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Sea Change: Courtney Conlogue in Cuba

Most fans know Championship Tour (CT) surfer Courtney Conlogue for her warrior-like approach. But the Californian, who was runner-up to the World Title in 2016, also has an artistic side and a lifelong wanderlust that has led her to countless destinations worldwide. More recently, however, she followed her passion for surf, art and adventure to Havana, Cuba, where she immersed herself in the culture and chased some waves -- more like wavelets, to be accurate -- for laughs, learning and an unparalleled experience.

Sea Change is the product of her trip, in partnership with Billabong Women's. It's a visual travelogue soaked in sunshine, laden with music and splashed with local surf and smiles. It's a virtual passport to a place that, despite loosening borders, is still terra incognita for even the most intrepid of travelers. Until now. Conlogue opened up about what led her there, and what she found.

Photographing Havana. WSL

WSL: What drew you to Cuba?
Courtney Conlogue: The reason I wanted to go to Cuba, initially, were all the photos, and everything I'd heard about the place -- the culture, the cars, and everyone told me it was put in a time capsule. To go back in time and experience it, was surreal. Its history, with the US, how we're moving forward, all the stories.

It was also a side of you that we rarely see in the jersey, on broadcasts.
Everyone sees me as the warrior in the jersey, or the athlete. People don't often see me outside of that -- the creative person inside of me. I'm still a person in the jersey, but that's just one aspect of who I am. This showed how much I love traveling, culture, and color. Trying new things like salsa -- and struggling! I also wanted to see what the state of surfing was over there. I needed to wander and explore.

Conlogue and team met up with a shaper in Cuba. WSL

What did you find, in terms of the surf scene?
I think there is a lot of potential over there for surf. The thing is, they don't have the resources. They're using boards that are 15 years old, at least. They were using boat resin and old refrigerators to repair old boards and almost MacGuyvering a surfboard, and I thought that was incredible that they were going through that much just to get in the water. They don't have leashes, and there are rocks, so it's not good when you fall.

You said that you felt inspired when you came back from Cuba. What did that mean for you?
What's really cool about Cuba was how disconnected they were from social media and all the news around the world. They were really in the moment. I didn't have Internet much while I was there, and when I did, it didn't work well, and that put you in the moment. What I thought was so cool about the culture there, was they're dancing, they're painting, they're playing baseball. They were living life.

Courtney Conlogue met local surfers in Cuba. WSL

The surroundings and the color and the buildings and the architecture. The music, the depth of the music, too. They have the Buena Vista Social Club there, and we went there one night and watched them perform. It was incredible -- I went up and was dancing on the stage.

When I was there, my brain was spinning with ideas and designs -- everything. All the entrepreneurial ideas were flowing. I could see why people want to go there. It's that raw beauty. There's so much potential. It inspired me to come back and paint. Right when I got home, within an hour, I was in my art room, painting away, one of the photos I had taken there, trying to capture it while it was fresh.

Conlogue, showing off an expert maneuver. WSL

In the film, you say that you'd like to help develop surf culture there further. What do you envision?
One thing I'd never want to do is change their culture, because it's beautiful. All I would want to do is give them the resources so that they could actually expand the surf scene, because it is there. If they had the actual resources -- the surfboards, leashes and wax and fins -- that's all they need. They had beat-up fins -- they were using FCS fins and turning them into glass-ons. It's incredible what they're willing to do to get in the water. I think giving them those tools of the trade, that are basic to us, giving them that platform, to be able to learn to surf and get out on the water more often and enjoy it even more than they did before.

Conlogue met a local hip-hop due in Havana. Among the stops on the trips, Conlogue met a hip-hop duo in Havana, and sat in on a rehearsal. WSL

The kids there -- we were having little paddle-battles, the waves were so small we were standing on the soft-tops trying to do backflips off them. You know the authentic kind of laugh -- that deep inside laugh that everyone tries to cover up, but when it comes out, it's great? They have that. There is nothing like a real laugh and real joy.

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