Emma’s Eccentric Britain: dog surfing in Devon

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There's one massive problem with today's challenge – Poppy, my most excellent beagle, is about to learn how to surf and she's never, not once in her 11 years, been in water. I can't even get her to walk in puddles, so getting her into the surf, let alone riding it, is going to be a tall order.

"It's been the talk of the town," Darren Burrett, the owner of Surf South West, tells me. "We're going to teach a dog to surf."

"Don't get your hopes up," I say, staring down at Poppy, who's sniffing a wetsuit. "She's the equivalent of a 77-year-old woman."

Darren smiles. "No problem. We've got a 73-year-old woman who comes surfing. She stands up on every wave. She never gives up."

It's a wisp of hope. Can Poppy, a dog good only for stealing loaves of bread and tucking the remains behind cushions for me to find weeks later, muster something deep within her and catch a wave?

We're handed over to Andy, an Italian from Milan, who has the longest eyelashes I've ever seen on a man. He's practically Bambi. I squeeze myself into a wetsuit and off we trot. We're at Saunton Sands, one of Devon's expansive beaches.

"It's a great beach to learn on," Andy tells me, "because it's flat and the current's not that strong. The fact it's so shallow really helps. Let's start by trying to coax her into the water. We don't want to do anything that will spook her, though. She mustn't feel stressed. Surfing is all about fun. Even for dogs."

I decide the best thing is if I go in up to my knees and try to get Poppy to follow me. But this is easier said than done. She's found a dead crab. And she's licking it.

"Come on, Poppy!" I call.

"Poppy!" cries Andy, grinning. "The water's lovely!"

Given that the only words my dog understands are "Dinner" and "Why have you eaten the contents of the bin? Again?" I am sceptical that Andy's enticement will work, but blow me if suddenly Poppy doesn't step tentatively forward and put a paw in the breaking surf.

There's an annual dog surfing championship in California. This could be the start of something epic and noble and majorly cool. Perhaps Poppy will start wearing bandanas? Or start barking "Akaw!" every time she sees a perfect wave? It's a fleeting thought, because Poppy, having got one paw wet, has retreated to drier sand.

"Poppy!" I cry, throwing my arms into the air. "Come on!"

At this point, Darren, who has come down to the shore with us, decides to give Poppy a bit more encouragement. In other words, he shoves her in and Poppy, despite her reticence, finds herself up to her knees in warm, lapping water. To my immense delight, she isn't getting out of it. In fact, she's paddling her way to deeper water.

I wade towards her. She looks up at me and gives a broad, beagle grin. I am beside myself with joy. My stupid dog likes being in the sea. This is greater than any discovery ever made in the history of time.

Slowly, we get her more confident and as soon as she's bitchin' in the breakers I lift her up on to the board.

For humans the steps to surfing are as follows: spot your wave (waves come in clusters, usually in odd sets, and it's normal for the last wave of the set to be the largest); lie flat on your board; you need momentum, so as the wave comes, start paddling; if you can surf already, hop straight to a standing position. If you're a beginner, get on your knees, bring your dominant leg forward and push up from the ball of your foot. Congratulations: you're surfing.

For a dog, of course, steps one to four can be avoided and so Andy and I, holding Poppy's board, wait for a suitable wave. Poppy is standing proud as if she owns the place and suddenly, she's cresting along, full of herself and surfing. She may be a Junkyard Dog, but boy, she's moving.

Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.

• Surf South West (01271 890400, surfsouthwest.co.uk) provided the lesson. Its surfing courses (pet involvement not compulsory) cost from ?28 for a half-day. Emma's accommodation was provided by Holiday Home Hunters (01271 870067, holidayhomehunter.co.uk)

Follow Emma Kennedy on Twitter @Emma67

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