By Nathan Myers
Before his Round 5 heat with Kelly Slater, CJ Hobgood came up to Kelly and asked: “So what would you do out there, if you were me?”
Mind games, man? CJ was just joking of course, but then he went and did exactly what Kelly would have done. He won.
After 12 years on tour, CJ Hobgood is without a major clothing sponsor. He’s ranked #8 on the elite world tour and took out the 11-time champ. He’s getting 5-second backhand barrels in every heat and trying this insane varial air that no one else is doing out there.
After all this time, is it hard to keep it all going without support? You bet it is.
Does it get him down? Not CJ.
After his victory, CJ sat in the bleachers and enjoyed the rest of the event just like everyone else. “I’m a fan,” he says. “I love this stuff.”
SURFING: How’s this whole set-up rate in terms of all the events you’ve done?
CJ HOBGOOD: As a fan of the sport, it’s amazing. The broadcast is so sick. The replays. The whole set-up. I mean, I’m done surfing for the day, but I’m still here to hang out and watch the contest. I’d rate this set-up amongst the top three events I’ve ever been to. And I’ve been to a lot of them. This is instantly on par with anything we’ve ever had.
How long have you been doing this?
[laughs] Twelve years on the WCT.
And now you don’t have a major clothing sponsor?
No, I don’t.
Is it tough being on tour without that financial backing?
It is. But there’s also a lot of growth that goes on with that: mentally, physically, and spiritually. I’m thankful to still be on this tour. I’m almost 34 years old and I’m stoked to be able to still mix it up with the guys. But there are those times when the thoughts creep in and I really do feel like I’m better than a lot of people that have sponsors and great support. But those thoughts never last very long. It comes in, and it goes out. I’m very blessed.
But I still can barely afford a place to stay ’cause everyone else is taken care of by their sponsors – and I don’t have that. But even that has opened a lot of doors for me. I’m getting to know filmers and photographers I wouldn’t otherwise meet because I’m staying with them now. The point is: I’m able to focus on the blessings.
Is it weird, like, not knowing what clothes to wear to a public contest like this?
Globe has supported me my whole life, and without them, I couldn’t even be here at all. But yeah, beyond that, yeah, it is a little bit weird. At home I have Rusty baggies, …Lost baggies, I have Volcom baggies …I mean, I’m lucky that a lot of companies still give me free clothes, but yeah, it’s a little weird. Which ones do I surf in?
You know, that’s what normal people do? They decide which clothes to wear because they don’t get dressed by their sponsors each morning.
Exactly. I know. Wow, it’s pretty cool. I don’t have anyone telling me what I have to do. And when you look at it like that, it really is pretty fun. I gotta remind myself, that this is my own journey. And God has a plan for me. I ask him every day, “what should I do?” Because sometimes I really just wanna be home with my family. And I don’t know if I want to do this anymore. But if you want me here, God, keep me around. You gave me the gift to surf. But if not, then get me off this thing. I don’t want to be around here stinking it up. There are plenty of other kids that want this opportunity.
So, what if God says you stink?
There’s always gonna be a transition period. If you do a sport, the transition period is always tough. But it’s gonna happen. And what’s the difference if it happens now or five years. So, I don’t want to delay the inevitable, but I still wanna be open to the opportunity to still get high off winning heats. Even when I lose, I still feel high. When I’m in a heat, my emotions are high and I’m doing what I need to do to make it through, that’s when I feel the most alive.
Now that times are a bit tighter, do you think about the monetary value of making the next round?
You know, the moment I start doing that, it’s all over. But it’s funny – my wife is so supportive of me, but in Brazil I was trying all these airs and my wife was like, “Um, honey, if you’d have just done a couple turns you could have made that heat and we do have some bills to pay.” But if I went out there trying to make heats for money, I couldn’t function. I wouldn’t be alive. But if I’m out there being inspired and challenging myself, that’s how I feel alive.
Yeah, that varial air you’ve been going for is pretty impressive. Have you landed that before?
I have made a couple of those, but it’s been about 8 years. I’m still trying to figure out the line that I have to take. I know it’s do-able, but I have to figure out the right line. You get so much time in the air here, you can grab it late and get it around.
Is that something you decide before the heat, or while you’re on the wave?
It’s something you think about weeks before the contest. Days. Hours. Minutes. I’m thinking about barrels then the wind goes onshore then I’m going down the line and it lines up a good air section…and I start thinking about getting stuck behind sections and worrying about priority, so there’s a lot of factors. Endless variables. That’s what makes it fun.
[Check out Hobgood vs. Slater’s R5 match-up highlights]