Surfing or Kayaking – Dogs can join you, here’s how!

by Nancy E. Hassel,

Are you dog parent who has seen video of dogs surfing, paddleboarding or kayaking with their owner?  Have you always wanted to try this with your dog but were not sure where to start, or how to start?  From dogs surfing, paddleboarding and kayaking – we explore ways you can do this with your dog and speak with experts from across the country!

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Judy Fridono, mom to Surf Dog Ricochet a beautiful Golden Retreiver who just loves to hang ten in sunny California!  I asked Judy how she knew Ricochet would be a good candidate for a surfing pup, how she got started and tips to help you our dog parent readers.  We also spoke with Michelle Maskaly of who is an avid kayaker with her dogs Toby and Maddux on Lake George in upstate NY.  

Ricochet hanging paws on the California coast! Photo Credit:
ThisFurryLife (TFL): What advice would you give someone who is thinking about teaching their dog to surf?
Judy: Make sure your dog enjoys the water before you put them on a surfboard. Start out slow. Most dogs who go to the beach are used to running, swimming and playing. So, it can be hard for them to stay still on a surfboard. Some dogs jump off.  I always recommend doing some training at home so the dog understands the object of surfing is staying on the board.
TFL: Some dogs are more naturals than others at it, what would you look for in a dog’s abilities?

Judy: Dogs who do well at surfing are those who are focused and not distracted by everything else that is going on around them. Dogs who can re-position their weight to keep from wiping out have an upper paw too.  A lower center of gravity really helps too, so dogs like bulldogs do really well. Larger dogs often position themselves into a play bow type stance to lower the center of gravity instinctively.

TFL: How did you start Surf Dog Ricochet in surfing?
Judy: When Ricochet was 8 weeks old, she was in a kiddie pool that had a body board in it. I invited her onto the board and she had really good balance, so I continued working with her in the pool, then progressed to the bay and ultimately the ocean. Back in 2009, she was invited to the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge and came in 3rd place. From that, I realized she was doing pretty well at surfing. A couple months later, we were at the beach with a boy who is quadriplegic. He’s an adaptive surfer, and they were both on their own boards. But, at one point, Ricochet jumped off her board and onto the boys. That’s how she started her SURFice dog life. She’s been providing canine-assisted surfing to kids with special needs, people with disabilities, wounded warriors, and veterans with PTSD ever since. It was her idea to surf in this manner, I just nurtured it. She’s able to adjust her surfing style based on the individuals disability. 
West Pawmazing
TFL: Where can pet parents find local places near them to learn to surf, understanding not everyone is near an ocean!

Judy: There are a lot of things pet parents can do at home to get their dogs ready for the day they do go to the ocean! I have a text and video series to teach your dog to surf. Another activity that can get your dog prepared for surfing is to embark on stand up paddle boarding. It’s a great way to get the dog accustomed to standing on a moving object.


TFL: Any other tips or advice you may have?
Judy: Be sure your dog wears a life jacket. Not all dogs want to surf, so if your dog is saying “no”, listen to them. Focus on the activities they enjoy.
Judy and Ricochet also do amazing work with their SURFice dog® program, visit their website to learn more:

Surf Dog Ricochet is the only SURFice dog® on the planet who provides canine-assisted surfing, paddling, swimming, playing and therapy to empower kids with special needs, people with disabilities, wounded warriors & veterans with PTSD… taking them from the battleground to the playground!

Toby loves to kayak with his mom! Photo credit: Michelle Maskaly

So if surfing isn’t your jam, or your dogs, but you love to be on the water, why not try taking your dog kayaking with you?  Michelle Maskaly has wonderful tips to help you get started kayaking with your dog:

  1. Choose an appropriately sized kayak.

Dogs on the smaller side should be able to ride comfortably between your legs inside your kayak or on the front or back of your kayak depending on the style. If you have a larger dog, you may need a sit-on top or two-person kayak.

Selecting which kayak works best for you will make paddling much more enjoyable for both you and your four-legged friend.

Call around to a few kayak rental places, and ask if it would be okay if your dog can come with you on a rental. If they say yes, this is a great way to test out what works best for you and your dog before purchasing one. Most, if they know you’re looking to purchase a kayak will be more than helpful to help you find the right for.

Bonus: Some rental places sell their some of their stock at the end of the season and offer pretty amazing deals on used kayaks.

  1. Not all life vests are made equally

There are a lot of options when choosing a life vest for your dog. Take advantage of it.

Take them to your local pet store and try on as many as you can, because they don’t all fit the same, and your dog will feel differently in each.

You want to make sure it’s long enough to cover most of their back, have straps that go under their  belly and around their chest.

Look for one that has both a Velcro-type closure and that snaps to give you extra protection. 

They should be able to comfortably walk around in the life vest. One good way to get them used to wearing it is by putting it on them at various times when you’re not even near the water. Also, make it fun. Give them treats, praise them for wearing it and throw a ball or other activity they like to help them forget they are wearing it. Do this for short periods of time.

  1. The leash factor.

Have a long lead for your dog and attach it to their collar when kayaking. While attaching it to their life vest might be tempting, if the dog gets out of the life vest, they also lose their leash.

Do not attach the leash to your kayak while on the water, but do keep it close by.  In the event your kayak takes on water or flips, your dog will not be able to free themselves from the kayak should it start to sink.

        4. Sit and stay.

Encourage your dog to sit or lie down on the kayak, and stay there.

The boat can be slippery if they are sitting on the outside of the front or back of it. Cut a piece of non-slip material, such as rubber shelf liner and attach it to the front or back of your kayak there the dog likes to stay when you’re paddling. This will give them something to hold on to and make the ride much more enjoyable.

       5. Pack a doggie bag.

Being a responsible pet owner transfers to the water.  Bring a few pet essentials with you on the kayak, especially if you are going out for any length of time. This should include treats (if you dog decides to take a dip in the water and you need to lure then back), a bottle of water (you don’t always want them drinking the water you are paddling in, and poop bags (yes, you might have to make pit stop along the side of the lake or river to let your dog take a potty break).

How cute is Toby in the kayak! Photo credit: Michelle Maskaly


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