• subtitle: Checking In With CJ, Damien, And Director Justin Purser As Crowdfunding Campaign Comes Into Home Stretch

Written by  Nick McGregor
Monday, 7/21/14

In case you’ve been living under a rock, six weeks ago, CJ and Damien Hobgood laid out an ambitious plan to tell their life stories via a feature-length documentary to be compiled and filmed over the next year with fellow Space Coast native and director Justin Purser. To fund the plan, the team, which includes producer Rachael Joy (another Satellite Beach native), and director of photography Alice Gu, launched an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign that offers up a host of tantalizing contributor perks: signed ASP jerseys from CJ's heats at the J-Bay Open, private meet and greets and surf sessions — even, for $25,000, CJ’s 2001 ASP World Title trophy.

Like all ambitious projects, the details surrounding CJ & Damien Hobgood: A Sibling Rivalry have shifted considerably since June 3rd. The crowdfunding campaign has raised nearly $40,000 of the $80,000 goal; new incentives (like the board CJ rode at the 2013 Volcom Fiji Pro) are being added every week; and both brothers are making headlines at home and abroad: CJ’s new back-to-our-roots Salty Crew brand is gaining international surf industry traction and a 9th-place finish at J-Bay was his best of the season, while Damien visited Florida for the first time in years on Fox’s We Live Tour).

So EasternSurf.com thought now was the perfect time to catch up with CJ, Damien, and Justin — and take a stroll down memory lane with some classic shots of the brothers from the ESM archives that embody the sibling rivalry and twin-identity issues the Hobgoods have battled (and used as competitive fuel) over their entire 20-year careers. Read the full interviews edited together below the photo slideshow, and then go contribute to the documentary before August 2nd. Our collective surf world needs all the emotional honesty and athletic grit that the Hobgoods will spare us.

ESM: With six weeks down on the crowdfunding campaign for CJ & Damien Hobgood: A Sibling Rivalry, how stoked are you guys on the response?

Damien Hobgood: Super stoked. CJ and I are most stoked on the fact that all the surfers we compete against have donated and told us how excited they are about the project. That’s a pretty high honor for us. 

CJ Hobgood: I would say the response has been overwhelming. To see guys in the water at J-Bay who contributed to the project and be able to thank them in person… that means a lot. Those guys ask me what’s up with the project, and when I explain it I say, “Hey man, I’d love for this to be a platform to tell your story, too.” Hopefully other surfers will want to take this step and tell their stories — peel back the layers and be super honest. We lead such an amazing life, but even in this age of information, there’s a lot that’s still not talked about. I’d love for my friends and fellow surfers to, when the time’s right for them, tell their stories in their own ways to inspire others. 

ESM: How long have you guys been thinking about this project?

Justin Purser: It’s always been in the back of my mind subconsciously, because any time you’re with them it’s so weird: they’re constantly having to say which brother they are, and I can’t imagine an existence like that. CJ and I were eating tacos together recently and this kid walks up all bright eyed and says, “I’m a huge fan of you guys.” No one ever says “you” — CJ and Damien are constantly linked to each other. 

Damien Hobgood: “We definitely want to talk about that identity crisis. How having an identical twin brother competing for the same thing is almost like looking in a mirror.” You have to be really honest with yourself; you can say, “He’s a kook,” but then you think, “Wait a minute — that’s exactly how people look at me.” There’s this raw honesty that you always have to have; checking yourself or having someone put you in your place. Hopefully after we touch on these things, people can understand brothers and twins more. Maybe parents can even understand that if their kids are competing and fighting, it’s not always a bad thing. 

CJ Hobgood: If you want something, you have to take that risk and not be scared to fail. Damien and I have always felt like we lived a life beyond our wildest dreams, but people don’t know about a lot of the failures and hurdles we’ve overcome. We just want to be honest about that — hopefully use the platform to inspire other people to go grab their dreams and live life to the fullest. 

ESM: What turned the idea from abstract concept to concrete reality?

Justin Purser: I went to a screening of a documentary about Venus and Serena Williams. Although they’re not twins, they’re really close in age and they’re siblings that compete against each other. It was a little veiled, though — it didn’t pull the curtain back as far as it could have. So I emailed the guys the trailer, and they both responded immediately: “We’ve been wanting to do this for two years now.” Then the challenge became making sure there was actually something there that would be interesting to people. A few months ago I sat down with Rachael Joy, who’s the producer. She works for Morgan Freeman’s production company making space documentaries, and she said, if you can answer these questions — why this documentary and why now? — then you’re off to a good start. 

ESM: Give us those answers, starting with the why. 

Justin Purser: They’ve used their competitiveness with each other to fuel their careers. If there were only one Hobgood brother, would he have gone as far alone as they did together? Probably not, because they’ve always wanted to beat each other. Also, their identity crisis: “You ride a board with blue rails, and I’ll ride a board yellow rails. I’m going to cut my hair, and you grow yours out.” Imagine having to literally strategize that for the last 15 years. On a higher level, I think it’s relatable to everyone who’s struggled with identity or competed for something with anyone. 

ESM: And why now?

Justin Purser: They’re both in interesting places at the twilight of their careers. Things are definitely not over — they have a few more years left competing and many more years left surfing. So there’s plenty to show them in the present day; they aren’t just fishing, you know. It’s not like we can only tell their pasts, and it’s not like they’re early in their careers where we don’t how they’re going to pan out. There’s so much history and so much present. That’s why now. 

Damien Hobgood: For me, this year has been big. When you’ve worked for something your whole life, it’s definitely weird to not have certain emotions, feelings, and routines all of a sudden. I was definitely depressed [about not being on the WCT] for a little bit, but I worked through it to see what was I dreaming about next. I’ll talk about the future direction I want to go and where my heart’s at in the in film — I’ve basically been thinking about it for the last three years. 

ESM: Why the crowdfunding approach to do that?

Damien Hobgood: Hopefully we can inspire other people — if you want to do your thing and tell your story, you don’t have to have a major sponsor to fund it. With funding from fans, we could really tell the story in as raw and truthful a way as possible without feeling like we had to entertain whoever put up most of the money.

Justin Purser: We’ve had meetings with brands and pretty substantial Hollywood producers, and out of everyone we’ve run it by, no one has said, “This is a bad idea.” But nobody wanted to get on board financially; they all said, “Tell us when you’re going to do it.” I creative directed this ad campaign recently that had a crowdfunding element to it and realized it’s a cool way to raise money — you’re basically selling tickets to the premiere before you make the movie. We knew that would be a great way to start the conversation and see whether the surfing community wanted to see this. And so far, the support has been unreal —actually overwhelming. Everyone from executives at some of the biggest brands in the world to groms in North Carolina are gung ho about it. 

ESM: The campaign ends on August 2nd. What’s the game plan after that?

CJ Hobgood: Well, until then, we’re going to keep offering up new incentives [like my board from the 2013 Volcom Fiji Pro]. It is hard as a surfer to basically run a political campaign about yourself. But if I didn’t believe in the story and the lives it can touch, I wouldn’t be doing this. Like anything, you have to try to the best of your abilities, so I’m going to offer up everything I have to make this thing happen, starting with my 2001 ASP World Title trophy and moving on down. 

Justin Purser: Also, we’re doing flexible funding, so whatever we raise, we get. A lot is happening behind the scenes to keep things going beyond that. The more we move forward, the more people want to be a part of it. 

Damien Hobgood: I’m going to be in the Billabong Pro Tahiti trials, which I’m excited about. Hopefully I make the main event and draw CJ [laughs]. 

ESM: So you haven’t lost your competitive edge, huh Damien?

Damien Hobgood: How can I be done surfing and competing? That’s my life — that’s what I think about all the time, even if some of my passions and energies and dreams might change. CJ and I are getting to a point where a lot of the things we’ve been thinking about for years are close to happening. That’s exciting for us. But right now, everything is still rooted in surfing.

ESM: Justin, do you have a storytelling theme in mind to convey CJ and Damien’s feelings and ideas?

Justin Purser: We’re not just making a surf video — this is going to be a full feature documentary with a theatrical release. There will be surfing in it, of course, but it’s not going to be surf porn set to music. We’re going to tell CJ and Damien’s stories from the past until now, focusing on their professional competitive careers and not so much their freesurfing. The ASP is obviously going to be a big element, so we’re stoked to have their blessing and interest. 

ESM: We noticed that the ASP will release a four-part sit-down with CJ starting this week. Do you worry that’ll cut into what you want to do for the documentary?

Justin Purser: Not at all. They’re doing it on other surfers too — just starting with CJ. I digitized a bunch of footage and scanned a bunch of photos for them, so we’re looking at it as free publicity. Damien will also be shooting a 21 Days segment with Red Bull since he’s back on the ‘QS, doing the Primes, and possibly even trying to qualify for the big-wave tour. Those aren’t even going to touch on the thousands of stories CJ and Damien have that we’ll pick the cream of the crop of: Damien hitting his head in Tahiti and being lucky he washed up on reef instead of drowning; CJ talking about his first marriage... We want this to have the magical feeling of a film blurred with the reality of a documentary. We want it to be something that people who don’t even surf will think is cool.

Damien Hobgood: The ASP has actually been super cool about letting us use all the archival footage from when we first got on tour. That was huge, and they went way above and beyond to get us that and partner with us. We’re telling our life story, and they realize how much that will help tell the story of what athletes do from when they’re young to how they get on tour to what they do when they’re getting off tour. It’s going to help people understand what the ASP is about.

CJ Hobgood: The four-part video series the ASP will release this week about me is good marketing, press, and build-up to what we’re doing with the documentary. People start getting little nuggets of information and start to see what the whole thing can look like. The ASP stuff, the Red Bull stuff, the Salty Crew stuff just scratches the surface of what we’re going to get into in the documentary.

ESM: Justin, after starting your career making surf films like All Tha Way Live, you’ve amassed an impressive resume working in the Los Angeles-area entertainment industry. Are you excited to return to your surf roots with this project?  

Justin Purser: I always tell people, if you grew up surfing, the ocean’s in your blood. When I first moved out west, I lived in Hollywood, and I’ve been moving closer and closer to the beach ever since. I’ve never stopped staying connected to surfing, even though I might have stopped making surf movies. And CJ and Damien and I have never lost touch with each other. The idea has always been in the back of our minds, and the timing now seemed too perfect not to do it. But I’ll bring everything I’ve accomplished and learned to this project: a full crew of Hollywood talent, including a scriptwriter, a narrator… I want Morgan Freeman [laughs], but that’s probably not going to happen. I just want to give this an extra level of professionalism. Look at where surfing is now versus where it was 10 years ago: the sport is getting bigger, and the new ASP really has the chance to go to a whole ‘nother level. 

ESM: What’s the number one aspect of the story you can’t wait to have Morgan Freeman narrate? 

Justin Purser: I’ve met huge celebrities, and I still think being a pro surfer is the greatest job in the world. But people don’t realize the sacrifice that comes with it: missing holidays, missing your kids’ birthdays, being stuck around the world, living on an airplane when you would rather be home with family. That’s what has made the Hobgoods stick around for so long — their mental toughness and ability to deal with grueling conditions in different parts of world. It’s not a vacation every day. 

Damien Hobgood: And there are bound to be a lot of failures that will make you who you are. There’s so much we want to touch on… the trick will be Justin figuring out how to condense it all down [laughs].

ESM: Do you have a favorite story?

Damien Hobgood: I’ll wait for the documentary to tell you exactly what happened, but when we were 17, we fought nonstop about everything and came to the realization that if we didn’t stop, one of us was probably going to kill the other. We never took it to that level again after that [laughs]. 

ESM: How has the response from the East Coast been so far?

Justin Purser: There’s no bigger support for us than on the East Coast. We want, need, and would love nothing more than our hometown, home state, and side of the country we hail from to get behind us on this. ESM is also a huge part of CJ and Damien’s stories — and the whole reason I’m doing what I do is because I grew up down the street from Tom Dugan. He let me tag along when he shot photos and eventually start shooting video next to him.  

ESM: CJ and Damien, any last thoughts?

Damien Hobgood: Personally, just going on a trip with my brother to a destination we’ve never visited before — and not competing — is going to be so cool. Also, I’m stoked that CJ is with Salty Crew, which is more than a sponsor but something where he can channel all the energy that’s been in his heart toward working with someone that’s like-minded and has a similar goal. That’s more important than just having a sponsor. 

CJ Hobgood: The idea I’ve always had in my head is like back in the day, when surfers looked after each other. That’s been my dream with the documentary and with Salty Crew, as well. You take these little leaps of faith to see where your heart’s at — once the visions of what you’d like to achieve actually start to happen, that’s so humbling. 

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