As Ljubomir “Lubo” Semerdjieff was jogging on the beach of the Greek island of Crete, a street dog kept following him. He told her, “Look I’m going to take my bicycle home. If you want to come and see where I live, you’re welcome.” The dog followed him, but would not come into the house that day.
The next morning, she was waiting outside. He gave her some food and water, and the dog later followed him back to the beach. It took a few days until Simba, as Semerdjieff named her, realized she had found a new home, he had a new paddleboard partner.
“I have always followed destiny,” said Semerdjieff, 67. “I believe she found me.”
Since 2005, the Key Biscayne Stand-Up Paddle Center at Hobie Beach, nicknamed the “Doggie Beach,” has been operating by Semerdjieff, a dog lover from Bulgaria, and his two dogs, Leo and Aria.
The center is on the sand and consists of three trailers and a table with chairs that serve as his office.
It is open every non-rainy day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., offering equipment rentals and classes, by appointment only, for dogs to practice Stand-Up Paddle Board together with their owners.
“Paddle boarding is good for people and dogs’ health. It works the core and balance in your body,” said Semerdjieff. “You can take your dogs and kids on the board. You can put a group together and socialize.”
He said most people come on the weekends.
“I come here with Chris once a month, sometimes every other week. I like it because it is a dog-friendly beach. Today I am here with my family,” said Plamen Dobrev, 40, a customer who practices paddleboard with his mixed breed dog, Chris, 3. “It is a good exercise and good way to spend the weekend.”
Semerdjieff left Bulgaria during his teenage years as the Communist regime was taking over. He moved to Germany to study physical education at the University of Munich.
In the late 1970s, he became a passionate windsurfer.
“I would drive with my friends from Germany to Lago Di Garda, Italy, over the weekends just to windsurf two days for five or six hours,” Semerdjieff said. “It was about 250 miles one way.”
Simba became his beach partner and shared his passion for water sports and travelling around the world. They traveled together from Greece to Germany, back to Greece for a summer, then to Miami.
The dog started developing an interest in sharing the board with her owner while he practiced Stand-Up Paddle Board, a practice later followed by Semerdjieff’s two other companions, Leo and Aria, who have also become experts and an attraction around Virginia Key and Key Biscayne.
Simba disappeared on July 4, 2011, when neighbors threw fireworks in the front yard of Semerdjieff’s house. He searched for her in shelters and drove the streets for days but never found her.
He adopted Leo, an English cocker spaniel, from a neighbor in 2006, and Aria, 4, is Leo’s daughter.
Leo has been on a doggie wheelchair since November 2011 after breaking his spine trying to mate with a bigger dog.
“Leo is truly unique,” said Semerdjieff. “His condition doesn’t stop him from walking in the sand, swimming in deep water or paddle boarding.”
Semerdjieff said that getting dogs to stand on a paddleboard is not hard because they like to follow their owners. He just invites his dogs, and they jump right on the board with him.
“It’s an unconditional love, always loyal, and smart,” said Semerdjieff. “They have a blessed life. We spend a lot of time together.”