Saint, having just gotten a start-off push from his owner, Kathleen Yeung, shows his fine surfing form on a wave at Morro Bay. San Luis Obispo Tribune/Jayson Mellom
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A golden retriever with hot-dog moves is a surfing star on the Central Coast
By Patrick S. Pemberton - San Luis Obispo Tribune
On a foggy morning in Morro Bay, a 3-year-old golden retriever named Saint is so stoked he can hardly stand it.
It's not just because there are birds he can chase -- though Saint certainly likes to chase birds. It's more because his owner is prepping his board and the conditions today are glassy.
At first, Saint leaps down the boulders that lead to the beach. Then he runs in circles on the sand before bolting into the water. He charges a few birds, and when he sees a photographer nearby, the now-wet pooch makes a beeline to the man with the cameras.
"His favorite thing to do is to go up to a photographer and shake," says Saint's owner, Kathleen Yeung. And he does just that.
But the real excitement comes when Yeung connects the 71-pound dog to a 7-foot, 2-inch surfboard and heads for the water, as if beckoned by the spirits of Duke Kahanamoku, Mickey Dora and Max the surf dog.
Saint was given to Yeung, a 27-year-old phlebotomist at French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, by a co-worker when Yeung's father was dying of cancer.
Whenever Yeung would take Saint to the beach, he wanted to do whatever she did. So when she and her friends took surfboards into the water, Saint followed, eager to (dog) paddle out.
"He wasn't afraid at all," says Yeung, who lives in Atascadero.
Saint's first few attempts at surfing ended with wipeouts. But those early attempts seemed to give him inspiration to keep trying, and soon he looked more comfortable in the lineup.
Then he got good.
"He's better than a lot of my friends," Yeung says. "He's better than me, that's for sure. He'll catch waves I can't even catch. He's gotten barrels. I've never gotten barrels."
Typically, Yeung gives Saint's board a little shove just before the wave arrives, then the standing canine takes over.
Favorite of photographers
But one of his best waves, in Santa Cruz, was all Saint.
"He sometimes catches his own waves," Yeung says. "He just bends down a little. And he caught this one that just barreled him. I thought he wiped out. But a photographer was on the beach taking pictures of everyone, and he said Saint caught that barrel and jumped off just before the close-out."
So many people photograph Saint that Yeung has loads of pictures without having to take any herself (which is good, because she's usually on the other side of the wave and can't see what happens).
One photo, taken by Morro Bay resident Mike Baird, was used for a flier when Saint was briefly dog-napped in Baja California. Yeung was careful not to post fliers of Saint surfing, figuring thieves would be less likely to return a dog with such skills. Saint eventually was returned, and Yeung shaved his name into his fur to prevent more abductions.
A multisport hound
Baird also photographed Saint on his best day. In those photos, Saint is pictured coolly dropping into 6-foot waves -- or triple overhead, in dog surf-speak.
In addition to surfing, Saint likes soccer, moving the ball with his nose. He's also into hiking and climbing, and he's a certified therapy dog, trained to provide affection and comfort as a volunteer at French Hospital and a women's shelter.
A well-traveled pet, he's hit the surf in places such as Jalama Beach in Santa Barbara County, Black's Beach in San Diego and Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
Whenever he's in a car near the beach, Yeung says, Saint quickly jumps toward the windshield, seemingly scoping out the swell.
While he has been featured on Web sites and a local television station, more stardom could be coming. Yeung and her friends are making a "Karate Kid"- like movie called "The Tao of Saint," starring Saint as the sage mentor (with an Italian accent, it turns out) who teaches a young man to surf. And Saint plans to compete in the Surf Dog Surf-a-Thon in Del Mar next month.
Yeung thinks he'll be heads and tails above the rest.
"I know he'll win," Yeung says. "He's just really, really chill on the board."
Riding a doozy
As Saint and Yeung paddle out, a surfer walks by, amused. He points his thumb toward the beach and with a grin says, "A surfing dog."
On Saint's first wave, a 2-footer, he starts out in the yogi-preferred downward-dog pose -- a hot-dog move if there ever was one -- and rides it until a shore breaker clears the deck. Saint runs to the beach, his board still attached, and gallops on the sand.
The second takeoff is a little steeper. Saint makes the nice drop but eats it soon after. Again, he frolics. The third wave results in a wipeout that sends him slightly airborne.
"He wipes out about half the time," Yeung says, smiling.
But the fourth ride is a doozy -- a ride that would parallel the best at any surfing hot spot. Steady all the way, Saint rides this one to the beach, ending nonchalantly with a lick of the lips.
When his leash is detached, Saint again takes off running. Because when you're a surfing pooch, the dog days of summer are all good.