” her owner Tom Maioli said. “She’s excited.”
In just a few minutes the 8-year-old chocolate Lab would be competing for the first time at the Surf City Surf Dog competition in Huntington Beach, along with at least 22 other canines, including several seasoned competitors.
This is not to suggest Molly is a rookie athlete — just last week she took fourth place in a dock-diving competition, which qualifies her for a national competition that rates how far and how high salty dogs leap into the water, Maioli said. She was, in fact, recruited by local dog surfing aficionados after someone saw her diving.
Not surprisingly for California, dog surfing has its own community of fans and competitors in beach towns. During the summer, several competitions are held up and down the coast. And like some of the other dogs at Sunday’s competition, Molly Godiva was invited to the Anaheim swimming pool of one of those aficionados to train for the big event.
Training, Maioli said, consists of putting the dog on a surf board on land to see how it reacts when the board starts wobbling. If that works out, then it’s into the swimming pool and onto the board. Molly was a natural, her owner said.
All around Huntington’s dog beach Sunday were Labradors and boxers, bulldogs and Jack Russell terriers — and just about every other breed, large and small — surrounded by competitors, spectators and a host of businesses set up to cater to them. One booth doled out samples of dog food on large soup spoons, and another sold LED-emblazoned collars. An enterprising Newport Beach company offered to prepare and deliver meals such as turkey and whole wheat macaroni, and fish and sweet potato with ingredients “approved for human consumption.”
Competition started just before 10 a.m. Molly was in the first heat of extra large dogs with Sir Hollywood, an English bulldog, and Stanley, a Chesapeake Bay retriever. They had 30 to 40 minutes to show off their skills and were judged on a point system. The goal, of course, was to stay on the board and ride to shore. Doing that while standing on all fours was worth a lot more than doing it lying down. And doing it backward or managing to recover after almost falling off was rewarded with more points.
At the horn, Molly was the first in the water, but she struggled to get on a board. In the meantime, Sir Hollywood swam out quickly and made the first long ride of the day, floating calmly to shore. Sir Hollywood and Stanley soon caught several waves, while Molly struggled. But she finally got her footing and rode a small wave. A group of fans cheered and shouted her name as she made her way back into the water. In the end, she managed to ride three waves. But it wasn’t quite enough to keep up with Sir Hollywood, who at one point rode backward, to the clear approval of the crowd.
Sir Hollywood took the top spot in the heat; Molly took third. But her owner was undeterred.
“She has real good balance,” Maioli said. “We’re happy.... And we’ll be back.”