SANTA CRUZ >> Santa Cruz-based surfer is making noise on the professional circuit, with a solid opportunity to emerge as one of the best in the world.
The only twist is that this particular surfer is actually a canine.
Skyler, a red heeler owned by local surfer Homer Henard, has won events in two dog surfing competitions in California this summer and she has her differently colored eyes seton further victories coming in September.
“She’s done really well,” said Henard. “You wouldn’t really think it, but there is a full-on dog surfing scene.”
Replete with sunglasses, leather jackets and gold chains, dogs fly in from all over the world to take part in the four main dog-surfing competitions in California.
The sport has increased in popularity largely due to the presence of canine surfers flooding social media. Skyler has her own Instagram feed (@skylerthesurfingdog) where she shows off her moves in the water and poses on the podium.
“She’s gaining a full fan base right now,” Henard said. “You get fans, especially kids, show up to these competitions and want to take pictures with her. It’s turned into a really cool thing.”
Henard is a former professional surfer who was able to travel the world and carve up breaks in some of the world’s most beautiful coastal settings — so he’s no stranger to the world of competition himself.
But for Henard, he said he’s less interested in trophies and winner’s circles and more interested in the joy Skyler brings to a range of individuals who use surfing as therapy.
Henard and Skyler participate in various events with no less than five surf-therapy organizations: Waves of Impact, Operation Surf, Mauli Ola Foundation, Ride a Wave and A Walk On Water.
The organizations offer surfing lessons to children with special needs or from hardscrabble backgrounds, military veterans severely wounded in war and people suffering from the genetic condition cystic fibrosis.
“I’ve always used surfing as therapy for myself and it has got me in tune to using Skyler to help other people,” Henard said, adding that his pup serves as animal therapy for many of the participants.
“Some of the kids might be nervous at first, but when they see Skyler they think if a dog can do it, they can,” he said.
Skyler’s feel for surfing was almost preternatural.
Hernard was born and raised in Santa Cruz. He learned how to surf from Richard Schmidt at Cowell Beach when he was 12 years old.
He surfs either side of town — wherever the waves are good. His weapon of choice is a shortboard, but in the summer when the swell smooths out and the waves don’t pump, Henard would paddleboard or take a longboard out just to keep the paddle arms in shape.
Soon after his father brought Skyler home from Turlock, Henard started taking his dog along with him when conditions allowed.
“I just got her on a board at a young age,” he said. “I could see right away she had good balance.”
Skyler doesn’t necessarily like the water — she prefers not to swim, but she loves to be on a board.
“Cattle dogs need to work and I think she sees surfing as her job,” Henard said.
She placed first at two separate events at Imperial Beach in July — including the tandem event and the shredder event.
She earned another podium at Huntington Beach, and there are two more competitions in September.
In the meantime, Homer and his canine pal plan to continue raising awareness around surf therapy and participating in related events around Santa Cruz.
“Skyler puts a smile on people’s faces and in the end that’s what surfing is all about — having fun,” Henard said.