Brazilian Ivan Moreira remembers the first time his father took him surfing. He was five years old, and they set off from a Rio de Janeiro beach. From that point on, surfing played a major role in his life, just as it did in his father’s.
An only child, Ivan often wished he had a brother with whom to share the joy and excitement of surfing. The longed-for brother never did show up, but years later, Ivan found the companionship he craved in a chocolate Lab.
Bono, named for an Oreo-like chocolate cookie, was a birthday gift for Ivan’s then-wife in 2010. He was, of course, adorable: blue puppy eyes, fluffy ears and a desire to destroy the furniture if given an opportunity. From the first, Ivan took Bono to the beach with him; Ivan spent hours on the surfboard and Bono hung out in the company of Ivan’s friends.
When Bono was three, Ivan decided to trade in his traditional board for a much larger stand-up paddleboard (SUP). That was when Bono took matters into his own paws: he trotted behind Ivan and hopped on board for what would be the first wave ride of many to come. For the dog, the days of watching from shore were over.
In the beginning, the two were frequently knocked down and swept under by the waves. “At first,” says Ivan, “I didn’t really have a plan for how to train Bono to get his balance on the stand-up board. I had heard of dogs doing SUP but never thought that my dog would be one.” Time and persistence helped the pair learn how to synchronize their movements so they could stay upright.
A new era started for Ivan and Bono when Ivan switched back to a large surfboard and invested time and energy in a different type of training. Being able to pop up (jumping from a lying-down position to an upright position) with Bono already onboard was a major challenge, but the two built their confidence as a pair and learned how to recognize and predict one another’s moves.
In a few months, Ivan and Bono were catching waves like pros. After attracting the attention of video producers and potential sponsors, they entered the 2014 Surf Dog Competition in Huntington Beach, Calif., competing in the tandem category.
“I never expected a competition of that magnitude. I was expecting to see just a few dogs having fun on the beach,” Ivan recalls. There are no surf dog competitions in Brazil, which probably explains his notion of what the event involved.
Bono and Ivan won first place. The following year, they returned to Huntington Beach, where they repeated the feat. Once back in Brazil, they were welcomed as heroes, and Bono became the most popular dog in the country; his smiling face appeared on TV shows and in newspapers and ads. Companies were eager to sponsor Bono by providing his food, his baths and his vet care. Recently, a new Brazilian pet accessory and toy brand bought the right to use Bono’s image to promote all its pet gear, including a swimming vest specially developed for him.
Considering that in Brazil there is not a single beach where dogs are officially allowed, Bono’s accomplishment may lead to changes in the way dogs are seen and treated in the country.
This year, Ivan decided to undertake a new challenge and realize an old ambition: to have his name, along with Bono’s, entered in the Guinness Book of World Records by breaking the record for the Longest Stand Up Paddleboard Ride on a River Bore by a Human/Dog Pair. They set the new record in March, when the two traveled 1.05 miles down the Mearim River, on Brazil’s northern coast. “After three minutes on the paddleboard, I started feeling my knees burning, but then I looked back and saw Bono’s face so happy and joyful. I forced myself to persist, no matter what,” says Ivan.
Besides surfing dogs, the use of dogs to cheer up patients in hospitals in Brazil is another new project that Bono is launching in the country, as Ivan and Bono also pay constant visits to kids undergoing cancer treatment, through Casa Ronald MacDonald in Rio de Janeiro. “The kids’ mothers always tell me that when Bono arrives the kids are filled with renovated energy and joy and that they forget about their cancer and treatment side effects,” says Ivan, teary-eyed.