With his long, blond mane, bronze-colored body and sweet disposition, Surfer Dude — who sired dozens of ponies celebrated by the childhood classic "Misty of Chincoteague" — was perhaps the most popular pony of his day.

And he was prolific.

"He's like the Misty of our generation," Denise Bowden, a member of the Chincoteague firefighters known as saltwater cowboys said Tuesday. "He was such a gentle soul. He sired so many beautiful foals through the years for us. He was always leading the pack."

The remains of the 23-year-old pony were found last week on the southern end of Assateague Island, the wind-swept barrier island off the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland. He likely died of natural causes, said Bowden, a native islander and member of the department.

"I think age just got to him," Bowden said. "We had a pretty rough winter."

The last Wednesday of July every year, the ponies make their annual swim across the channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague as tens of thousands of tourists look on.

Each year the wild ponies are auctioned to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which cares for the Virginia herd.

Ponies that are not sold and those that are donated back to the fire department will roam free for another year on the national wildlife refuge on Assateague.

Asked how many of the 130 or so ponies were sired by Surfer Dude, Bowden said, "Dozens. I mean dozens. He was the man."

While Surfer Dude will be missing from this year's swim, one of his offspring seems to be ready to fill the void.

Riptide, a 6-year-old stallion, has a half dozen or more mares in his harem.

"It's almost like he passed the torch to him," Bowden said.