Pause And Reflect

Photo: Corey Wilson

CJ Hobgood and Dane Reynolds on the definition of success, the meaning of happiness, and what they’re most proud of in their careers.

Photo: Jimmicane

SURFING: Are you guys ready? We’re not gonna ease into this one.

CJ: Let’s do it.

Dane: Yeah, I’m ready.

SURFING: OK. What has surfing taught you about life?

CJ: After every loss for as long as I can remember, when I get out of the water the first thing people always say is: “Aww, it’s alright. The waves just didn’t come to you.” And every time, it feels like someone is making an excuse for me. But you know what I’ve learned? That’s not life. That’s not the truth. Because I had the same playing field that my opponent had. The same opportunity. It wasn’t that the wave just didn’t come, it was that I didn’t have what it took or I didn’t make the right choices. That’s just life, you know? More than anything, the ocean has been a microcosm for my life. It’s taught me not to make excuses. To learn from mistakes and try not to repeat them.

Dane: Something interesting came to mind when you were saying that, because we’ve been playing card games a lot the last few days during this flat spell. Lately, when I lose, I find myself wondering: How much of me losing was just the cards I was dealt? If I got dealt shit cards, was there anything I could really do with them?

CJ: Isn’t that life, though?

Dane: [Pauses to think] Yeah. It just doesn’t always feel that way.

CJ: Straight up, the biggest thing surfing will teach you is to be honest with yourself. There are so many people who will give you an excuse for everything that happens in their life. When you’re in the ocean, you learn to be completely honest with yourself. Especially out in big surf somewhere like Teahupo’o. And through those experiences, you learn to step back on land and be honest with yourself there, too.

SURFING: People are greedy with money because there’s a perceived level of scarcity. Waves are also scarce — the swell is always dying or the tide is changing or the wind is picking up, and because of that people tend to be greedy when they surf. Is this justifiable?

CJ: Well, surfers are the most selfish people I know. But isn’t that just part of it? We’re all out there taking waves from each other.

Photo: Taras

Dane: How funny is it that someone like Derek Hynd — he was over at our place at J-Bay a couple years ago talking about how everyone should get paid the same wage in surfing. He said Quiksilver should pay every one of their riders the same wage. So in that way he’s sorta communist, but when he’s out in the water he takes all he can get. And waves are a commodity, you know? Knowingly taking someone’s wave in the water is the same thing. Obviously the wave is going to dissolve and die in ten, twenty, thirty seconds, but the basic idea is you’re taking something from someone else.

SURFING: Which is especially hard if it’s not in your personality to take things from people. I think you both fall into that category, but especially you, Dane. Yesterday J-Bay wasn’t that good, it was crowded, but you pretty much went out and then came straight in. Even though you’re competing on the ‘CT and this is your job, you’re still not “taking” waves.

CJ: The only two people I can think of like that are Dane and Ben Bourgeois, they’ve never changed. I feel like I’ve gotten better as I’ve gotten older, and you guys can obviously call me out, but last year the waves were bombing one morning and I burned this grom, and to this day I remember that wave and I still feel bad about it. It was probably the best wave I’ve ever caught at J-Bay, but that’s beside the point.

Dane: That’s heavy, right? Like, how’s that grom going to remember you? [Laughter]

CJ: I know, and I deserve that, I fully deserve it. And there are guys that are an even more extreme example than me.

Photo: William Sharp

SURFING: But is it justifiable?

Dane: In a way, when these CT guys are warming up for the event, it’s pretty justifiable to be greedy, and take every wave that they can, and yet, for the most part, they don’t. They’re pretty respectful of everyone out in the lineup, with a few sly and greedy choices. I got burned the worst from some random yesterday, and that’s what set me off. I jumped out of the keyhole and I was paddling out, and this guy goes on a one-footer and can barely get to his feet, and runs right over my head. I get out the back, and I’m sitting for ten minutes with this other random guy and a sick set came, and I was like, “Uh, it’s probably that guy’s wave, so I’m gonna let him go.” I let him go, wait another ten minutes for a set, and the same guy that just ran over my head paddles ten feet deeper than me, calls me off, and I didn’t burn him. I was so pissed. He went down the line with two hands on his rail pig dogging the whole wave. So lame.

CJ: I remember Damien and I coming here one year as groms, and Occy burned my brother a bunch of times. And we loved Occy, we still love Occy, it never affected anything. But that’s in the context of a contest. If you were free surfing in Indo, is it justifiable? Nah.

Photo: Jimmicane

Dane: No. But what happens is there’s always one random dude who f–ks up the whole rotation and goes up the inside of everyone once, and then all of a sudden everyone gets frantic and doesn’t want to get taken advantage of, and it gets super weird.

SURFING: Has your idea of success changed much in your life?

CJ: I think the concept of success definitely changes depending on your age. When I was a kid, being super duper selfish, and achieving my own goals — that was my idea of success. But as I got older, whether I achieved things or didn’t achieve things, that all changed. My idea of success now is passing what I’ve learned in surfing to the next person. Dane: You’re looking at Sammy [Dane’s son], and I’m sure your idea of success is starting to change, right?

Dane: Yeah, definitely. But more than any personal achievements, what makes me feel good — which I guess is success — is stoking other people out. Even giving someone a wave. Obviously not if it’s some asshole, but if it’s some kid I just chatted to, and he’s a sick kid and he’s psyched on my surfing, I’d be way more psyched on giving him the wave. Or, just the fact that I can sign an autograph or take a photo with a kid down on the beach and it stokes them out, that means more than any personal achievement or money I’ve made.

Photo: Jimmicane

CJ: I think that’s so rad, that’s getting to a stage in life that I still need to get to.

Dane: It’s really scary if you gauge your success strictly off of competitive success because there’s only one winner at every contest.

SURFING: And there’s only one world champion at the end of the year.

Dane: Yeah, so you either feel like a loser or look for satisfaction in different ways. [laughs]

CJ: Competitive success is a thirst you can’t quench.

Dane: I talked about that a little recently with the latest video I put out. When you achieve something the expectation is the next thing you do has to be equal to it or better, and it’s a tough thing to do. I don’t know how you feel about your world title, but it’s so stressful thinking the next thing you do has to be better than the last. That’s unsustainable.

CJ: I totally relate to what you’re talking about, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt…I dunno. I guess I didn’t ever think about it [his world title] like that.

Dane: Yeah, well I guess you did achieve the ultimate goal.

SURFING: I think it goes back to what you were saying Dane, the way you make people feel on a regular basis, the understanding that you can change someone’s life pretty dramatically just by signing an autograph or giving them a wave — in turn that’s going to make the world a better place, which sounds like a corny circle of life, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Photo: Taras

CJ: At the same time, Dane, I think people see that selflessness in you and that’s why they want you to win. Honestly. It’s why when you’re surfing a heat, I’m always like: “Come on Dane!” and I just start yelling at you. “Just win! Would you just please win?”

Dane: I know I like the underdog. I’m not saying I’m the underdog but I was at Trestles a couple years ago and I had a betting sheet with Blair [Marlin]. We were doing five-dollar bets. I would choose my pick, and then he would choose his pick, and vice-versa, and I realized every single person that I picked was the low seed. I was just like, “If I can win, they can do it.”

CJ: That’s a snapshot of you as a person.

SURFING: Is there anything you look back on that you thought was really important at one point in your life, and now you think, “Well, that was really silly”?

Dane: Learning cursive, or algebra, or anything like that. [laughs]

CJ: Yeah, winning. And not that winning isn’t important. It is. But I think other people want me to make a heat more than I want to make a heat right now, because I’m connecting with everyone around me. At this point in my career it’s all about the experiences. When I’m done surfing the only thing I can take away from it are the relationships that I have with so many great people. Right now, I’m investing in that more than winning or losing.

SURFING: When are you happiest surfing? I find for myself, being happy surfing doesn’t correlate to wave quality anymore, now that I’m older.

Photo: William Sharp

Dane: I like surfing by myself unless it’s spooky. I don’t like socializing in the surf, I just like surfing. Today was perfect. It was just me and a grom hooting each other into waves, but it was also 6 inches. It was one of those instances too, where if a set would come I’d be just as amped if he caught it as if I would. But when I’m out in a crowd I can’t be happy unless I’m catching a wave. It’s weird, I just can’t enjoy being in the ocean with a crowd. I feel frantic, like I’m being taken advantage of, and I tend to go in defeated.

CJ: I think it goes back to the question before, what you gauge as success. For me, a successful surf when I was younger was different than it is now. A session with my three girls makes me just as happy as being in perfect waves.

SURFING: What’s your proudest moment in surfing?

Dane: I don’t know, really. That’s hard to say. CJ, you have all these tangible things to consider…

CJ: Yeah but those aren’t what I’m the most proud of. Looking back, I’m 36 years old now; I’ve been able to hang with the best in the world for 17 years. I feel like anyone can hit a good golf shot, anyone can hit a good tennis shot, anyone can catch a sick fish, anyone can do anything for a year or two years, but doing something for a decade or close to two decades — that’s why I look at Sunny [Garcia], and that’s why I look at guys like Kelly and say, “Wow, that guy has a lot to be proud of.” It means more to me that I’ve been able to hang with guys like yourself for an extended period of time. That means more to me than anything else. That’s what I’m most proud of. But Dane, you still gotta answer the question. What are you proud about?

Dane: I don’t know…I’m not a very prideful person. I don’t feel that proud.

CJ: I’m not gonna judge you.

Dane: I’m not worried about people judging me, it’s just a hard concept for me to grasp, honestly.

CJ: What about your creativity?

Photo: William Sharp

Dane: You know what, I’m proud when I write something real that people are able to connect with, like I did for Sampler. I was surprised how many people actually commented on what I wrote, more so than the video even. That makes me pretty stoked that I’m able to communicate like that. I get really stoked if I read, just a dumb example, but read an article or interview on like Grimes, and she’s talking about anxiety and shit, and f–k yeah, I can relate with that. I don’t know why that’s inspiring to relate to somebody slightly famous, but I’m pretty proud when I’m able to write something real that’s inspiring.

CJ: I read what you wrote about that, and I was like, “Oh my gosh,” that was so rad. I don’t know if we talked about this before, but the more you get elevated, the more you guys tell me how good I am, the harder it is for me to be honest with you. The more people tell you how much you’re killing it, Dane, the harder it is for you to be honest not only with yourself, but with other people.

Dane: Yeah, totally.

CJ: And it’s really hard for humans to do that, no matter what situation they’re in. I’ve always thought the only way people are gonna identify with me is through my flaws — connecting with them — and that’s what you did.

Dane: So, for real with that video, I sent it to my friend and he hammered it, and I had been kind of laboring on it for a while, and had filmed it over the course of a long time, and when he shot it straight down I was so bummed. I thought, “Maybe this isn’t up to par and I can’t even put it out.” I was tripping out on it, and then what I wrote just clicked in my brain, and when I put it out and people could actually relate to it and connect to it…yeah, I’m proud of that.

SURFING: Especially because that’s you, unfiltered.

CJ: I’m so stoked you said that, Dane. I’m fired up right now.

Photo: Corey Wilson

SURFING: Dane, for a solid 5 years you were regarded as the best surfer in the world. You never seemed comfortable with all that attention. Now that the attention seems to have shifted, is it a relief?

Dane: That’s a pretty loaded question because, first of all, I never believed it when people were saying it and I felt really weird about it. Look at Kelly and Andy, how could I think that I was better than them?

CJ: I can totally relate to what you’re saying, because what you felt qualified as the best surfer in the world was completely different than everyone else.

Dane: Definitely. And then, feeling past your peak in your profession is a gnarly mental struggle to overcome. I feel like I’m pretty good now, but I had kind of a rough couple years coming to terms with, just, I don’t know — I don’t think I’m surfing as good as I was, and it takes a bit to come to terms with that I guess.

CJ: I can totally relate to that!

Dane: Even if I’m not surfing worse, in my mind just getting used to the idea of fading, and I don’t know, career wise, job security, just getting used to the idea of adult things like that…

SURFING: How much thought do you guys give to what’s next?

CJ: In a perfect world I’d have a lot of money, and be able to do whatever I want. But the reality is…

Dane: Surfing doesn’t prepare you for much.

CJ: The reality is, we only know one thing, and that’s surfing, and the surf industry, and our surf families. The best thing to do is keep having a great attitude as to how things are going to turn out. I can sit down and say, look, I had all of this, and then I went through this and I had none of that. I’m 36 now and I’m sure I’ll go through another cycle where it’s drought, and I imagine that’s what my life will look like, but as long as I keep hope through all of it it’s sick. And I’ll always be able to turn to the ocean.

Photo: Jimmicane

SURFING: What about fatherhood. How much has that changed things?

Dane: I have a crazy newfound respect for parents. I never really thought much of parents, never even held a baby, never felt paternal or anything like that, we were just like, “Hey, let’s try to do this,” and then it happened. The gnarliest thing is every single decision every moment of the day you have to be considerate of keeping a baby happy and healthy. I’ve only been doing it for 10 weeks, but that’s been the gnarliest change. You can’t think just about yourself, ever again.

CJ: My worst results on tour were when the kids were young, and as they got older, the more interaction I was able to have with them, the easier it became to compete. Dane, your grom was just born and you’ve done these two contests already. I’m not saying that in itself is success or not success, but you’ve been here for these contests and that’s tough. For you to be away from Sammy right now is really, really hard. I remember for Genevieve, I missed Reunion Island and then forced myself to go to J-Bay, but my heart wasn’t in it. I remember sitting in my first heat going: “I don’t want to be here. I want to be with my kid, and I’m the only one that can understand that.”

Dane: Yeah, I totally understand. I was so stoked when he started smiling, just reacting to me, reacting to my voice and stuff, and it was crazy how much he changed from Fiji to now. It got way harder to travel from Fiji to now. But, yeah it’s exciting. It’s a pretty crazy change. I have no idea what’s coming and that’s kinda cool.

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Photo: Corey Wilson