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Newport Beach bulldog is canine queen of the waves

Cherie, a French bulldog from Newport Beach, rides a wave in Huntington Beach last weekend. She won the World Dog Surfing Championships earlier this month in Pacifica.
Cherie, a French bulldog from Newport Beach, rides a wave in Huntington Beach last weekend. She won the World Dog Surfing Championships earlier this month in Pacifica.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

When Cherie trots onto Huntington Dog Beach, she isn’t the only wave-riding canine or even French bulldog on the beach. But she’s almost certainly the only world champion dog surfer there.

Cherie’s balance and nerves of steel got her the gold in the medium-size dog and overall categories Aug. 3 at the World Dog Surfing Championships in Pacifica. The 8-year-old lives in Newport Beach with two humans, Dan and Amy Nykolayko, fellow French bulldog Ace — a dry-ground kind of guy — and a pink surfboard with blue leopard spots.

She may be a “silly little 27-pound bulldog” up against breeds more known for their predilection for water — such as Labradors and other retrievers — but she’s actually suited for surfing, Dan Nykolayko said.

With her low center of gravity and short, strong forelegs, it’s easier for her to stay upright and harder to wipe out, he said. Her compact bulldog build is stout but lean, with a wisp of a tail.

“Dogs are a whole lot more athletic than we are,” Nykolayko said.

Dan and Amy Nykolayko of Newport Beach pose with their French bulldog Cherie, who won the World Dog Surfing Championships this month.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Nykolaykos adopted Cherie when she was 5 months old from the French Bulldog Rescue Network. When they took her to Rosie’s Dog Beach in Long Beach, she charged into the water behind a yellow Lab chasing a ball. They got her a life vest. And surf lessons.

One class at Del Mar in 2013 turned into seven summers of surfing.

On a recent Saturday morning, Dan Nykolayko, a non-surfer, carried Cherie, clad in her life vest and a pink rash guard, out to shallow water with her 6-foot-long board under his other arm. He waited for just the right wave and then dropped her in, as handlers do in competitions.

Admirers appeared immediately, their phones up to capture photos and video of the crouching pooch gliding onto shore.

That’s about as serious as her training gets, Nykolayko said. She goes to the beach with friends about a dozen times every summer and cruises for fun. He knows she’s enjoying herself, he said, because it would be hard to force a dog to do something like surf.

Dan Nykolayko starts his French bulldog Cherie on a wave in Huntington Beach last weekend. Cherie won the World Dog Surfing Championships earlier this month in Pacifica.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

With a “smile” that seems to stretch from ear to ear — impressive since her ears are pert little pyramids on top of her head — she has a likeness made for merchandise. “Team Cherie” shirts, pins, stickers and other goods have raised about $15,000 over the years to benefit the French Bulldog Rescue Network, Nykolayko said.

As most professional athletes and celebrities do, Cherie has an active social media presence. She has almost 30,000 followers on her Instagram page (@cheriethesurfdog), which is awash in pink, Cherie’s signature color.

Cherie, winner of the World Dog Surfing Championships this month, sports her medals.
Cherie, winner of the World Dog Surfing Championships this month, sports her medals.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Amy Nykolayko manages her wardrobe of shirts, leis, swimsuits and at least one mermaid costume.

“She’s pretty adventurous,” she said.

Next on Cherie’s calendar: the Surf City Surf Dog competition Sept. 28 at Huntington Dog Beach.

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