The first time I ever stood up on a paddleboard Riley was with me. We learned this sport as a team. Riley is my 13-year-old Australian Shepherd and he is the canine love of my life. This is our ninth season of paddleboarding together.
In our first year of paddling, Riley learned to trust me as I navigated us down rivers and across lakes and I learned to trust him not to unexpectedly jump off and cause me to fall in. As I write this, I’m honestly not surprised that after all these years Riley and I still get excited at the thought of gliding on top of the river after work to watch the sunset. It’s a true testimony to the power of companionship and the water.
In his golden years, Riley has visibly slowed down. He doesn’t want to swim much anymore, and we may only get three or four tosses of his water toys before he’s done. As painful as it is for me to watch my adventure dog struggle to do the things he used to do, we are more grateful than ever to still have paddle boarding.
Most nights I opt for my wider slower boards, like my Hala Rado, so Riley can be comfortable. My dogs have always favored our Hala SUPs. I believe they’re simply more comfortable for sore hips and joints to rest on as they watch the river ripple past.
Riley still lights up at the sight of our board. Unlike walking around the neighborhood, he hasn’t gotten bored with being on the water. Riley is a smart dog, and he’s always needed new challenges and constant mental stimulation. Changes of scenery have kept him sharp as he’s aged. His ears are always erect, listening intently, and those pretty blue eyes carefully scan the banks. I never have to ask him twice to hop on the board – he’s ready to go from the moment he gets out of the car.
Almost every paddle Riley does something that melts my heart, it gives me an unmistakable feeling of gratitude. He looks up at me holding a gaze directly into my eyes for a few seconds. At that moment I know he’s saying thank you. But really, it’s me who’s thanking him. Thank you for being the dog I never wanted to leave behind, and thank you for inspiring me to do this with you. Because of you, Riley we’ve influenced and taught others to enjoy this magical sport too, and that’s really special – just like you.