by Fiorella Calderoni
Twenty years ago, in a ranch at the foothills of Ventura, a surf dog legend was born.
Buddy was a handsome Jack Russell Terrier and a beloved member of the Hooker family who learned how special he was from the day he was born in June, 1998; Buddy’s mom got into some rat poison during her pregnancy and Buddy was the only surviving pup of the litter. To anybody that knew him, it was no surprise he survived. Buddy had an undeniable zest for life and knew, better than most dogs, how to enjoy the ride.
Buddy began surfing when he was two years old. Enjoying a beautiful day on the beach with his family, he saw a boogie board free up and seized the moment. Buddy jumped on and started to balance on the board. He was a natural! His family took turns pulling him along the shore and Buddy couldn’t stop barking with excitement. Holding the back of the board, they let Buddy experience the thrill of catching a wave and he never turned back.
Buddy’s family grew up surfing in Ventura. Since they were little kids in the 60s, Bruce and his brothers loved surfing, driving in a 1939 Woody from C Street to Rincon beach and back. Bruce was ecstatic to find out his dog also had a passion for the sport. What a great and very Ventura hobby to share!
Buddy slowly began riding waves on his own, going out a little further each time. His love for surfing led him from a boogie board to a 5’6 Doyle soft board on which he caught waves as big as five feet! Through trial and error, Buddy developed his own techniques and learned when to move back and lay low, and when to stand up and move forward on the board.
Buddy did experience one particularly memorable wipeout when his board pearled sending him into the water while a wave crashed on top of him. It was a scary moment for Bruce waiting for Buddy to surface. That’s when Buddy gained his own befitting red life vest and learned to position his center of gravity further back on the board.
Each summer, Buddy picked up where he’d left off, soon becoming a versatile surfer able to ride a bodyboard, shortboard, and join Bruce on a longboard. He took a liking to soft-top or soft board best -they’re easier to grip, and soon found a board sponsor. He was officially a celebrity in the making.
All sorts of attention sparked when Buddy surfed at Ventura’s Surf Rodeo and got his picture in the local newspaper. Soon he was filming a pilot for the Animal Planet starring amazing animal actors, alongside two chimpanzees. Buddy was featured in the Los Angeles Times, CBS Morning Show, Huffington Post, InTouch Magazine, Sports Illustrated for Kids, CNN, even ESPN!
And it wasn’t long before the rest of the world fell in love with his knack. Buddy found himself on television shows in Japan, Germany, and the Netherlands, and even helped Steve Jobs show off the iPad! “Wet and Woofy” starring Buddy surfing in high definition was the video Steve Jobs chose to play when he launched the iPad at a special Apple event.
There’s no doubt that Buddy earned every treat and bit of attention he got. As the reigning surf dog champion at the Helen Woodward Animal Center Dog Surf-A-Thon –the largest surf dog contest in the country, Buddy won first place in the small dog heat from 2006 to 2011. Professional surfers judging the competition were enchanted by Buddy, awarding him the top dog prize, first place overall, five out of six years in a row!
Buddy also won Purina’s Incredible Dog Challenge, Surfin-Paws Jam, and Loews Surf Dog Competition. Former surf journalist Nedra Abramson was quoted saying “Buddy does it for the right reasons. He loves to surf — and he does turns! It’s like he’s a reincarnated surfer.” And even former surfing world champion Guy Takayama approves of Buddy’s technique. “What sets Buddy apart is that he actually turns the board and maneuvers it. He doesn’t just sit on the board and ride the wave in straight,” he said to the Huffington Post.
By 2011, the Dog Surf-A-Thon had grown from 10 contestants when Buddy started, to 80! And many credit Buddy for the sport’s notoriety. That year the event drew more than 4,000 spectators and raised more than $100,000 for the Helen Woodward Animal Center. At 14 years old, this was Buddy’s best and last heat, made extra special when he became the first inductee into the Surf Dog Hall of Fame.
Though the spotlight earned him years of free food, Buddy always preferred spending long summer days surfing at Ventura’s C Street, sharing a wave with Bruce and his son Matthew. He loved walking by the beach and had many friends that brought him treats along the way. The water eventually got too cold for Buddy and his age caught up with him –he died at nearly 19-years-old in April 2017. Looking back at Ventura’s forever-beloved surf dog, all anyone could really say is, “Wow! What a ride!”