By Ashley Mackin
About 100 people met at La Jolla Shores June 8 to celebrate the publication of “Ricochet: Riding a Wave of Hope with the Dog Who Inspires Millions,” the story of a surfing dog and those whose lives she has touched. The event doubled as a memorial service for Caleb Acosta, 15, who lost his battle with brain cancer in late March, and many of those that attended participated in a memorial “paddle-out.”
Ricochet’s owner and trainer Judy Fridono of Escondido calls her a “Surf-ice dog,” because she surfs with those with mental and physical disabilities as a therapeutic aid. “Ricochet has an incredible sense of intuition, she just knows what people need, even if the person doesn’t,” Fridono said. “There is something about her, she can adjust the way she surfs based on the surfers needs.”
Fridono noticed Ricochet’s ability in 2009 while out surfing with a young man named Patrick Ivison, who attended the Shores event with his service dog, Kona. Using adaptive surfing gear – required because Ivison suffered a spinal cord injury when he was just over a year old, leaving him paralyzed – Ivison and Ricochet were surfing on their own boards, when Ricochet did something unusual.
“At some point, Ricochet jumped off her board and onto Patrick’s,” she said, and Ricochet put at least one paw, if not both, on either side of Ivison, caging him so he wouldn’t fall off. “It was her decision, so I just went with it,” Fridono said. “She’s been doing that for five years now, and she has surfed with people with all kinds of disabilities.” In many cases, Ricochet will move as needed to counterbalance the board.
Recently, Ricochet surfed with Caleb Acosta from Apopka, Florida. Fighting through stage four glioblastoma (brain cancer), Caleb was offered a wish through the Make-A-Wish foundation.
Caleb’s mother, Cathy Franco, said, “My sister actually saw a video of Ricochet surfing with paralyzed kids and sent it to my son. When he saw it, his eyes lit up and he said ‘I want to do that’ and it worked out. Make-a-wish flew us out to Los Angeles and we drove down to Del Mar and he surfed with Ricochet.” She added that her son – who had never surfed before – called that day “the ride of his life.”
She said, “That day made him feel normal again, gave him the balance he so missed and it changed his life. Ricochet and all these amazing people (that assist in surfing with Ricochet) were there for the experience.” Six weeks after their Feb. 12 surfing
adventure, Caleb passed away. “When we heard there would be a paddle-out in Caleb’s honor,” Franco said, “All we could do was jump on a plane.”
Caleb helped write the chapter of the book that tells his story of surfing with Ricochet, but other chapters of the book cover Ricochet’s journey to become a surf-ice dog. Fridono explained Ricochet was born to be a service dog, but at 16 weeks old, lost interest in training. “She would chase birds and critters and run off,” she said. So Fridono entered Ricochet in the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge when she was 15 months old and she won third place in the surfing category.
After videos of Ricochet surfing with children of different abilities frequently went viral, Fridono was approached with an offer to turn Ricochet’s story into a book. Not being a writer, she declined. But when Health Communication, Inc. Publishing, the house behind the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, offered to publish the book with the help of a ghostwriter, she accepted.
The book came out June 3 and is available on amazon.com and at bookstores such as Warwick’s. More information at