Tillman the board-loving English Bulldog is so eager to hit the surf on the nearby wave-generating Rose Parade float that he starts shredding not surf but his surfing vest. “Hey, that’s new, by the way,’’ chides his trainer, Ron Davis.
Atop the towering float Stanley the surfing Chesapeake Bay Retriever not only has mastered the waves, but has quickly figured out how to press the button that sends them cascading down the 65-foot length of the surf pool. “Awesome,’’ shouts trainer Craig Haverstick as his surf buddy paws the green button, plunging a wave down the length of the float.
On Jan. 2 Tillman and his surf dog friends will be hitting the waves at the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif. The “Surf’s Up” beach-themed float, sponsored by Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods, will feature a specially designed wave machine generating surf every minute.
I have had a chance to check out the Natural Balance float every year now for four years, seeing the dogs skateboard, then snowboard, then dock dive and skim board. Each year the float is a celebration of dog athleticism and antics, like a giant cartoon come to life.
Just when I think they can’t top their latest spectacular parade entry, they come up with an even more physics-defying concept.
This year Natural Balance will break its own Guinness World Record for the longest and heaviest single chassis parade float. This one is expected to top out at more than 100,000 pounds and measure more than 116 feet.
“Have you ever done anything like this before?’’ I ask Haverstick. “Surfed with my dog 30 feet above a parking lot?’’ he says with an incredulous, are-you-kidding-me smile. Yes, that was a dumb question. Nobody has ever done this before.
The creative genius behind the floats is none other than the company founder, Joey Herrick, who is on hand on this Saturday morning watching over the dry run, fixing technical bugs before the decorating begins. How did this over-the-top dog parade float idea get started?
“I went to the Rose Parade five years ago for the first time and loved it,’’ says Herrick, president of Natural Balance Pet Foods. “Then a few days later I saw Tillman skateboarding on TV.’’ As he was driving to work one day he thought: “We should do a Rose Parade float with the skateboarding Bulldog to promote our dog food. I have a lot of ideas when I am just driving my car,’’ he adds.
When he reached work and pitched the idea, the initial response was less than overwhelming, he recalls. Too expensive. Why a parade float?
“But that’s why I started my own company,’’ Herrick says with a grin, recalling the days when he began by delivering dog food from the family car.
“So we did the float.’’
But these are much more than just floats. Herrick’s creations have made him the Walt Disney of the parade float world.
Now each year the challenge is to top the last biggest, heaviest, movable dog extravaganza. “I’m already working on next year’s entry,’’ he says with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Don’t be surprised if there are English Bulldogs skydiving onto Colorado Boulevard.
Meanwhile, the dogs are having a blast with his latest creation.
High up on the float, Newman, an English Bulldog, trembles a bit with uncertainty on this lofty perch. But once he hits the water, he clearly enjoys it. “Newman can’t wait to go to the beach, he just loves the water,’’ says owner Debbie Matlow. “None of us in the family surf, but once he tried it he loved it. He especially likes to surf backwards.’’ Almost on cue he spins around just as he is launched on a wave.
The surfing dogs and their handlers are:
*Ron Davis, who trains English Bulldogs Tillman, Rose, & Sully, from Oxnard, Calif.
*Lexi Beermann and her English Bulldog Wally, of Venice, Calif. Wally is only 10 months old but has been riding boards since he was a 3-month-old puppy.
*Karen Cobb and her scooter-riding Briard, Norman, from Canton, GA. Norman is an internet sensation with millions of hits on YouTube and appearances on national TV shows, including David Letterman. The practice is only his second time on a surfboard, but he immediately catches on.
*Craig Haverstick and his surf and dock-diving dog Stanley, a former rescue and Chesapeake Bay Retriever, from San Diego.
*Debbie Matlow and her English Bulldog Newman, from – where else? – Surf City USA, Huntington Beach, CA.
Lining the float’s 11-foot-tall “sea” walls will be colorful sculptures of oversized floral waves, seashells, fanciful sea-life creatures, orchid blossoms and tropical ferns, all created from the petals of more than 25,000 roses, 20,000 specialty anthuriums and 10,000 Golden Oncidium orchids, golden hybrid Vanda orchids and James Story orchids.
The Rose Parade will be broadcast on ABC, the Hallmark Channel, HGTV, KTLA in Los Angeles, NBC, RFD-TV, and Univision 34 Los Angeles at 8 a.m. PST.