The race was on. a dozen people paddled wildly through Santa Cruz Harbor on stand-up paddleboards, throwing water with every stroke, and nearly 300 spectators had gathered to watch their antics on that cloudy Saturday morning. The big prize? Dogs. Each paddler carried at least one four-legged companion. Some sat with their ears flapping between their owner’s legs. Others stood with tongues flying like hood ornaments on the front of the board. A pair of Rat Terriers flitted back and forth on a board as if their movements might advance their ship. There was a bit of slipping and a lot of laughter.
The event called DogJam! by its creator, Neil Pearlberg, is an annual fundraiser for the Santa Cruz Animal Shelter and a rare species in the stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) scene. But as more people turn to the sport, their dogs likely will too. “A stand-up paddleboard is just perfect for a person and a dog,” says Pearlberg, owner of Santa Cruz Stand Up Paddleboard Co. “Plus, you get a dog on a stand-up paddleboard and he just seems to know what to do .”
Pearlberg’s dog Rusty, a mix of Australian Shepherd, Bernese Mountain Dog and mutt, doesn’t like water, but will always get on the paddleboard. The couple are known around town for paddling ocean waves together. “I think it makes him better on the board – the fact that he’s not interested in jumping in and swimming,” says Pearlberg. “There was a time when I was knocked over by a rough wave and surfaced again to see Rusty just surfing alone.”
SUP, an ancient form of surfing, originated in Hawaii. And before it had a name, surf instructors gained such a perspective to watch the students and read the incoming swell. Stand-up paddleboards, which are similar to the longboards of surfing, stretch 3 to 12 feet and are geared more towards balance than speed. A single long neck paddle is used to move the board through the water.