For Outside, Christopher Solomon profiles the little-known sport of dock diving and one incredible athlete who already has five world records under his belt, or rather, collar: a 5-year-old whippet named Spitfire, Spitty for short.
About 20 years ago, a marketing guy recruited some dogs to leap into the water as a time-filler during ESPN’s forgettable Great Outdoor Games. The diversion, though, was a hit. This, in retrospect, should not have come as a surprise to anyone. It is a truth universally acknowledged that no pleasure is so cheaply bought, and so unmarred by complexity, as the simple joy of seeing a dog hurl itself into a pond in pursuit of a slobbery stick. Science has proven the impossibility of the human brain to register self-pity, or maunder on about the generally sorry state of things, while in the presence of canine bellyflops.
Today, more than 1,000 dock-diving competitions are held annually around the U.S., estimates Kristi Baird, who is Spitty’s trainer, with competing organizations that have names such as DockDogs and North America Diving Dogs. These competitions can attract big crowds, and booming soundtracks, and booming emcees often lured from monster-truck shows. The largest events have total purses of $30,000 cash. One group’s dock-diving rulebook now runs to 60-plus pages.
The athlete wandered up and gave a perfunctory sniff of hello to a stranger, then wandered away again. He has a whippet’s thin, patrician snout, a brief, upturned tail, and bulging brown eyes, as if the maker did not think to leave room for them in his small whippet skull. His coloring is a formal gray, with patches of white on his prosternum and rear pasterns that, along with the reserved mien that he shares with others of his kind, lend the sense that he is wearing a tuxedo. Spitty is a racing whippet, Sydney explained. There is not a pinch of fat on him. Slats of ribs showed on his sides, like flannel over bone. His rear legs shifted with muscle. “Firm, proud buttocks,” as Mr. Burns said approvingly of the family greyhound in “The Simpsons.” This was an athlete. Whippets are a sighthound, originally bred for chasing down game such as rabbits, and their speed is explosive. From a dead stop, a whippet can reach nearly 35 miles per hour in seconds. Spitty now walked around the pool deck with the stiff yawing gait of a sprinter, relaxed yet coiled.