Salty Dog Surf was founded in 1977 as a for-profit by Ronald and Diane Doyle at the Brevard County Canova Dog Beach, Florida but it always had a charitable philosophy. They had the idea of using Florida long boards to get dogs over their fear of the water and to teach them how to swim without life jackets. And let’s face it, a dog on a surfboard is pretty cool! Rather than surfing the break horizontally with surfboards, they surfed the white wash all the way down to the sand and the pups loved it!
Their idea was not only practical but pretty gnarly! Locals saw the team surfing next to their dogs on the boards and soon caught on! By 1978 the first Salty Dog rental kiosk was opened at the dog beach. Their featured fundraiser became a “Hang-Twenty” Surf Contest which was sponsored by Anheuser-Busch. The contest featured some of the rescue dogs from the Brevard County Sheriff Animal Services Office. From that point forward the philanthropic idea of helping animals was built into the company’s philosophy and mission. That was probably the first time a dog had ever intentionally surfed on a surfboard…!
At the time, the original founders had no idea the term “Salty Dog” was also a colloquial name for Sailors and Marines. Salty Dog is nautical slang for an experienced sailor who has spent much of his life aboard a ship at sea. A salty dog is often given increased credibility by ship mates in matters pertaining to ship-board life and duties. Also known as an “Old Salt.” It is also the term for a US Marine whose rank doesn’t correspond with the amount of time that Marine served, especially a grunt. Rather than looking at the Marine’s rank to figure out how long they have been in for, their faded camouflage uniform is a better indicator. US Marines and Sailors with faded cammies are referred to as “Salty Dogs.”
Salty Dog opened an official surf shop in Melbourne, Florida in 1980 called Salty Dog Surf where the Hang-Twenty surf contest became an annual tradition. In 1985 Salty Dog adopted a Bull Terrier named Evil Eye or Evie for short as its official mascot. Evie was the perfect embodiment of the type of dogs Salty Dog sought out to help since she came from a kennel in Pennsylvania where many dogs were reportedly mistreated.
It was actually the Navy Seals who originally brought paddle boarding over to the mainland from Hawaii at the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in the 2000s and used the boards as part of their training and recreation. The boards were traditional paddleboards that they used military raft paddles with. It was those paddles which became the SUP paddles used today.
In the 1990s SUP was taught at Hawaiian surf schools as an alternative way to surf when there was little swell. This practice became increasingly popular so surf instructor Brian Keaulana decided to add “Beach Boy Surfing” to the world-recognized “Buffalo Big Board Contest” in 2003. The response to this new category was overwhelming, with many recognized surfers choosing to partake. It was not until 2010, however, that Salty Dog decided to put the rescue dogs on SUPs instead of long boards. One of the issues with the long boards was that only foam boards could be used for the dogs, which would not support the weight of both a person and a pup. SUPs presented the advantage of allowing both a person and pup on a board and the deck traction pads on many boards stopped the pups from slipping off! As a result, the featured event became a “Puppy Paddle” with the rescue pups and replaced the Hang Twenty surf contest, although the contest still takes place every year and is no longer sponsored by Anheuser-Busch due to the controversy surrounding the mascot. The second featured event took place at the Conch Key Grille & Tiki Bar in 2010 and was a pet-friendly happy hour, which they titled a “Yappy Hour.” After an afternoon of yapping, they took the pups on a paddle in the Indian River Intracoastal right outside the restaurant and across the way from the Brevard County Canova Dog Beach.
Meanwhile, across the state on the west coast of Florida Jodi Bratch opened Salty Dog Paddle in 2011 with the idea of giving a portion of the proceeds back to animals in emergency situations. Over the next few years, there were Salty Dog Paddle stores across the USA and the original Salty Dog Surf gifted Jodi the name. However, in 2013 in reaction to the sudden and unexpected loss of her beloved Italian Greyhound, Alfonzo, Jodi started the Fonzie Foundation. The nonprofit has the mission of assisting fur families and rescue groups with unexpected and emergency pet care and continues to provide financial relief to those who qualify as well as create awareness to animal cruelty, homeless animals, and animal-friendly and sustainable products. After the loss of Alfonzo, Jodi contacted the rescue she originally adopted Alfonzo from to see if they might be able to use the 30 years of goodwill associated with the name. She wanted to give 100% of the proceeds from the business to help animals like Alfonzo in emergency situations.
One year after the loss of Alfonzo, in 2014 the organization’s volunteers accepted the challenge to turn Salty Dog into a nonprofit. Along with US Navy veteran Hilary Dowson, a US Marine veteran named Clinton Cimring set out to transform Salty Dog into a charity. Hilary was one of the Corpsmen who worked with Cpl Cimring’s squadron at the Marine Corps Air Station and was also injured in the line of duty. The following year in 2015 the nonprofit became a public charity and was up and running!
During its first year as a public charity, Salty Dog saw its most successful fundraiser to date called Barks, Babes & Bros, which was once again sponsored by Anheuser-Busch and featured the late Evie AKA Spuds MacKenzie as its Chairdog. Barks, Babes & Bros was a celebrity Bachelor and Bachelorette Auction that took place at Renegades Country Bar in West Palm Beach in December 2015. The event boasted celebrity contestants including the Prince of Rome – Lorenzo Borghese, TV Life Coach – Kelly Hanner, and ABC’s the Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise contestant – Ryan Beckett. Thanks to their support the charity raised $13,000 without any expenses of any kind and the entire amount was donated to Tri-County Animal Rescue in Boca Raton for the medical treatment of dogs in distress. In its second year “Barks, Babes, and Bros” was named the Best Western Themed charity event in South Florida in 2017 by Jupiter Magazine. It was broadcast as part of ABC’s Networks show, Bachelor in Paradise.
Since 2015 the charity’s volunteers have appeared on National Geographic and Animal Planet. It’s apparel items have been spotted on celebrities like Taylor Swift, Nicky Hilton Rothschild, Formula One Race Car Driver – Colin Alive, Playboy Playmate – Bree Leigh, and Country Singer and realty TV star – James McCoy Taylor. In January 2017 the original Salty Dog shirt was worn on Season 12 of the FXX TV Show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia by Mac (played by Rob McElhenney who is a Salty Dog supporter). That same month Anheuser-Busch decided to bring back Evie AKA Spuds Mackenzie as its mascot and featured her on a Super Bowl commercial!