La Jolla's coastline is no stranger to surfers. With its beautiful beaches and reliable swells, it's obvious why board riders are drawn to this area—locals and visitors alike. Lately though, La Jollans may have noticed a different kind of surfer popping up among the neighborhood waves.
Do not be fooled by her silky chestnut hair and hot pink rash guard. This young and vibrant athlete is more than just a pretty face, and she's definitely not a beach bunny. She tears up the surf with the best of them, and might even raise thousands of dollars for local charities while doing it.
So, who is this philanthropic wave rider? Here's a hint: she enjoys chasing birds in her spare time and answers to the nickname 'Ricki.' We are, of course, talking about a 2 ½-year-old golden retriever named Ricochet, the SURFice dog.
Ricochet's story is one as unique as it is relevant. She began her training at Puppy Prodigies in San Diego County within the service dog program. Although she moved through curriculum easily, another personality trait was beginning to stand out—an apparent love for chasing critters. For most dogs this would be no problem, but for one carrying the responsibility of aiding individuals with disabilities, the distraction raised alarms.
"We needed to make the responsible decision," says Judy Fridono, Ricochet's owner and trainer. As a certified professional dog trainer (who is also the founder and acting executive director of Puppy Prodigies), Fridono recognized right away that Ricochet's predisposition to chasing animals could be a risk.
"I was disappointed at first," remarks Fridono, remembering the realization that Ricochet wouldn't be a service dog.
Although the original goal was unattainable, Fridono still knew her canine companion was meant to help people. The plan just needed some revision.
Rather than dwelling on Ricochet's inability to work as a service dog in the traditional sense, the focus shifted to things she could do. Fridono had previously noticed Ricochet's natural aptitude for balancing on a boogie board in a kiddie pool. With the help of professional training, some Cheez Whiz and a third-place finish at a well-timed surfing contest, it became apparent that surfing was Ricochet's outlet for helping people. The water provided a new found center, free of critter-chasing distractions.
These days, Ricochet defines a new niche in service dogs as a SURFice Dog—a title that was coined specifically in her honor. As a part of the adaptive surfing community, she participates in therapy with quadriplegic surfers, among other things. Using her wave-riding talents to help both people and animals helped to earn Ricochet the AKC Award for Canine Excellence, a high honor in the charitable dog community. She has raised more than $50,000 for local charities and supports causes such as Wheels 2 Water, Life Rolls On, and Morris Animal Foundation, to name a few.
The cowabunga canine has touched many lives and it's apparent she has made an impression around La Jolla.
"We love Ricochet," says Coco Tihanyi, co-founder of Surf Diva Surf School in La Jolla.
Surf Diva also supports the adaptive surfing organization Life Rolls On and, of course, Ricochet. The local surf shop has gifted her a surf board and also helped coach her for the 2009 Purina Incredible Dog Challenge surf competition.
"I think it's really neat when people see that humans and pets can have fun together," says Tihanyi, "especially through a shared passion for surfing."
While a lot of what Ricochet does is rooted in fun, this furry philanthropist packs a powerful message—not only through the causes she supports, but because of what she stands for. Fridono feels the most important lesson Ricochet embodies is acceptance.
"She taught me to let go of expectations and not try to make anyone something they're not," she said.
When asked if she has any advice for pet owners on how to let their canines shine, Fridono said this: "Listen to your dogs; they have a lot to say."
For more on Ricochet's story, the causes she supports or to make a donation, visit the website at surfdogricochet.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.