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JAR Interview: Catching Waves and Building Community with Kevin DeNell of Pups and Sups

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Surfin' Shark: Celebrity pup Super Corgi JoJo makes waves in a shark suit at the 2021 Pups & Sups event. (Photo by Mark Krancer)
Surfin' Shark: Celebrity pup Super Corgi JoJo makes waves in a shark suit at the 2021 Pups & Sups event. (Photo by Mark Krancer)

Amy Shaw: Welcome, everyone. I'm Amy Shaw from Just Add Rover and I'm excited to welcome you to our latest JAR Interview. We're diving into the waves of St. Augustine Beach, Florida, where the Pups & Sups Dog Surfing Classic will be making a splash this fall (September 29-30, 2023) for a noble cause. Presented by Lippert, Pups & Sups promises to be an exciting weekend, filled with dog surfing, paddleboarding, fashion shows, and much more, all in support of K9s For Warriors, a charity that's close to the hearts of many. We're joined by Kevin DeNell, Executive Vice President and Chief Branding Officer at Guy Harvey Resorts, where the event will take place. So, grab your boards, furry friends, and let's catch this wave together.

Thank you for joining me, Kevin, and welcome.

Kevin DeNell: Thank you, Amy.

Key Takeways from Our Interview with Kevin

  • Community Engagement: The interview emphasizes how the event is a collective effort involving local businesses, volunteers, and participants who make it a community affair.

  • Inclusivity: The event has something for everyone, from dog owners who want their pets to surf, to those who are interested in fashion shows or Jeep parades. It's designed to be welcoming and versatile.

  • Animal Welfare: With importance placed on dog safety (like requiring life jackets), the event has a clear focus on the well-being of the animals involved.

  • Veteran Support: The event also pays homage to veterans, incorporating that aspect into its mission and activities, such as contributions going to K9s for Warriors and the patriotic parade.

Harmony on the Waves: A man and his loyal pup find their balance while paddleboarding at the 2018 Pups & Sups event. (Photo by Jared Jeffs)
Harmony on the Waves: A man and his loyal pup find their balance while paddleboarding at the 2018 Pups & Sups event. (Photo by Jared Jeffs)

Amy Shaw: How did the idea for Pups & Sups Dog Surfing Classic originate?

Kevin DeNell: Well, it came about because of St. Augustine. We knew that it was a dog-friendly beach. We knew that it was a great surfing town beach. The Guy Harvey Resort is dog friendly. We're right on the beach, and we thought, surfing dogs! That was maybe six years ago, we did our first one, and the first year we were rained out, postponed by tropical storms. It took us eight months to finally launch due to weather setbacks. And it's sort of grown over the years, had a pause with COVID and things like that, but it has become a very community-driven event for a great cause like you mentioned and I think really it was because St. Augustine’s such a dog friendly town and the beach is dog friendly for everyone who keeps their dog on leash, which you don't find too much support anymore and that was a home run for us as far as creating the event.

Amy Shaw: Right, and it’s hard to find dog beaches. I take my dogs to one in Jupiter, but they're very rare, so that's exciting.

Kevin DeNell: If they have a full beach that allows dog access, they are sort of rare.

Amy Shaw: Right.

Kevin DeNell: This area of Florida is beautiful for the historic coast, and you know, it's a great beach for your dog because they got so much room to run and play.

Amy Shaw: That's fantastic. So, I was going to ask how long you've been doing the dog surfing classic, but you mentioned it was six years ago?

Kevin DeNell: I think it's about six years. I was trying to think from the first year we did it, but I think it would probably been about six years with the COVID pause.

Super Lily, the focused yellow lab, effortlessly rides a wave at the 2018 Pups & Sups Dog Surfing Classic. (Photo by Terry Bottom)
Super Lily, the focused yellow lab, effortlessly rides a wave at the 2018 Pups & Sups Dog Surfing Classic. (Photo by Terry Bottom)

Amy Shaw: So, do you have repeat dog surfers that attend every year?

Kevin DeNell: Yeah, we have a lot of repeat dogs that come. We have some professional dogs, probably not the word, but more experienced dogs, who surf, like Lily, who is a great dog and surfs most of our contests and does very well. Super Corgi JoJo was a return dog that's come many times. We have a lot of return dogs that have come and it's great to see them out there because some of them we saw as little puppies and now they’re larger dogs, so it's very community driven. You see the same people over and over who enjoy it, who enjoy being out in the water and obviously enjoy their dogs.

Amy Shaw: Kentucky from one of my previous interviews mentioned that the dog surfing community in California feels like a family. It's the same people that he keeps seeing at some of these events. So that's very cool.

Kevin DeNell: Yeah. And you know, there's some more events that have popped up around Florida that do dogs surfing. I know some of them travel to do those events now too, and obviously it is very communal. But I do think that the experience of the cause is important. What's your goal? One goal is to have a fun time and enjoy St. Augustine beach with your dogs. And it's for raising money for a great cause.

Amy Shaw: Right, and speaking of the cause, what inspired you to support K9s for Warriors? And is it the same charity every year or does it differ from year to year?

Kevin DeNell: It’s the same charity every year, and primarily when we first started, we and Guy Harvey and Guy Harvey Resorts have always sponsored veterans from a cause base. It's about conservation, veterans, and kids’ education. As far as looking for a cause, we’ve done more in the past for different causes, but we try and home in on those three sorts of pillars. K9s for warriors is a veteran's cause with dogs obviously, and it's local to the area. They're based in Ponte Vedra and have a great operation up there. A win-win for us considering how local they were to St. Augustine and a veteran cause that dealt with dogs. So that fit right into what our wheelhouse was from a branding sort of pitch for what we try to do for our causes.

Amy Shaw: And it's wonderful that you can combine both the dogs and veterans.

Kevin DeNell: It is a unique organization and talk about a great way to help veterans too. It offers service animals.

Amy Shaw: I really like that.

Kevin DeNell: So, the cause itself is wonderful and I don't have to say it does a lot for getting people excited, especially up there and they really enjoy that organization.

Super Corgi Jojo and his human, Josephine Zosa, bask in the glory of their 1st place win at the 2021 Pups & Sups Dog Surfing Classic. (Photo by Mark Krancer)
Super Corgi Jojo and his human, Josephine Zosa, bask in the glory of their 1st place win at the 2021 Pups & Sups Dog Surfing Classic. (Photo by Mark Krancer)

Amy Shaw: Excellent. I'd read on your website about the dog surfing lessons and how previously there was Super Corgi JoJo, but now you mentioned to me earlier about this other dog who's going to be there. Can you tell me a little bit about both of those dogs and the surfing lessons?

Kevin DeNell: Yeah, Super Corgi JoJo always did our dog surfing lessons and unfortunately was not able to come up from California this year. But we do have a great dog, Super Lily as we call her, because she’s a yellow lab. Lily is a very good surfer, that’s for sure, so she'll be out there teaching. Dog surfing can be a little more intimidating for a lot of owners, you know? What do they have to do? Can my dog do this? And you know you can get very experienced, very technical, in your dog surfing or it can be really fun for your dog. I had a 100-pound bulldog that I always put on the board and pushed him around and he loved it, and he didn't want to come out.

Amy Shaw: Oh wow.

Kevin DeNell: Lily will be out there showing how with her owner, Mike Vogt, who is a surfer too. They’ll help instruct and we'll be out there instructing as far as just let your dog try it. It's a good way for them to enjoy the water. We put them in a life jacket and teach them the way of pushing the dog to the waves. Now some people go tandem with their dog and surf with their dog, and that's not what we're teaching as much. It’s more of hey, this is how we surf our dogs. How do you throw a wave, make sure they're safe and, you know, catch them and all that stuff. So, we do that before the event to take the fear out of some who've never done it before. And that's why they can come out and enjoy it. And we've got prizes for many, many different classes, so you know, it's not all about being the best surfer out there. It's more about enjoying your time on the water with your dog -- so best wipeouts, best dressed, things like that. So, dogs who obviously aren't as good at surfing still get a chance for an award for being out there and doing something new.

K9s For Warriors volunteers flash warm smiles, ready to greet attendees at the 2021 Pups & Sups Dog Surfing Classic. (Photo by Marc Krancer)
K9s For Warriors volunteers flash warm smiles, ready to greet attendees at the 2021 Pups & Sups Dog Surfing Classic. (Photo by Marc Krancer)

Amy Shaw: Oh, that's really nice that it's welcoming for dogs of all abilities then.

Kevin DeNell: When I first tried it, I was like, I don't think our dog can surf. And boy he just loved it. He was kind of a shy bulldog, and you know, but he loved being on that board and you know, he didn't want to be in the water but being on that board, he sure loved.

Amy Shaw: That's really neat. What's the smallest dog that's ever surfed at this event?

Kevin DeNell: We've had some little ones. I bet there's been some 10, 15 pounders out there. Those have been more tandem surfers, where the owner will be surfing them on the top of the board. And they look like they're very experienced, too, from the standpoint of they know where to be on the board when the owner’s paddleboarding or surfing. So, the little ones seem to be more knowledgeable of surfing by the time they get out there than some of the bigger dogs.

Amy Shaw: That's interesting. I have two small dogs. One's a Chihuahua mix, so that's why the question.

Kevin DeNell: Like I said, I think that one of them was a Chihuahua and I think I have a photo of it, which I'll send to you, but it's just that they'll hold them on the board, or they'll put them on the board where it's secure and they know how to tandem basically with the owner controlling the board.

Amy Shaw: So, pivoting to safety as an issue, what safety measures are put in place for the dogs that are participating in surfing and paddleboarding events?

Kevin DeNell: Well, we always require a life jacket for sure for dogs so you can't get on the board or be out on a board and surfing without one. We try and have a lot of throwers and catchers. The throwers are out there helping the surfers get the board positioned. The catchers are the ones who come in and catch the dog as they're coming on the board or help them if there's a wipeout. We also don't go out in big waves. It's actually a little bit better with smaller waves for us for our competition because we’re sort of catching the whitewash and guiding with the board. We're not trying to go out and catch a big wave unless it’s a tandem surfer that knows how to do that themselves and go out there. And again, the community volunteer is the most important thing, and I think that's sort of what helps.

And we’ve worked with the group, the St. Augustine Life Saving Association, which is a nonprofit on the beach. And they'll go out there and a lot of their members and their staff and team will volunteer that weekend to be out there as well to catch. We've had vets out there volunteering in case there's a dog suffering from heat stroke or too much salt.

Safety is important, obviously, for our pups who are part of our family. We just want to make sure they're safe on the water.

Amy Shaw: You touched upon the issue of heatstroke. What provisions do you have to keep the dogs cool and sheltered during the events?

Kevin DeNell: We have tents up and we have water bowls out and we also have little play pools for the water, but thankfully we haven't been scheduled at a very hot time, you know, we're in St. Augustine, which can get hot, but it's pretty good for the dogs. So, you know from a temperature standpoint the water is cool enough too, so, we haven't had any heat issues. On our initial first year, I think we tried in July to do it and that’s when we kept getting delayed all the way through the season. But the time in the fall can be a little rough so it's more about the waves, you know when it's a good time there versus having your dogs all beat up on the waves, there's no sense in doing that. So, we’re conscientious of how we look at the wave section to make sure it's the whitewash we're in.

Effortlessly riding the waves, this canine contestant from the 2018 Pups & Sups makes it look like a leisurely lounge on the water. (Photo by Jared Jeffs)
Effortlessly riding the waves, this canine contestant from the 2018 Pups & Sups makes it look like a leisurely lounge on the water. (Photo by Jared Jeffs)

Amy Shaw: Are there ever any concerns about jellyfish or sharks or anything like that?

Kevin DeNell: We haven't had issues with jellyfish or sharks. We're in shallow water, around waist-deep, so those kinds of threats are minimal in the St. Augustine area.

Amy Shaw: I also read on your event site about Spectator Village, beachfront Surf Village. What activities and atmosphere can visitors expect?

Kevin DeNell: Well, the biggest question I always get for the event is, is it free for those who want to watch? It is free, but I just ask you to remember it is for a cause, at the end of the day. Spectator Village is an area with booths related to both dogs and the general community. We’ll have a kissing booth. We'll have pools for dogs. We'll have water stations. We'll have information about K9s for Warriors. We'll have information about other partners that are in there, such as Faux Paws, which is a great little dog store in downtown historic St. Augustine. It's a lot of community people that have enjoyed--and been part of this event--as much as we have, to grow it. We'll have a “musical sit” this year for the first time to engage those who don't surf. And that's just like musical chairs where you walk around and whoever sits the fastest wins, you know, as you sort of go around in the circle. We also have a Seven Slot* Veteran and Sur-Fur Jeep Salute for the most patriotic Jeep. So, we have some fun stuff, and obviously the surfing goes on at the same time and we'll get a good crowd from the standpoint of people who like to be down and watch the dogs surf in St. Augustine.

Amy Shaw: Oh, that's great. I was curious about the Jeep Seven Slot Veteran and Sur-fur Salute. So that's a Jeep parade and they're all decorated patriotically?

Kevin DeNell: It's not so much a parade as it is a gathering to display patriotism. Jeeps drive into St. Augustine Beach and park, showcasing their patriotic decor.

Amy Shaw: And what is The Guy Harvey Resort Surf rated badge signify?

Kevin DeNell: The badge is a token of participation. Jeep owners who partake in the Seven Slot Veteran and Sur-fur Salute receive this special badge. And their entry into that event to be the most patriotic goes to K9s For Warriors, too. So again, that's something to reward them for being part of the event, something from us for saying your Jeep earned its badge for being part of this event.

Ahoy, mateys! This swashbuckling pup steals the show in the costume contest at Pups & Sups. (Photo by Terry Bottom)
Ahoy, mateys! This swashbuckling pup steals the show in the costume contest at Pups & Sups. (Photo by Terry Bottom)

Amy Shaw: On another note, can you think of a particularly memorable moment from past events?

Kevin DeNell: I think it had to be the second year or maybe it's the first year when we finally got it launched. You know, I thought it would be sort of just a group of unexperienced surfing dogs, but I was so shocked at how well some of the dogs grasped the surfing and looking back at those at those photos of those days, it's just like, wow, those are some good surfing dogs. I think the other thing too is that we use the fashion show as a costume party and so the dogs dress up and I think the memories of seeing some of those dogs and their fashion designs -- some of them came as sharks and mermaids--it sort of catches your memory. Super Corgi JoJo always came with a great costume too and did a great job of sort of driving some of that that interest. And for me personally, my dog used to surf in it, and I think I will always remember the day when he was out on the water, on the board, being able to surf that event with us. For me personally, it's memorable because he was such a good surf dog.

Amy Shaw: Do surfing dogs and their owners come from all over, or are they mostly local?

Kevin DeNell: Mostly local. I mean, they're coming up and down mostly from the east coast of Florida, and then we have, you know, JoJo, who comes in from California. We had a couple others from California that were coming in this year too. So, I think California obviously has a big following in dog surfing.

Amy Shaw: For interested individuals who want to attend with their dogs, how do they prepare their dogs for the competition and register? Are there any specific requirements that you have?

Kevin DeNell: We don't have any requirements. Just that there's a life jacket. So, I would always suggest that you have one of those for the event. We do have some spare ones and people have shared their jackets because people like to get other dogs out there. So, you can register on and you can just choose what you want to do, from the fashion show to the yappy hour to the dog surfing to the Jeep salute or the musical sit. We just require that you check in for surfing early. Make sure you have your boards, but if you don't have a board, that's OK. And if you're a little intimidated by it, like I said, don't be. Just come down and check it out first and even do the lesson where you can see if your dog enjoys it. But don't expect them to be good at first. Usually, it takes three or four times for the dog to see what you're trying to accomplish. But they learn it pretty quickly and enjoy it from there. I think they just need to understand how they ride a wave. And once they do that, they have a lot of fun.

Amy Shaw: That's excellent and it's great how you offer something for everybody and their dogs, whether they want to surf or the costumes or there's a little of everything.

Kevin DeNell: Yeah, and I think that came a lot from the community too, as they said how to make it better or how to get more people involved. People wanted to do more events and activities, so we can't take the credit for all those great ideas. A lot of great people are executing those ideas to help us so I would say that's been a great job for participants, surfers and everyone who said, hey, we could do this next year and the next thing you know, you're trying it, and it works out great.

Amy Shaw: Wow, that's wonderful. Yeah, that's so great to see the community involvement too. I think that's really important.

Kevin DeNell: I think so too. And you know, St. Augustine Camera Club is another group that comes out and shoots the photos, so we’ll have photographers there. My hat’s off to them because they always capture great images. Local photographers will come down and shoot as well and share those images. And you know, a lot of times that's a hard thing to get, but I think they realize what the event is and said, yeah, you guys gotta have these images. We've had people do film videos for us for free and it just helps us grow the event. Again, hats off to the community of St. Augustine and to the people who gravitate to the cause.

Shiny aspirations: A dazzling array of trophies await the wave-riding champs at the 2021 Pups & Sups event. (Photo by Mark Krancer)
Shiny aspirations: A dazzling array of trophies await the wave-riding champs at the 2021 Pups & Sups event. (Photo by Mark Krancer)

Amy Shaw: Excellent, and for people who want to get involved in this wonderful initiative and they can’t attend, how can they contribute or be involved in some way?

Kevin DeNell: There's always a donation opportunity for the cause that you can go to the website and donate right from there for the Pups & Sups event. And follow us on social media of the resort at the Guy Harvey Outpost and we'll share information of who won. You can catch the videos of dogs surfing as well and highlights and so we'll do the best we can. We make sure it's on the website, on social, on streams and things like that so people can catch it if they’re interested.

Amy Shaw: That's good to know. The last question I have is, are there any future expansions in the pipeline or anything new that you are planning down the road at all?

Kevin DeNell: For a different event?

Amy Shaw: For a different event or Pups & Sups.

Kevin DeNell: We're always looking at new locations through the Guy Harvey Resort world. We've also done other dog events, like an annual Santa Claus event for dogs. We try to do it as the most dog Santas at one location. Post-COVID, we're rebooting these and aiming to promote St. Augustine as a great dog travel destination. We're also considering expanding the Pups & Sups event itself once we have the destination and feel of it.

Amy Shaw: That's excellent.

Kevin DeNell: It’s a fun event and I think anytime you get the community attached to it makes it a lot of fun and a great way to promote the area.

Amy Shaw: Well, thank you so much Kevin. I'm looking forward to seeing the videos and the pictures of this one.

Kevin DeNell: Yeah, and we’ll definitely share those with you.

Amy Shaw: For those who’ve been touched by this fantastic initiative and want to make waves of your own, remember, you can still contribute and be a part of this beautiful experience, even if you can't attend in person. So, here's to the spirit of giving, the love of pets, and the enduring gratitude we have for our veterans. Until next time, stay inspired and keep riding the waves of compassion and joy.

Kevin DeNell: Well said. Thank you.

Amy Shaw: Thank you!

(Editor’s note: Jeeps have seven slot grilles.)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Just Add Rover. While we strive to present accurate and reliable information, Just Add Rover does not endorse, approve, or certify such information, nor does it guarantee the accuracy, completeness, efficacy, timeliness, or correct sequencing of such information.

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