We have an unwritten rule here in the ESM offices: when CJ Hobgood calls, we listen. And when he stops by to recount his semifinal finish at the Volcom Fiji Pro — along with the now-infamous “Filthy Friday” big-wave session — we drop everything and let the 2001 ASP World Champion talk for as long as he wants. Below the photos, peep Part One of our conversation with the 32-year-old father, son, brother, husband, friend, ripper, and all-around awesome human being. And then stay tuned later this week for more juicy tour talk from CJ, along with his ever-evolving thoughts on both the personal and universal states of modern surfing.
CJ on sharing “Filthy Friday” with the best big-wave riders in the world: “I went out in the morning and then right before dark, and it was such a cool experience because, for a lot of those big-wave riders — the Long brothers, Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker — it was their first time ever in Fiji. That blew me away, them saying, ‘I’ve never even surfed this reef.’ And I’m going, ‘Well, you picked a good time to come.’”
CJ on perfection and getting pummeled: “The waves were out of this world: you’d see ones coming that were 25-foot but that literally looked like a two- to three-footer — it was that perfect. And they kept coming and coming. In the morning, to get in the spot you had to get cleaned up — and I’m talking about getting properly cleaned up, like, ‘Wow, I almost just died’ cleaned up.”
CJ on the debate over calling the contest off: “When you’re on Tavarua, you’re in so much of a bubble. I didn’t realize how much debate was sparked, or how much people wanted to talk about it, even when I came home: ‘What was it like?’ And then: ‘Should you guys have run?’ Either way, there’s a lot of good that came from it. I used to be on tour when the best guys weren’t on tour, and now to be a part it when there’s no question that the best surfers in the world are on tour... everyone charges. So it wasn’t a question of whether these guys were going to give it a go, but rather, ‘This is a big deal when the waves get like this. And we need to be a little more prepared.’”
CJ on ASP World Tour rules: “There was a window from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., and you have to stop that contest at 5:00 — even if it’s one-foot, they have to get everyone off the tower and all the boats in because it gets dark pretty early there. Plus, if they call the contest for the day, they can’t start it again that day. As far as the surfers go, they’re going, ‘Hey, I want to go somewhere else — video for a section or shoot photos.’ We deal with these calls every day, 12 times a year. So you could have run two, maybe three heats, and they probably would have been pretty epic — but even with 40 or 50 of the best big-wave surfers in the world out, waves were going unridden. Not a lot, but plenty were going unridden.”
CJ on cojones: “But there was no question about people going out to charge. We wanted to surf. We pulled up when the two biggest sets came in, including that one where Healey’s board was in the lip. I said, ‘Wow!’ and Kelly was like, ‘Are you going to go out?’ I responded, ‘Dude, I don’t have to catch the biggest ones. I just want to catch one. I don’t have to go out and catch the biggest wave.’ I just wanted to warm up to it because it felt kind of out of my league: ‘Oh yeah — this is that big-wave feeling I don’t normally have.’”
CJ on conflicts of interest: “As a surfer you want to do what’s best, but there’s also a point where you go, ‘Hey, I’m too emotionally invested in this, so I don’t want to make call. I feel like it’s too much of my own agenda. There’s a conflict of interest for me to be in that heat and decide whether I want the contest to be on or off. I want to do everything that’s going to make it more beneficial for me to win.’ Especially getting older, Damien and I just stay out of it sometimes.
CJ on preparation: “You definitely needed the right equipment out there because we were paddling in. Damien had a lot more luck on Reef’s board. Mick, too, on a borrowed board. Remember, this was the first time I’d ever worn a life vest. I was on top of my board thinking, ‘This thing is crazy.’ Kelly had all these boards and I said, ‘Whichever one you don’t ride, I’d love to borrow.’ I didn’t have fins. I was pulling up to the boat with Danny Fuller and Makua Rothman going, ‘Hey, can I borrow a vest?’ But for the surfers and the ASP, now we know that we can prepare. I think the best thing happened. And now we’re aware.”
CJ on the public response: “Back in the day, people didn’t even care, so it’s sick that people care now. After the fact, I was talking to guys like Peter Mel going, ‘Why don’t you guys have your own big-wave chase tour and put it online? I’d watch it!’ Everyone was saying that.”
CJ on his brother Damien’s performance: “Damien was in the first heat or two, so he was out there regardless of whether it was on or off: ‘If they put me out there, I’m going with all guns blazing,' he told me. 'And if they call me off, I‘m going to grab the best board and go as hard as I can. I know there’s a jet-ski there if I go down. They’ll grab me and bring me back to life. Whatever happens.’ I was in Heat 10, so I was taking a nap thinking the wind was on it.”
CJ on the short but historic afternoon session: “I woke up, walked to the restaurant, and went, ‘Oh my gosh, the waves are pumping right now.’ I talked to [Dave] Wassel and said, ‘Let’s go out there.’ On the boat, he was amping. I jumped out, he jumped out after me, and I caught a couple of smaller waves. But I could tell Wassel had it in his mind, so I said, ‘Go get it — any wave you want, you put your head down and you got it, I guarantee.’ That’s how big it was. We were calling it the shortest surf session ever in history to catch the best wave of your life. Within five minutes he jumped off the boat, paddled out, put his head down, dropped in, and started pumping like a mad dog, probably thinking, ‘I gotta get out of this thing.’ I was really blown away by that. It’s one thing to drop in and stand there and do your thing, but to drop in and start pumping a big board… it was pretty sick to see. The whole channel freaked out, Wassel went to the boat and started drinking beers, I jumped back on, and that was it. A five-minute session.”
CJ on the beauty of unpredictability: “It’s not like we knew it was going to be the best day ever. Those things happen, and there’s a reason why. Any surfer that’s been on a surf trip knows that. So you don’t realize you’re part of a special moment until after the fact. The next day I was talking to Greg Long and Twiggy out at Cloudbreak while the contest was going on at Restaurants and they were saying it was the biggest, most perfect wave they’d ever seen. Pretty amazing.”
CJ on surfing against Kelly Slater: “Slater was on a different level out there. It took me a little while to finally watch our heat, but once I did, I was just like, ‘Wow. He really was surfing better than everyone else.’ You have to come to that realization anew each year, because you always think, ‘Oh, it can’t be that way every time.’ But that’s what he was doing. He had more control over his board, and you could just tell he was in the right mindset. When he recognizes that the event or the circumstances surrounding it are bigger than a normal contest, he does things that he normally doesn’t do — things he doesn’t have to do. But he does them because he wants to surf his best.”
CJ on Kelly’s boards: “I grabbed Kelly’s 7’6” on the big day, surfed it, gave it back to him, and said, ‘I think this board sucks’ [laughs]. He might have taken a little offense, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I was going down the line thinking, ‘Come on, let’s get going here!’ You can take out some of his stuff and it feels good — he gave me a fish once that I loved — but I’ve ridden some of his boards that are crap, too. He deals with that just like we all do. I freesurf a certain way, but when I’m in heat I have a tendency to tense up. So if I’m freesurfing and a board feels tight, it’ll feel twice as tight in a heat. I actually have to err on the side of a smaller board with a looser set-up. And I’m not saying that I have any of the same qualities as Kelly, but you can draw some resemblances to him. The waves weren’t getting any smaller for the semifinal and he went to an epoxy that was a little smaller. So I think he, too, can naturally err on the side of looseness. Of course, he probably could’ve ridden a log out there and been fine.”
CJ on Kelly’s unquenchable fire: “He knew he wanted to win that contest. He was surfing so much it was crazy. John John [Florence] probably put in the most time surfing before, during, and after the contest, but Kelly was right there with him. And John John’s a grom! So in these instances where the picture gets bigger and guys like John John and [Gabriel] Medina start creeping in, it gives Kelly something to grasp on to as the stakes start getting higher. I even wrote about it for Stab after the first event of the year: ‘Kelly will miss an event, and he’ll still probably win the world title.’”
CJ on coming to terms with Kelly's dominance: “I wish that wasn’t the case. I wish I were lying. I wish all these things weren’t true. But I’ve seen it too many times. Even when Kelly smoked me, though, the waves were really good. So my relationship with Tavarua is right where it was when I left five years ago: me losing to Slater in good waves [laughs]. That’s where it ended last time, and that’s where it ended again this year.”
Stay tuned to www.EasternSurf.com later this week to hear CJ’s unfiltered thoughts on his two heats with Adriano de Souza, his overall take on the Volcom Fiji Pro, his current sponsor situations, and his uncertain but always-promising future.