Cherie was fearless.
On her first day at the beach, the Newport Beach resident ran into the water, undeterred by the waves and their power to thrash her diminutive stature all about, beyond her control.
She played alongside her bigger peers and jumped around, completely in her element.
That was 2012.
“I always used to joke around that she was completely insane,” said Dan Nykolayko, who with his wife, Amy, adopted Cherie that year when she was about 6 months old after finding her through the French Bulldog Rescue Network.
By the following year, Cherie, as destiny would have it, became Cherie the Surf Dog — a trained, competition-winning French bulldog on a 7-foot pink Greco longboard who has built a healthy following on social media.
But before she could reach such heights on the waves, the whole family needed training. That came by way of classes in Del Mar that Dan, a Chicago native and nonsurfer, admits seemed ridiculous at first.
“I looked at the flier and thought, ‘This is probably the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,’” Dan said.
But Dan and Amy quickly changed their minds after Cherie, with her surfing instructor’s help, took her first ride all the way to the shore.
“That first wave she caught, it really was unbelievable,” Dan said. “When I saw it, I thought, ‘Oh my God! This is something we have to do all the time.’”
Now, Dan goes with Cherie in the water to help her with takeoffs.
Amy takes pictures from the shore and is Cherie’s “wardrobe director” — which includes a lot of pink attire and leis.
Both manage Cherie’s social media accounts. She has about 12,800 followers on Instagram, 2,300 likes on Facebook and a dedicated website, cheriethesurfdog.com.
Cherie’s brother, Ace, also a French bulldog, is a “land shark.” He watched one of her competitions from the sand but got sunburned, so that was it for him. Now, Ace stays home and keeps cool while his sister surfs.
Cherie’s efforts aren’t just for fun. Her competitions and promotional materials have helped raise more than $6,500 for animal organizations.
So how does Cherie prep for a competition?
For one thing, she doesn’t go out in winter. It’s too cold out there for French bulldogs.
But come July — her first competition this year — Dan and Amy will take her into the water for practice. That’s about it.
No special dog food. No dynamic exercise routine.
“I’m the one who should probably be running the mile,” Dan joked.
All in all, the competitions are mostly about bonding between dogs and their owners and putting smiles on faces.
Speaking of smiles, when Cherie’s on the water, she has one as wide and expressive as any dog gets.
Her owners say the 4 1/2-year-old should have many more surfing years left in her.
“We’ll do it until it seems like she’s slowing down,” Dan said.
“Then we might go into paddleboarding,” Amy chimed in.
That could be a natural progression for Cherie — calmer waters, no big waves. An activity for surf dog retirees.