Crossroads and junctions with CJ
The action-sports world is full of passionate athletes who occasionally act irrationally, immaturely or irresponsibly. There are alter egos and inner demons, disorders and destruction. And they are sometimes accepted because they share a body with superhuman talent and courage.
But among the pinnacle of our sports, there exist a few individuals who maintain composure and professionalism even when it is challenged. Let's face it: Kelly Slater not only is a freak on a surfboard, but he has an awareness of the world around him like the president.
The brothers Hobgood have always been able and articulate fellows. And for CJ Hobgood, coming off a year like he just had, it's something that is seldom credited. The man has done 12 years on the ASP World Tour with barely an indiscretion. This past year, he was rotated off the tour in September and then made his way back on in three events. He's offered thoughtful critiques that make the sport better. And this devout Christian has some giant prayer beads, which might have helped him charge to the quarterfinals at giant Pipe in December.
But Hobgood has been making some tough decisions lately. After feeling unsure of his direction in life, he has found a new love for competing, being a surf fan and affecting the lives of others. We recently had a chance to chat with Clifton James Hobgood about some heavy topics faced in his life this year.
ESPN.com: Seemed like you high-tailed it out of Hawaii pretty quickly. You blew everyone's mind making the quarterfinals, and then you were gone. Was there a fire back in Florida you had to put out?
CJ Hobgood: I bumped my head again good in that heat with [Joel Parkinson], so I had to stay out of the water for a couple weeks.
Let's talk about the Pipe Masters for a minute. If there was any doubt about your ability to hang with the rest of the world, it was squashed. Talk to me about that dramatic end to one of the most dramatic ASP seasons we can remember.
As far as the talent this year, the competition level in every heat was above and beyond. Between Tahiti and then Portugal and the new blood coming in, you wanted to watch every heat. I wasn't trying to squash any doubters at Pipe, just enjoying being in heats where I wasn't chasing points or trying to requalify. I was really there just trying to fall back in love with surfing and being able to hang with friends on the tour that I hadn't seen in a few. I think it was really healthy for me watching the comps online and becoming a fan of surfing.
You spent 2011 surfing with a To Write Love On Her Arms (nonprofit organization offering help for young people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide) sticker on your nose. Of course, surfing the tour without a major sponsor is amazing, but you had the opportunity to promote something bigger than clothing.
Exactly! I felt like I had been given the opportunity last year to give back after all the things that had been given to me. With TWLOHA, it's about people and the idea that people matter and we all have our questions and our struggles. People need other people. We all need help from time to time.
And it wound up being a big year for that organization. Tell me about that.
I think everyone is still speechless at what happened a couple weeks ago with TWLOHA winning $1 million in the American Giving Awards. I really don't even know how to put it into words. Founder Jamie Tworkowski told me that towards the end of voting in December, he thought they had a chance of winning. I did my little part to tweet, email friends, etc. He was in L.A. for that while I was in Hawaii for Pipe, and we were talking every day. He called me when they won, and I was blown away. It aired the next night nationwide on NBC. The money will go a long way in terms of allowing them to help a lot of people in 2012.
I think the interview you gave Nick McGregor in the last issue of Eastern Surf Magazine was one of the best I've read in a while. I don't think the world had any idea you were so conflicted. Tell me about where your head was when you got rotated out in September.
I'm not sure where my head was exactly, but my fiancée, Cortney, and I had a cry together in the hotel. But it was weird. They were tears of joy, as we were happy -- a little scared about the future, but knew it was something I was asking for. Like when you need a change in your life. But humans don't change unless we're forced to. That was me.
Watching the Euro leg and the Rip Curl Pro Search online, was it a surreal feeling to be missing your first events since 1999, or was it devastation to not be there?
I had an idea as to what it would look like for me to try and fall back in love with surfing. With Trestles, I had made up my mind that I wasn't gonna be a part of that event at all, as I needed to first remove myself. So I didn't take the spot -- didn't watch or anything. In France, I went there after Azores and saw what it was like to be around a WT event for a few days, staying with Dane Reynolds, Dion Agius and Craig Anderson, feeding off those guys, seeing where they were at. Then I went home and didn't surf much, just watched the events and tried to become a fan of surfing. And it happened. I was a huge fan, and from there it was fun surfing with a different experience, thinking, "This is rad; I'm a free surfer."
You passed on the opportunity to get into the Hurley Trestles Pro in September, and Kelly Slater was trying to talk you into it. How do you tell not only the 11-time world champ, but also a good friend like that, "No, I'm not surfing"?
On one hand, I thought it was cool that he wanted me to be there and was reaching out. But really I had made my mind up, and there was no changing it. I think the last text was, "I'll see you at Trestles in a heat, it's just not gonna be next week."
So you admitted to having cruised through the first half of 2011. But it didn't look like there was any cruising at Pipe. You seemed 100 percent focused. Did that have to do with the conditions?
I'm not sure what it looked like from the beach, but really I was just in a state of living my dream, surfing sick pipe, nothing else.
Even skipping Trestles and Haleiwa, you still managed to requalify and land yourself on tour again. Have you made a decision about 2012?
I never planned on requalifying at the beginning of 2012. I did think that it would be cool to get on in the middle of 2012 or beginning of 2013, as I thought that's how long the process would take for me to get back into competitive surfing. I figured it would be a good time to sit out the tour, as the ASP is still getting a handle on the new system. The first half of the season, I was injured. I missed a couple Primes, had a few heats with no waves and lost a few that I don't know how I even lost. It was a perfect storm of events.
Then everything went the other way for me after September. I only did three events, but I averaged about 4,000 points at each. I only surfed Sunset so I could surf Pipe. And I got the alternate spot at Pipe. It all happened for a reason. It was literally another perfect storm.
Have you found any of the answers to the questions you were having a few months ago? You weren't sure if you even wanted to surf the tour anymore.
I will say that I've turned down some offers with other companies and have a major sponsor this year with TWLOHA, and I could not be more excited about next year with doing the tour. Just the way things have played out is so beyond my wildest dreams. With TWLOHA, we're trying to do something that feels really different and really important. I'm taking a chance on them and they're taking a chance on me, but it's because we believe we have the chance to build something pretty special. More than anything, it's the chance to help people.
[Brother] Jamie and I sat down to look at the logistics of it all and decided, "Let's do this." It all felt right. I don't think I could walk away under these circumstances. I'm getting married in February and then heading to Fernando De Noronha [Brazil] the next day for the Hang Loose Pro.
I've always found you and Damien [Hobgood, CJ's twin brother] very good sources in critiquing the ASP with a lot of experience to back that up. If and when you do decide to call it quits, would you consider a role with surfing's governing body?
I really can't say. I will say I'm forever in debt to all that surfing has given me.