Real life: ‘My surfing dog transforms lives’

Ricochet the dog

by Bella Evennett-Watts |
Updated on

Judy Fridono’s Golden Retriever rides the waves with disabled children and war veterans...

While most dogs love going for walks and playing fetch, 11-year-old golden retriever Ricochet has an unusual talent... for surfing. She has her own surfboard and even helps people with mental and physical difficulties learn to ride the waves, as part of an animal- assisted therapy programme.

Her owner Judy, from San Diego, USA, says, “I’m so proud of my clever dog. Not only is she physically skillful, using her strength to counterbalance the weight on a surfboard, but she’s emotionally intelligent too. She can connect with people in a way that humans can’t. She’s become a bit of a celebrity – it’s not every day you see a dog on a surfboard.”

Ricochet the dog
Ricochet the dog ©Caters News Agency

Judy founded Puppy Prodigies in 2006, a non-profit organisation that trains service dogs for people with disabilities.

Judy says, “I was inspired to start Puppy Prodigies after suffering with arthritis from the age of 16. The dogs I trained went on to live with people with disabilities, such as visual or mobility impairment. When Ricochet’s mum was pregnant, I thought I’d support her litter to be service dogs too.

“Ricochet was born in January 2008. From the moment I held her in my hands, I knew she was special. At just a few months old she had learned to open fridge doors and unzip clothing.

“We named her Ricochet because she was always racing around the house and springing off the walls. But as she grew, so did her mischievous character. I worried that she would have been too much for a disabled owner to handle."

Instead, Judy decided to train Ricochet to be a therapy dog. Research has shown that developing a bond with an animal can help people stabilise their emotions and improve their communication and social skills.

Judy says, “Ricochet loved the water. She’d jump into paddling pools, and if we went to the beach, she’d dive straight in. It’s what gave me the idea to train her as a surfing dog.

Judy bought her pet a 6ft beginner’s foam surfboard and a pink lifejacket to wear and, in 2009, she started working with people who needed her paws-on support.

Judy says, “The first time Ricochet acted as a therapy dog was as part of a fundraising project. She was going to be filmed surfing with a 14-year-old quadrapelgic, who needed expensive surgery for his spinal cord injuries. The idea was that the video would raise awareness of his cause, and people would donate funds.

“The first time we put Ricochet on the surfboard, it was amazing – she could stand up straight and had incredible balance. That day, she was meant to surf on a separate board alongside the boy, but she hopped onto his instead. She took it very seriously – she knew that, out at sea, his life was in her paws. But she understood how to shift her weight to keep them both afloat. The video went viral, with over 6.5million views.”

Since then, Ricochet has taken to the waves with other disabled children anadults, ex-service members and military veterans suffering from post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


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Ricochet the dog
Ricochet the dog and friend ©Caters News Agency

Judy says, “When Ricochet walks into a room, she can immediately identify anyone who needs emotional support. She has this amazing ability to connect with people.”

And Ricochet’s surfing skills have even been put to the test in competitions. Judy says, “Surf dog contests are popular in California, where the dogs are given 10 minutes to perform tricks on their board and catch as many waves as they can before returning to shore.

“She’s won nine gold medals, but her biggest achievement is the work she’s done for others. As the world’s first ever canine-assisted surf therapy dog, she’s helped hundreds of people and has raised almost £400k for animals and humans in need.”

As Ricochet gets older, she’s started to wind down. Judy says, “She doesn’t compete any more. She prefers long walks in the woods and cuddles on the sofa. She still provides therapy for people – I get so many requests from people to spend time with her. Every dog has their own mission, but Ricochet is truly one of a kind."

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