upclosedogHEEL! HEAL!

Skyler the Surfing Dog spreads stoke to those who need it most

*Previously published in the Oct/Nov issue of Santa Cruz Waves 

By Neal Kearney

A considerable crowd lines the beach, eyes fixed on the sea, bearing witness to a touching sight: pro surfers sharing waves with wounded veterans, many of whom are missing one or more limbs. There’s hardly a dry eye on the shore. The next set of waves leads to an eruption of applause from the crowd. An Iraq war veteran is sliding down a playful wave, hanging on with giant smile. The man riding alongside him throws shakas while a Queensland Heeler perches on the nose, her tongue hanging out and her tail wagging furiously. 


The pooch is Skyler, and she and her dad Homer Henard have been bringing their interspecies surf act to events like these for the past couple of years, combining surf and animal therapy in their own unique and impactful way.

Henard, a former professional surfer, and Skyler have become true local celebrities in recent years for their inventive and intuitive tandem surfing act. The 9-year-old cattle dog has been braving the punchy Santa Cruz surf with balance, bravery and panache since she was just a puppy. 


“At first I started going out in the water with Skyler to get exercise on small days to keep the paddle arms going,” explains Henard. “We kept it up it, having an amazing time no matter the size of the waves. It was epic.”


One day in 2016, Henard’s good friend Adam Replogle called him up and told him that he was working with Waves of Impact, a surf therapy program for children facing exceptional challenges. He asked if Henard might come down and bring Skyler, sensing the kids would get a kick out of the dog’s surfing skills.


Skyler shreds with such proficiency that she has no problem riding waves to the shore solo these days, so long as her loving pops provides her with a gentle push. She even competes regularly at “surf dog” championships up and down the coast, earning a victory at the 2015 “World Surf Dog Championships” in Huntington Beach. Her Instagram following has gone worldwide and her Jimbo Phillips-designed merch is flying off the shelves. 


“I didn’t know what to expect, but going down there with Skyler changed me forever,” Henard reflects. “I realized how important the kind of therapy [was that] my dog was providing these kids. They show up intimidated and scared of the ocean, but once they see Skyler jump on the board and paddle out with me, they get all excited, and the anxiety melts away. It’s a double dose of stoke!”

Once they are out there, instead of focusing on the waves, cold, or sharks, they’re focused on the silly sight of the surfing dog.


“Next thing you know they’re on a wave themselves, squealing with joy and grinning ear to ear. During these high-energy moments of surf and stoke, I look at these kids and it’s like their disability goes away- it may be brief, but for that moment I’m just blown away at the power of these therapies. The highs and joy levels are crazy.”

Since they started surf therapy, they’ve volunteered for organizations such as Mauli Ola Foundation, which takes kids with cystic fibrosis out in the water, and Operation Surf, another surf therapy program for wounded veterans.duo

The man/canine duo plans to expand its volunteer work by hitting every therapy event possible; starting in California and willing to branch out internationally should the opportunities arise. Henard suffered a major head injury when he was 18 in a head-on car crash and woke up in a coma, losing a lot of information and memories—something that surfing and Skyler’s companionship have helped with greatly over the years. But it wasn’t until Henard was exposed to the brave, injured and ill men, women, and children he met as these events that he felt comfortable discussing his own struggles.that he felt comfortable discussing his own struggles.

kicker “Starting to tell my story, although vulnerable, has been another therapeutic thing,” Henard explains. “Surfing and animal therapy have saved my life and I’m so stoked we can bring it to others who can benefit from it.”

Follow their exploits @skylerthesurfingdog

Surf Therapy This Weekend! w/Adam Replogle, featuring Skyler the Surf Dog!


Nothing heals like the ocean. Former professional surfer Adam Replogle, who underwent a hip replacement 4 months ago, has been spotted swimming and longboarding Pleasure Point to stay fit during his bionic bonding. Not only does Replogle know how therapeutic the ocean is for himself, but for those suffering from a wide range of health problems; especially kids.

Replogle-pure stoke! Framegrab by Kyle Buthman

Over the past decade, Replogle, and a number of other local surf stars such as Anthony Ruffo and Jimmy Herrick have been participating with surf therapies such as The Mauli Ola Foundation, which brings those afflicted with cystic-fibrosis into the healing sea, as well as Operation Surf, which focuses on wounded and traumatized veterans, just to name a few


Replogle soaking up the sea

This weekend, Replogle, along with Waves of Impact, a surf therapy charity for children with special challenges, are hosting a touching day at the beach here at Pleasure Point. Volunteers like Replogle are helping children with severe disabilities, health problems and more get in the surf for a fun day of safe surfing and community support.

Surf Therapy Rules!

Special guests include Homer Henard and Skyler the Surfing Dog, the talented tandem man/pooch duo. As if getting the chance to surf with surfing legends isn’t enough, Henard and Skyler will be out in the lineup sharing the waves with the courageous kids.


“That’s our calling, to spread awareness about ‘surf therapy'”, proclaims Henard.

“It’s real and helps out a lot of people. When we work with groups like Waves Of Impact, one thing that we’ve noticed is that the kids, sometimes they’re afraid of the waves and the ocean, but when I get Skyler out there on the board, all the attention goes to her, you know? The fear goes away when they see it, probably thinkin’ to themselves, ‘Well if that dog can do it, I can do it!’. It helps them believe in themselves–we love sharing our passion for riding waves. It’s impactful!”.

Follow Skyler @skylerthesurfingdog on Instagram!

Come down to Pleasure Point tomorrow for a touching display of the power of surf therapy!!



“No society can change the nature of existence. We can’t prevent suffering. This pain and that pain, yes, but not Pain. A society can only relieve social suffering, unnecessary suffering. The rest remains. The root, the reality.”

Ursula K. Le Guin


 Naturally, the older you get, the more wear and tear you put on your body, so it’s not unusual to see gray-haired men and women limp around with the aid of a cane or walker. This is the demographic your average person sees affected by arthritis and chronic pain. At least in general. What is hard for many healthy, young people to comprehend, is just how many of their friends are carrying the weight of disease and chronic pain.


It’s very difficult, especially for men, to talk about their problems. Furthermore, there is an expectation, in “society”, that young people are full of vigor and potential, untethered from the constraints of prolonged suffering and years of pain management. Here we can see why a professional is often advised to keep their medical issues to themselves, lest they ward off potential employers or opportunities. Much like a homosexual hiding their preference for same sex relations, a young man or woman who has a life-altering diagnosis is often afraid to come out and tell their story; they bury the issue, only for it to come back years later in the form of some kind of somatic trauma or mindbody illness.

I’ve never held a full-time job. I’ve worked part time since I was 9 years old, getting up at 5AM for the paper route before school. I’ve worked as a janitor at Outdoor World. In surf shops and restaurants, as a lifeguard, and at a group home for adult males with developmental disabilities. I’ve devoted the last 7 years of my life to caring for incapacitated individuals who can’t do if for themselves. I’ve made a modest amount of money writing, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s only just pocket change– funny money.


From the age of 17, I’ve been working these jobs, in increasingly limiting amounts of pain and discomfort. Through gritted teeth, I finished my History degree from UCSC. I credit my last year of scholarly advancement to the helping hand of Tramadol. Tramadol, a lovely synthetic opiate medication also gifted me a Grand Mal Seizure, not long thereafter. No worries though, I just got upgraded with some real opiates afterwards! Oxycodone. Oxycontin. Also, Ketamine. Did I mention that I was prescribed liquid ketamine by the Lyme Disease doctor I began seeing after I got “diagnosed” with Lyme Disease? That really did not go well, I must admit! Plus. Xanax and Soma prescriptions all thrown into my daily menu created a toxic, super-band aid; a deceitful blanket of relief that lures those in pain into a life of empty, glassy eyes, slurred speech, irrational behavior, and some serious chemical dependency. Thankfully, I’ve been able to get off opiates and manage my pain responsibly through practical alternatives like yoga and meditation.


Long story short, my experience with pain, despite the medicine our culture treats it with, makes the thought of me being productive and happy a glimmering oasis, an unattainable mirage of hope that nevertheless compels me to claw my way through the hot sands of hardship and despair. Recently, I was in a program to attain my teaching credential, yet I had to pull out of the program because of my inability to stay cool all day, with twenty-five jacked up 1st graders constantly testing my patience. Which led to more tension, anxiety, and pain. I struggle everyday with these feelings of inadequacy and failure, regardless if I have a job to do or not…so where does that leave me? How do I fit into “society”?


As I attempt to navigate my way through this scary and alien landscape, I’ve tried working as much as I can. I like being productive. It makes me feel good. Nevertheless, I cannot afford to support myself at this point in time, which fuckin’ sucks. Especially so amidst the gradual gentrification of Santa Cruz, fueled greatly by the Silicon Valley boom, where rich “techies” bought up the real estate for beach houses and rental homes. In the face of all this Silicon Valley money, locals have been left landlocked or on the streets.


This sober reflection upon my future in my beloved hometown adds a layer of dread to my stress/pain/anxiety sandwich; to the point that I can become, at times, completely depressed and defeated. It’s such a vicious cycle. I work my ASS off to make it through the day. It’s truly a full-time job, and a shitty one at that! People have been telling me, “You look better, you must be feeling good!”. I must bite my tongue to not correct them about my weight loss being due to stress rather than any breakthrough regarding my many ailments. It’s tough.


So, what do I do? Disability is so frustrating that I quit after numerous appeals a decade ago. How can someone tell me what I am or am not able to do?! Oh, I can lift a stone, not because it doesn’t hurt, but because the medical professionals have no fucking clue how to explain my widespread pain and its effect on my brain and productivity. My parents have been beyond supportive. That won’t last forever, and I have far from a free ride. I’m extremely fortunate and thankful for my supportive parents, yet the top down pressure to become independent can feel hurtful, even though it’s exactly what I wish for as well.


With all the abundance around us in this beautiful world, it’s a shame that anyone should have to suffer. It may be strange, but I feel a true reservoir of healing light exists right in front of us, day in, and day out, yet we can’t see it with our mortal eyes. That kind of healing power can be accessed during near-death experiences, through responsible psychedelic trips (is that an actual thing?), prayer, kinship, deep states of meditation, acupuncture, as well as energy work such as Qigong and Reiki.  These healing “lights” inhabit another plane of consciousness and reality; true benevolent angels of light whose embrace is ready for those who choose to let go and feel their warmth..


This must sound like crazy talk, yet it’s my only way to describe the mystical, comforting feeling of truly letting go and, “dropping down”— to a place where the pain seems distant, my mind can rest, and this supportive “light” can lull my mind and body into a state of peace and complete bliss. To get to this state on my own is achievable, but my most profound experiences have been during Craniosacral bodywork, which I will discuss in greater detail in posts to come.


Chronic pain and illness tend to do a number on one’s self-esteem and confidence. To emerge from one’s own personal Hell is a dead-serious accomplishment that takes a lot of hard work, uncomfortable reflection, and a steely resolve. I’m far from the flames that had once consumed me in a fiery bath of suffering and despair, a throne of pity that I reigned over for years. In fact, tendrils of this torturous blaze remain with me to this day, nipping at my heels as I stubbornly climb, forever searching for that light. It beckons me to float above the fear, to bravely reach into its luminous cloud of comfort and ease.


People don’t like to talk about scary things. It’s easy to package them up and relegate them to a forgotten place of rot and despair, one that hides deep in your heart and soul. I believe that, within this physical plane, amongst these beings of light lies is a terrifying void of negative energy that can sap the nectar of your fear, capable of degrading your earthly experience. Yet only if you allow it to.


I need this outlet to digest my own fears about being an injured athlete, friend, brother, lover, and son, in hopes that these personal, intimate reflections reach and touch as many people as possible. It just might be my calling–to open my heart and soul to improve the state of suffering we are all confronted with. Life can be scary, but if you choose to follow my path on this blog, I hope you can find solace, peace, and a sense of community and belonging. I want to create a safe and therapeutic place for anyone who wants to share their own stories of courage, determination, and strength in the face of extreme discomfort.


~ I promise I won’t judge you. Peace!!!~

I implore you to share your own story in an interview or written reflection of your choice. If so, please email me at!