For Los Angeles resident Sherrie Rohde, working from home initially seemed ideal when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged — no commute, sweatpants, and a break from the constant travel required of her tech job. But a few months in, she started to feel drained after spending an inordinate amount of time at her desk, including during nighttime online graduate courses. Her fifteen-pound chihuahua, Sunny, helped saved the day: adopted just before the pandemic, Sunny motivated her to find new ways to stay physically and mentally healthy, including on the water, where they’ve discovered one of their most exciting pursuits.
Canine companions like Sunny are giving additional meaning to the adage that dogs are “man’s (or woman’s) best friend,” keeping their owners active during the COVID-19 pandemic when so many people have been homebound. A recent Cambridge University study found that people who regularly exercised before the pandemic reported a 32 percent average decline in physical activity after social-distancing measures took effect. That has left many people looking for safe, creative ways to exercise and enjoy the great outdoors.
Looking for a socially distant outdoor activity, Sherrie and her dog Sunny turned to
stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking at Pro SUP Shop. Photo credit: Sherrie Rohde
In Sherrie’s case, kayaking with her dog has provided a welcome break from working and studying at home. Sherrie and Sunny’s weekly adventures led them to Pro SUP Shop, a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and kayak rental shop in Los Angeles’s Marina del Rey community. “I live in the area, and there was not much that we could do with everything closed,” said Sherrie, who saw the shop on one of their walks and decided to give kayaking a try. Sunny responded well to being out on the water, and the pair soon became regulars at Pro SUP Shop.
The pair had so much fun that Sherrie told her dog-owner friend Julianna Souisa, whom she had recently met through Instagram, about the experience. As an athletic administrator, teacher, and elite volleyball coach, Julianna had been used to a schedule she described as “go-go-go,” which made the shift to remote work a difficult adjustment for her body and mind. “My pre-pandemic world revolved around sports, so I was looking for ways to stay active while staying safe,” she said. Julianna visited Pro SUP Shop with her energetic one-year old labradoodle, Chase, who she said, “provided the encouragement I needed to continue doing what I love in new ways.”
“The first time I tried to get Chase in the kayak was an absolute circus,” Julianna laughed. Chase was too busy splashing in the marina to stay still on the boat. “It took forever, but eventually we finally got him in and he loved it. The Pro SUP Shop employees were very patient, and Chase now understands how to get into the kayak,” a process made smoother with the help of a few dog treats, Julianna said.
Chase’s lobster costume made him a Pro SUP Shop legend, earning him
the name “Big Red.” Photo credit: Julianna Souisa
The foursome often meets at Pro SUP Shop to spend a few hours together, though socially distanced. The shop’s dog-friendliness is part of what keeps them coming back for more exercise and outdoor adventure.
“They always remember us at Pro SUP Shop,” said Julianna. “They call Chase ‘Big Red’ because of his color and [because of] the time we took him out on the water dressed as a lobster,” she said. She also appreciates how the shop’s employees provide water bowls, dog life jackets, and tips for how to keep dogs more comfortable in the boat, like laying down an extra life jacket as a cushion.
Julianna and Sherrie were also impressed by Pro SUP Shop’s precautions around COVID-19. “Water sports are socially distant by nature, but Pro SUP Shop goes out of their way to make sure it’s a safe and enjoyable experience,” Sherrie said. The company follows strict sanitation methods for their equipment, thoroughly cleaning the boats and boards — even if that means customers wait a few minutes to get on the water. Their business is already conducted outside, but owner Jennifer Kirkley-Vaughn requires all customers to maintain a safe distance and wear masks until they enter the water.
“When I have to pay for something now, I reach for my phone — not my wallet,” said Julianna.
Another new update is the business’ use of PayPal QR Code. The touch-free payment option allows Pro SUP Shop visitors to “scan, pay, paddle,” as the signs and stickers around the shop indicate. The process has eliminated the need for customers to exchange cash or cards by hand and creates a smooth experience for visitors, especially those who are holding onto their pets.
“When I have to pay for something now, I reach for my phone — not my wallet,” said Julianna. “Using QR Codes is a much cleaner, more convenient process than cash or card. I hope people continue using contactless payments even after the pandemic.”
While Sherrie and Julianna are always looking for new adventures to capture for their dogs’ social media channels, they keep returning to Pro SUP Shop to kayak because the sport offers much-needed mental and physical health benefits for human and canine campions alike.
Chase (L) and Sunny (R) are now Pro SUP Shop regulars. Photo credit: Sherrie Rohde
Julianna says it offers a workout for her body that she can’t get elsewhere. “With gyms closed, it’s been hard to find options that work your arms.” For Sherrie, it’s more of a respite. “I find it peaceful to get out on the water, away from all the stress of work, school, and the news,” she said. “Unlike Chase, Sunny enjoys being on the water, but not in the water, so the two of us just relax on the kayak and enjoy the outdoors.”
The friends look forward to when it will be safe to meet other members of the welcoming Pro SUP Shop community, who often wave hello from afar to Sherrie, Julianna, and their playful pups on the water. In the meantime, the dog lovers are grateful to safely be able to break the monotony of working from home by doing what they love: spending time outside, staying active, and going on adventures with their canine companions.