When surfing dogs inspire you

Sometimes you find admiration and inspiration from something you’d never expect.

You know, like a surfing dog.

Some friends who used to live in Southern California had informed me of an annual dog surfing competition in Huntington Beach that I needed to attend. I’m not even a big animal lover, but I wasn’t sure I could live with myself if I missed something like this. I’m impressed by humans who can surf, so dogs on surfboards sounded a little incredible.

And they didn’t disappoint.

On Saturday morning, I got my a$* kicked by some rather monstrous hills during my run through a canyon, so I was pretty tired and looking forward to relaxing in the sun. I packed my bike in the back of my car and drove out to Huntington Beach (I could probably ride there if I want to go for a really long ride, but please read the previous sentence about running hills earlier that morning for my justification of not making that trek) and then rode from where I parked out to the special dog beach. I didn’t realize how popular this event really is until I pulled up and saw the large crowd gathered around a bunch of oddly talented dogs.

Please click the links to the videos. This pic doesn’t truly capture the greatness.

I was able to squeeze my way toward the front to get a good spot for viewing this ridiculously amazing spectacle, and we all waited in anticipation for the next round of competitors. The humans surf with their dogs (so maybe the animals really aren’t that talented), and the pups just kind of chill on the end of the surfboards and ride the waves back to the shore. It’s certainly entertaining—that’s for sure. One guy even did a little hop trick, and the end of the board with the dog on it went up at a slight angle for the rest of the way, and that dog just stayed there like he was king of the sea (sorry, but that’s Ariel’s dad’s role, bud).

One rather funny moment occurred when, on the next little run, that same dog fell off of the board and into the water right before they reached the shore. It was pretty hilarious, but don’t worry—he was fine. In fact, he popped back up like nothing had happened and then had a very impressive final run a few moments later.

As I was watching all of this, I realized just how much trust those dogs have in their owners and how much resilience they have when things don’t exactly go as planned.

I’m not sure that’s always the case for this human.

I thought back even to my run that morning. Like I said, those hills pretty much owned me, and it was a reminder of how I’m not quite in the running shape I’d like to be in right now. Sure, it’s still been less than a month since I had two kidney surgeries within a three-week period, but it can be discouraging when you used to be somewhat good at something and now feel average at best. I beat myself up about it both during my run and for a fair amount of time after.

And I feel like that’s not super uncommon. It can be easy to dwell on lots of things in life that aren’t so great—things from our pasts, things we did recently and might regret, things we are dreading. We think about them too much rather than realizing that they are things we can’t change, and we need to focus on the here and the now. It’s better to live in the moment than to live in the land of “what if” or the world of “if only.” I’ve had to remind myself of that quite a bit lately with all of the recent changes and uncertainties.

I think I was happy that I wasn’t the one surfing with those dogs. I’d prefer my first attempt to be free of all K9s.

The truth is, though, that perhaps we really should be more like those absurd surfing dogs. They don’t care about the possibilities of falling into the ocean, they aren’t concerned with previous crappy attempts that didn’t pan out, they don’t stress about how they compare to the other dogs around them, and they certainly aren’t acting anxious about whether or not the crowds watching are pleased with them or not. Instead, they simply do what they know they are supposed to do: stand on those surfboards with poise and excitement and enjoy every single second of it.

That sounds like a pretty solid way for a human to live, too.

Sure, we aren’t dogs with humans riding on the backs of our surfboards, but we definitely face a bunch of ups and downs in life—and sometimes we crash and burn, while other times we rise above the waves and coast on them to what we consider successes. Regardless, during those times when we find ourselves in situations that make us a little bit (or a lot) afraid or looking back on those that we maybe want to forget, it’s important to remember that it’s often those moments that help to make us stronger and help to make us who we are.

And we might find that we really are like the dog who falls off of the surfboard, gets back up like nothing happened, and goes back out for another try.

That time a dog gave me a black eye

I’ve had a number of black eyes in my life—be it from being pushed into a bench (thanks, bro), falling down the stairs, or tripping in the middle of the night and colliding with a door handle—but I think my most recent one sounds more ridiculous when I say it out loud.

I got a black eye from a dog.

How can you not adore him?

I’m an aunt to a dog and now a cat. My sister calls me Aunt Nattie, and I embrace my role in these animals’ lives. Steph and her boyfriend, Theo, just recently got Ronnie (the cat), so I haven’t met her yet, but Thor captured my heart the moment he ate Cheez-Its from my hand. I’m definitely not going out to buy my own dog, but I really love Thor. A lot.

And apparently he loves in much bigger ways.

Cue Christmas Eve. We had eaten dinner at my parents’ house and were watching Christmas Vacation on television. I need to let you know something: Thor is a very hyper animal, especially when he’s around Audrey (my parents’ dog). He had been running around all night long and had already jumped and slobbered on me more than once. I was OK with it because I was trying to be a nice aunt, but I had let Thor know multiple times that he was annoying me.

I’m still not certain if he understands English.

Thor had been outside and came barreling back in, pouncing on me like a wild beast. I’m not sure what exactly hit me—I’m somewhat positive it was one of his freakishly strong paws—but it felt like a punch to the face.

black eye
The eye

On Christmas Eve in 2015, a dog gave me a black eye. Now there’s something I never thought I would say.

At first, I was mad at Thor. I think it was the pain and swelling talking, telling me my fur nephew is out of control. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Thor is just a giant force of love who doesn’t know how to express himself in logical ways. I mean, he is a dog, after all.

Honestly, I have to respect the way Thor loves people. He doesn’t hold back. Instead, he rushes over to people and tries to embrace them in the only way he knows how—by going all in with his heart wide open. I wonder what things would be like if we all loved the way Thor does (minus the whole accidental physical abuse thing). His love is known. His love is big. His love is passionate. His love is crazy. His love is unashamed. His love is full. His love is fearless.

And his love selflessly gives everything he has.

He’s not looking for treats. He’s not hoping for an extra trip to the dog park. He’s not seeking anything for himself. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind some love and affection in return, but he’s still going to love you regardless of how you respond to him.

Life is full of struggles, and it can be even more difficult when people don’t treat you the way you hope. It’s easy sometimes to feel like the world has turned and walked away from you. When that happens, look for the Thors in your life—those individuals who will continue to love you in big ways and with love that simply doesn’t stop. It can feel overwhelming at times, but it’s truly the love we need.

And it’s the love others need from us, too, because it’s a love that doesn’t make sense.

As much as I never thought I’d be talking about getting a shiner from a pet—I always envisioned my next one would come from a bar fight or something more exciting—I also never thought I’d be admitting to learning valuable life lessons about love from a dog. Life is weird.

It’s so weird that it seems normal that I might start using a new motto: “Love like Thor.” It actually sounds pretty powerful.

Because it is.

And then there’s thunder

You’re often stronger than many things in life that seem powerful and threatening.

Like thunder.

The rain has been coming in abundance lately, and I know I’m not the only one who is pretty much completely over it. Done. Give me sunshine. Now.

Whenever it’s raining–especially storming heavily–I prefer to be curled up on my sofa in comfy clothes and clutching Tie (my stuffed koala who has been in my life since forever ago). I don’t like driving in rain, because apparently no one in Texas knows how to operate vehicles in any form of adversity, so the number of wrecks go way up. Plus, it’s just annoying. I don’t really like having to do anything in the rain, especially if it involves risking getting wet. (And, let’s be honest, I really don’t want to get my hair wet.)

But, unfortunately, I can’t always hide on my sofa when the storms just won’t stop.

We bonded during the storm

On Saturday night, I was left with the task of staying with my parents’ dog at their house. They treat Audrey like she’s the fourth child of the family. My sister had plans on Saturday night, and it wouldn’t even make sense to ask my brother to stay with her. Knowing I would be completely free, my parents asked me to take the overnight shift while they were at a wedding that night and staying at a hotel in another city.

Later in the night on Saturday, the rains started coming again. I needed to take Audrey out for a short walk one last time before I went to bed so that she could do her business, and it was obvious neither of us wanted to get wet. I grabbed a large umbrella my dad had told me about and covered us both as we walked halfway to the end of the street and back. When we got back inside the house, just as I was closing the door, a blinding flash of lightning lit up the front porch, and one of the largest crashes of thunder I’ve ever heard dominated the sound waves. Audrey was so scared that she ran and hid behind the couch, and it took me a few minutes to convince her that it was safe to come out.

It made me start to think about what thunder is: a noise. Lightning can be harmful, but thunder doesn’t actually hurt you. It scares many people–and dogs, apparently–but doesn’t do much more than that. Thunder can warn you about storms in the area (though you probably are already aware of them), and there’s that whole calculation of the time between thunder and lightning that tells you the distance of a storm (Does anyone actually think about that?). But, I’m still choosing to classify thunder as one thing: a noise.

We all face storms in life that we can’t control, and many of these rough periods will be magnified with thunder that scares us more than it should. I know there will be times my shoes get wet in puddles; I know my hair will get frizzy or become a plastered mess in the rain; I know that I will fail with my umbrella when getting into my car, and my entire left side will become soaked; I know that it will take me longer to get places because of traffic and excess water on the roads; I know that I might have to jump on a treadmill when it’s lightning out; and I know that I will miss my sofa in every single one of these scenarios.

But I also know that water eventually dries, and I don’t have to hide behind furniture when the thunder rolls.

Audrey slept right next to me that night, and she wasn’t afraid anymore. She knows something a lot of people forget: it’s a lot easier to get through storms when you’re not alone.

You know one thing that is so great about storms? The hope that there will be sunny days ahead. Soon you’ll be out of the storm, take a warm shower, put on dry clothes and get to spend that time on your sofa. And you might even see a rainbow. But definitely don’t worry about the thunder–it only lasts a second or so, anyway.

And, like so many other things we tend to magnify too greatly in life, it’s only a noise.