Courtney Conlogue is on a tear. The gritty, Californian powerhouse is sitting at No. 1 on the Jeep Leaderboard after making back-to-back finals in the Roxy and Rip Curl Pro events. Now the tour heads to Margaret River, where she's the defending event champion and considered a favorite with her well-rounded routine. But Conlogue knows this season is just getting started, and she has a massive target on her back.
"I'm definitely happy to start the year with this momentum but it's a long season ahead," she said after her Bells win. "Having the experience last year with the roller coaster of emotions, I know this is a high but there are some contests that are going to be a grind."
Conlogue's "proceed with caution" attitude has a lot to do with the growing pains of 2015 and her offseason prep for this year. The race for her first World Title last season came down to the wire, with Conlogue needing to do well at the Target Maui Pro to overcome Carissa Moore on the rankings. But when Conlogue was up against an on-fire Coco Ho in Round 4, the ocean went flat at exactly the wrong time and she couldn't come up with the score she needed. She was eliminated from the contest and the Title slipped away in heartbreaking fashion.
"When I lost the Title in Honolua, Carissa was getting 18-point totals and I was trying to keep up," she said. "But now I have that experience of understanding stress and how to handle it. It doesn't matter if that person just had the best heat of her life. You need to focus on the heat in front of you."
To reinforce this idea, Conlogue and her coach Mark Richardson have been working on envisioning "virtual high-pressure situations." Courtney says she's capable of putting herself in that mindset -- like the one she found herself in at the end of last season, for example -- and performing. The result was a banner finish at Bells when she found herself up against an in-form Sally Fitzgibbons, who had already found big scores (8.00 or above) in the Final, and was able to beat her with a 9.03.
"I knew I needed an eight but I wanted a nine," Conlogue said. "I figured I might as well lose an event knowing I did everything I could do, and luckily the wave supported me."
That win and the runner-up finish at Snapper should be enough to take a lot of that pressure off, she said, and she's hoping it frees her up for some clean lines in West Oz. Still, her confidence isn't without caution.
"It's been a great start to the year," Conlogue said. "I've wanted to ring the Bell my whole life and now I have. The goal is the WSL Title. I'm feeling strong. I think the waves in West Oz suit my surfing and I'm looking for a solid result there."