Sharks cause delay in East Coast Dog Surfing Championships in Cocoa Beach; no dogs were hurt

Sharks cause delay in East Coast Dog Surfing Championships in Cocoa Beach; no dogs were hurt

Standing paw-tiently on her padded surfboard and staring into a sea of spectators while awaiting her second wave, Lily likely didn’t notice a couple of curious sharks who had invaded the shoreline on Easter Sunday.

But, after a 30-minute shark timeout, the soon-to-be 7-year-old yellow lab conquered a field of eight talented dogs, a nagging undercurrent, and, of course, any fear of sharks to win her second consecutive East Coast Dog Surfing Championships at Lori Wilson Park.

According to Theresa Clifton, event host and executive director of the Brevard Humane Society, it was the first time over the 10-year range of the contest that sharks had interrupted the crowd-pleasing event. She was told the creatures were within 10 feet of the shoreline.

Lifeguards whistled for everyone to leave the ocean, but Lily’s owner and trainer, Michael Vogt of Port St. Lucie, did not overreact while standing about 20 yards out.

“To be honest, driving I-4 is much more dangerous,” he said.

Lily, whose older sister, Laila, also has surfed locally, has become quite a celebrity over the years, landing a cover spot in FLORIDA TODAY’s annual Fact Book, winning the Pups & Sups surfing contest last October in St. Augustine, and grabbing a feature story as part of the kid's section in the nationally circulated Garden & Gun magazine.

“She does a lot,” said Vogt, who often trains his dogs off Jensen Beach. “But I just want to stress the importance of this event for the Humane Society and all the giving back.”

Lily had opened the event with a nice ride into shore, and Vogt already had her poised for a second wave in the opening heat when lifeguards spotted two small sharks.

Bolt finished second, while Pancake — who competed with an inflatable shark fin, perhaps to blend in with the visitors from the deep — won the Dog Bikini Contest, wearing a bikini-patterned T-shirt, aqua sun cap, and matching beach Crocs.

One of the pocket-sized surf competitors, Nugget, won the Buddy Award trophy.

Clifton, who estimated the event raised $5,000 when combined with the numerous dog surfing lessons, and dog access and parking donations, said the sharks were a surprise, “but we are very safe and cautious.”

She thanked Ron Jon surf shop for stepping in as the primary sponsor, spending money on beach access and patrols, for example, as dog surfing suddenly has replaced the “human” surfing in an Easter Surf Festival tradition that had traced back 57 years — the nation’s second-oldest to the East Coast Championships in Virginia Beach.


Clifton also was grateful for the generous donations from area businesses that totaled some $1,000.

Longtime head judge Tony Sasso, representing Keep Brevard Beautiful, thanked the participants, the volunteers, and the spectators for helping the Humane Society.

“We are a pretty blessed community,” he said.

One of the judges this year was new Cocoa Beach City Manager Robin Hayes.

“It was a beautiful, sunny day, the crowds massive; it went well,” Clifton said. “With all of our great volunteers, we’ll leave the beach cleaner than when we found it.”