The History and Evolution of Imperial Beach Surf Dog Competition

Imperial Beach, California is a beach community of about 27,000 people who have found their mini-paradise along the beaches of sunny San Diego county. The average annual temperature hovers around the mid 70’s and because the water temperature is usually in the 60’s, the combination of the two make it one of the favorite places for surfers to go anytime during the year, wave height notwithstanding. It is also an interesting place to bring your dog given their tendency to avoid water, except for drinking purposes.

It is the logical place for dog owners to take their seafaring pets and compete against their furry friends in the Imperial Beach Surf Dog Competition. If you think that this is a 21st century fad washed up by the evolution of the Internet, you will find that the idea of dog surfing and dog surfing competitions began as far back as the 1920’s in Hawaii – almost 100 years ago.

What makes Imperial Beach so special is that without dispute, it has claimed to be the original dog surfing competition in the United States. There are other competitions you can find, but the vast majority of them are offshoots of the original Imperial Beach back in 2006. Most of these competitions are held in Southern California because of its temperate, year-round climate and the large number of surfing dogs that live in the area. Imperial Beach has not missed a competition since its inception.

Dog surfing competitions are help in tandem with their owners. The original event was named The Loews Coronado Bay Resort Surf Dog Competition even though it was held at Imperial Beach. As with all things sports oriented these days, it had to have an official sponsor plugged into the name of the event. This one is not on the event participants.

The reason these competitions are held is to be fundraisers for animal related charities, so like people helping people, we have pooches helping pooches. Every competition has 3 weight classes – small, large, and tandem. Tandem has two or more (!) dogs on a single surfboard or a human hanging ten with the dog. The individual heats run 10 minutes, and it makes for a great day at the beach because the competition has had as many as 50 dogs competing where the smell of wet fur abounds.

For owners of these surfing dogs, it seems like a Miss Universe contest for their hang 20 friends. Judging the winner is based on a number of factors, including the length of the ride, the perceived confidence of the dog, and their demonstrated ability on the board. But what would be a Miss Universe competition without a fashion statement? The dogs are also judged on their wetsuit fashion statement and also has been known to include sunglasses. The criteria to determine the winner has evolved over the years, so every new completion brings about a slight rule change.

Every year brings new competitors to the field, and consistent with the evolution and popularity of the event comes the sponsorship and name of the event. 2014 saw the name of the event change to Unleashed by Petco Surf Dog Competition, which naturally was sponsored by Petco. But another thing changed in 2014, and that was the management of the event. With an increase in popularity brings a need to manage the advertising and general publicity to increase the interest in the event. That responsibility was taken on by Book That Event, LLC, who only 2 years later would come to take full ownership of the event.

Over the years, the competition has found its way into the Guinness Book of World Records. One of the records was managing to get 18 dogs on a single surfboard – with the requisite photographic proof. Two other Guinness records were broken over the short 12 years competitions, so every year brings another challenge for the dogs.

For the future of the Imperial Beach Surf Dog Competition, there seems to be no end. The Internet has brought increasing interest to the annual event, and the fact that it is professionally managed cannot hurt its marketing potential. Many dog owners know that there are a number of annual land based dog competitions held around the world that actually have earned a spot on national television networks. Can Imperial Beach be far behind?


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