I recently spent a few weeks in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. My time there was wonderful — I was farm-sitting for 1o days on the southeastern tip of the island (yes, you heard that right, I was caretaking a small one-acre farm with dogs, geese, chickens and even a turtle!), and then spent four days at the super-fun Laylow Hotel in Waikiki, Honolulu.
I got to explore nearly isolated beaches at leisure, visit Pearl Harbor, go snorkeling, hike Diamond Head, eat some amazing seafood and Asian food, and basically just soak up the Hawaiian sunshine and aloha lifestyle. But of all the things I did on Oahu, perhaps my most favorite was seeing a dog named Hani.
Hani is no ordinary dog, you see. She surfs.
Hani is one of three dogs that work with pro surfer Rocky Canon at the North Shore’s Turtle Bay Resort. Rocky and his dogs (the others are Kahuna and Pulu) take people out surfing, to get introduced to Hawaii’s famed North Shore — one of the top surfing spots on the planet.
Rocky, who is the Lead Ocean Guide at Turtle Bay Resort, created Hawaii Surf Dogs to welcome newcomers to the North Shore. He’s an ocean safety specialist, and between his experience and the happy, calming presence of the dogs, even insecure swimmers or surfers can feel at ease in the ocean here.
I didn’t know any of this when I arrived at Turtle Bay. I had driven up from Waimanalo, where I was farm sitting, for a day trip at the North Shore. There was a Junior Surf Competition going on at the resort, and I enjoyed a yummy lunch of Kaibi tacos with kimchee while watching the last of the young surf competitors and the final awards ceremony.
Afterwards, I did a walking tour around the large, beautiful Turtle Bay property (fun fact: this is where the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed). After magnificent views of the crashing surf over jagged black clifftops, I rounded a corner where a much calmer bay and stunning beach came into view. It was no surprise to see a few people in the water trying their hands (feet?) at surfing, but I was surprised to see…wait a minute…did I hear barking? I had to look closer, then did a double take.
Was that a dog out there on one of the surfboards?
Indeed, it was. It was Hani, in fact. There she was, seeming to be having a blast. She was standing on the surfboard, looking back at the waves coming in, barking in excitement as she prepared for the next ride. There was a child next to her on the board, and a man (who I later learned was Rocky) at the back of the board, getting it set up to catch the wave and helping the child to ride it.
Hani was having the time of her life. And I’d never seen anything that delighted me so.
For anyone who might know me or anything about me, it’s no surprise that I was so happy at the sight of a surfing dog. To say I love dogs is a huge understatement. I’ve always had at least one dog since I was a small child. I’ve long been involved with several animal rescue groups back home in Austin, and I’ve fostered numerous dogs (my dog, Selma, in fact was originally my Austin Dog Rescue foster until I adopted her myself). I even do dog-sitting because I love the animals so much; in fact, there I was in Hawaii, sitting for four dogs on the farm.
So, yeah, I’m a bit of a dog freak. I was enthralled and couldn’t get enough of watching Hani surf the waves like a boss, over and over. Man, was she having fun! I had seen videos of dogs surfing before, but had never seen it in real life. I made myself at home on the beach and just watched her for an hour or more, until she and Rocky tired out and packed up for the day.
The dogs taught Rocky how to surf with them — and then taught each other how to surf!
This is the part that I love so much. Rocky’s first surfing dog was Pulu — who just followed him out to the surf so much that one day, about 16 years ago, Rocky borrowed a large two-person surfboard from a friend so that Pulu could fit on it with him. The dog swam up, climbed on the board and the two rode their first wave together. Rocky says they’ve never looked back since.
When Rocky adopted Hina later on, Pulu taught Hina how to surf when she only four months old. She then taught Kahuna when he was adopted into the family from the Hawaiian Humane Society.
I caught up with Rocky after my visit to Turtle Bay and asked him a few questions. Check out our interview below!
Q&A with Rocky Canon
Trading Places: What is special about surfing with dogs — what makes them good surfers?
Rocky: For one, most dogs are good swimmers. Also having 4 leg(4 points of balance) vs 2, makes them quite stable. I’ve found that dogs have provided a great distraction of fear for folks that are timid about the ocean. Especially given the reputation of our North Shore. The dogs help me specialize in making everyone feel as comfortable and as safe as possible in the North Shore surf.
Trading Places: When did you start doing surfing with people and the dogs, and why?
Rocky: One of my best friend’s daughters, whom I consider a niece, liked surfing tandem with me as a 5-year-old. We decided to try it with Pulu on board and it worked great! Soon after, a 4-year-old boy at Turtle Bay was scared of the ocean, so when he realized Pulu could come surfing, his verbatim response was, “If the dog goes, I’ll go.” His parents were thrilled and we had an awesome time. We still do a number of “therapy” sessions, and we also have tons of participants that sign up for the pure novelty of surfing with a dog.
Trading Places: What’s the most rewarding or fun thing about what you do?
Rocky: SO many folks are having their first surf ever with us and to see the stoke & smiles are so rewarding. Also giving 2 adopted dogs an amazing life means a lot to me as well. And of course, being able to feed, clothe, and shelter my 2 baby girls with an experience I invented is also very rewarding.
Trading Places: Is there anything else interesting or surprising that you’d like to share about your work, that people might not know?
Rocky: In addition to surfing, we also offer our Stand-Up Paddle experience called “SUP with a PUP” and we can customize various ocean experience & adventures thru our website and direct connect at www.hawaiisurfdogs.com.