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May 23, 2011

SURFING GAME CAN BE A DOG’S LIFE

David Ellis

 

IF it's a dog's life, then Lani, a four-year old Border Collie-Labrador, reckons bring it on.

 

Because for Lani life is one long day at the beach, chasing the odd seabird, splashing in the waves, sunning on the sands – and taking a ride with owner Chris de Aboitiz on a stand-up paddle board that's a reincarnation of Hawaii's long surf-boards of old.

 

Chris de Aboitiz is Sydney-born but spent his early school years in Hawaii and later taught surfing there.

 

And when he returned to Australia he headed for the sun and surf of Noosa on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, opening a board-riding school and, to the amusement and joy of locals and visitors alike, taking along with him on rides in the late-afternoon sun, his newly-adopted 6-weeks-old off-sider, Lani.

 

Lani – it's an Hawaiian name – took quickly to balancing on the nose of Chris' board, spending up to thirty-minutes at a time as the board was paddled out through the surf, and then with Chris standing and steering with his paddle, riding the waves back to the shore.

 

But late last year it all came to an end, in Noosa at least, when the Sunshine Coast Council decided not to renew Chris' arrangement to run his board riding school there.

 

It was all to do with contracting for services on council-owned facilities, and it caused a storm of protest: Chris (and his dog) was not just a service provider, locals complained, but a tourist attraction as well.

 

Travel-writing colleague Graeme Willingham first saw Chris and Lani in action at Noosa a few years ago, and has been tracking their act ever since – the more so since they moved to Burrum Heads, just north of Hervey Bay and where Chris is now running his paddle board business from a boutique getaway called Riverview Retreat.

 

And where he also provides windsurfing, kite surfing and yoga lessons – and a range of dog-training services as well.

 

And while surfing conditions may not be as good at Burrum Heads as they  are at Noosa, Chris still takes Lani out for a paddle most days… to an ever-growing and appreciative new audience of locals and visitors.

 

It is an eye-catching act, one in which Graeme Willingham says Chris and Lani seem to anticipate each other's next move in tandem, neither seldom getting wet as they catch and ride waves at will, each time calmly exiting in unbroken water to paddle the 100metres back to await their next big ride.

 

On the way out, Lani stands tall, almost hanging-ten on the nose of the board, providing a streamline balance for Chris paddling behind.

 

Then once they're on the wave, Lani slips back half a metre from the nose to squat in a unique (and anything but your normal backside-on-the-ground doggie squat,) as if to provide the best possible trim and "sweet-spot" balance for the thrilling wave-riding journey.

 

The big board glides along the wave, rises gently to the crest and then zips down the face before exiting closer to the beach, only to turn around and do it all again.

 

And inexplicably, Lani suddenly decides to ride backwards for a few strokes, looking back to master as if to say "Was that alright, Boss?" Then on the next ride, Chris using doggie psychology returns the compliment by turning his back on Lani to ride the wave backwards…. It's all part of the extraordinary synergy between the two.

 

From those watching from surfboards nearby or on the shore it's a fascinating free-of-charge exhibition of tandem stand-up paddle-boarding and super-dog performance.

 

And Chris, the 1994 World Tandem Surfing Champion, often takes kids out for board riding lessons. "They just love it when Lani jumps aboard," he says.

 

Chris says the two have tackled wave over two metres high, and yes, sometimes they've both been "wiped-out" in those conditions. But they scramble back on board to once again brave the wild surf.

 

Sunshine Coast Council may have wiped out one of its own tourist attractions when it changed its rules that lost Chris his board-riding school at Noosa, but nowadays for the folk at Burrum Heads their new tourist attraction is proving a real tailwagger.

See www.riverviewretreatburrum.com.au, or phone 0435 085 060 or see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1s5hw2Knbk

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Photo captions:

 

[] RIDE the wild surf: Lani laps it up with Chris at the controls

[] HANGING ten amongst the big boys and girls

[] QUIETER times on a Burrum Heads backwater, Chris, Lani and friends

   take a late afternoon paddle

 

Photos: Graeme Willingham

 


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