After finishing the 2016 season as No. 2 in the world last winter -- for the second year running -- what Courtney Conlogue would do when the new season kicked off was anyone's guess. Fight for the World Title again, right out of the gate? Take a breath and reassess? Change-up a secret game plan?
In fact, it was all of the above. At Snapper Rocks, the first event of the year, she finished in ninth; next up, at Margaret's she did a little better, finishing in fifth. But at the third event, the Rip Curl Pro Women's Bells Beach, Conlogue appeared to shift into a new gear. She earned 8s and 9s in almost every heat, ultimately taking down Stephanie Gilmore, the 6x World Champion, in the Final.
Now, at the fourth event of the season, the Oi Rio Women's Pro next week, Conlogue is poised to get into the gritty battle for supremacy -- again. Before she headed for Brazil, she chatted about what changed (or didn't) at Bells, having a full-time coach this year for the first time, and how to prepare for a wave she had never surfed (until now), at Rio's Saquarema (hint: YouTube, anyone?).
World Surf League: After a mixed season start at Snapper and Margaret's, you came back to win at Bells. You're now ranked No. 4 on the Jeep Leaderboard heading into the Oi Rio Women's Pro. How are you feeling about things?
Courtney Conlogue: I'm in a good place right now. Working with Luke Egan has been an incredible experience. He has challenged me at my craft. And for me, having challenges is really refreshing, it makes me excited. I love learning, and adapting and evolving. He's making me evolve and improve. It's that one percent growth that makes a huge difference in the long-run.
It's been quite the journey, and at Bells obviously things clicked really well, we were hustling and really adapting to what the waves were doing, the conditions, and how I was feeling, and making sure everything -- I was more or less focusing on what was in front of me, and that's about it.
Was there a shift for you at Bells? What is the difference between showing up and achieving, versus winning?
I think there are a lot of different little things. But it was me keeping to the process and believing in it. And adapting and learning, and believing. Sometimes you have to break down and build up. That's not the easiest thing to do, it's nerve-racking, there's a lot on the line with the Tour. But you have to be willing to risk it to get it. I was backing my team. All I'm doing is believing in what I'm doing, and what we're doing and working really hard in the process.
Sometimes you have to break down and build up. That's not the easiest thing to do, it's nerve-racking, there's a lot on the line with the Tour. But you have to be willing to risk it to get it.
I believe that it's just now showing, but we've been working hard, even before the season started. I think it showed up at the other events, but it was still in the growth phase, and I'm still growing. I'm not exactly where I want to be yet, because I'm still working on some of my homework. So I hope to keep improving on all these things that I'm trying to dial in, and we'll see where it takes us.
It sounds like there is a huge amount of trust involved. You're used to doing things one way, and you've had great results, now you're shifting gears, starting a new relationship and doing things in a new way. Is that part of it?
Yes. Working with Luke and having a full-time coach, I've never had that, so that's really different for me. The coach I used to work with was just at a few events. And then I took the reins, with just me and my mom, filming and observing what I thought I needed to improve and how I can improve. And that's how I've always done it.
To have someone that's going along this ride with me, and seeing where it takes us [is new]. We'll see what happens, we're going to keep plugging away..
So to have a whole other support, and someone that's going along this ride with me, and seeing where it takes us [is new]. We'll see what happens, we're going to keep plugging away. The next stop of course is Rio, which is a new location, so it's going to be more exciting, for me, because I love having new spots. It adds a fun little twist to try to learn a new wave, breaking it all down. It's going to be a fun next leg of our Tour -- you have Rio and Fiji. Which are literally polar opposites, I think. You have one where the crowds are crazy, and then another where you get island fever, because you walk around the island in 10 minutes.
Looking ahead to competing at Saquarema, in Rio, how do you prepare for a wave that you're less familiar with?
You use YouTube. It's an athlete's best friend. And you Google. Old events, to research and do all your homework. Then you show up, figure it out, and adapt to whatever it is.