It’s Super Bowl Sunday, windy, bitter cold and rainy. I am alone in the muddy water, riding waves that sane people want no part of. The lineup and the beach are both empty. Mine is the only car in the parking lot. Suddenly a rusty, battered Mercedes wagon pulls up and parks. The driver gets out and stands on the cliff. Even from this distance, I notice that there’s something familiar about his features and his scraggly beard. I hearken back to my college textbooks and realize he is the spitting image of Ivan Pavlov, the doctor who discovered conditioned response when ringing a bell for his dogs. It couldn’t be him. Pavlov died in 1936. But that bald head, and that Russian beard. Nah, couldn’t be.
The man and his dog are now scampering down the muddy trail, something that makes me glad the powers that be have not yet buried this tiny strip of dirt and sand beneath cement. Lowering a vintage balsawood surfboard into the water, the man gently places the dog on the nose before lying down and paddling seaward. As the man paddles, the dog stands, pointing out to sea, occasionally shaking the water drops as it attempts to dry itself before next wave drenches them both again. The man pets the dog gently before lowering his head as he continues prone paddling toward the main peak. The dog seems to be exhibiting something surfers call stoke as he perks up and stands proudly on the nose of the board, barking and swishing his tail like a bamboo hand fan.
Dog surfing has become popular in competition over the years, but Pavlov, or whoever he is, and his dog are not here in preparation for a contest — instead, they are in hot pursuit of what used to be called “serious fun.” Both man and canine are concentrated on the endorphin release that even bad waves can bring. The man paddles and the dog barks, his ears erect in response to hearing the crash of a breaking wave.
They are close to me now, so close that I am nearly run over by the 10-foot noserider the man is paddling. The man apologizes and then refocuses on the reason for his being out here — to catch waves. As he spins around to paddle for a set wave, I notice the name “Rex” stenciled on the back of the dog’s wetsuit. Rex, wasn’t that the name of one of Pavlov’s famous dogs?
The wave steepens, and the man catches it easily. He is stiff and awkward as he struggles to his feet. Nonetheless, he managed to do a shaky turn and beat the section, going right. The man hoots, Rex barks and I wonder what weird rabbit hole I fell into. Predictably, the wave closes out on the inside, and both riders are soaked and stoked.
Remounting the board, man and dog paddle back out for another wave. Ivan is smiling and Rex … I don’t think that’s salt water dripping from his jowls.
Photo Caption: Dog surfing has become popular in competition over the years. File photo.