In June 1998, C.J. Hobgood (USA) graduated from Satellite High School. A well-established star on the domestic amateur circuit at the time, the young Floridian turned 18 the following morning, announcing he was turning pro before tackling the back half of the ASP Qualification Series (QS) season. By the end of the year, Hobgood had won a major event in Portugal en route to qualifying for 'The Show' - the ASP World Championship Tour (WCT).
The following 14 years would involve one of the more storied careers in professional sport, including an ASP World Title, multiple WCT event wins, major endorsement deals, the loss of these same endorsement deals, falling off tour, requalifying and, most recently, reestablishing himself as one of the most lethal competitors at any venue on the Samsung Galaxy ASP World Championship Tour.
Most recently on the island of Tavarua for the Fiji Pro, Hobgood opened another chapter in his life with a new project. The ASP caught up with the surfing icon to get his unique perspective on one of the more interesting and inspiring career trajectories in professional surfing:
#1 It's been a crazy journey over the past 20 years. Take us through this in your own words:
It seems so quick and it does happen quick, but the evolution is slow-going at times. So we got the moments that people remember you by, these do go by quick in the sense that you dream of one thing your whole life, then achieve it, then poof... it's gone. However, where life happens is in the cracks - in between these 'big' moments and that's the growth process that never stops and never goes away. Ever since I did my interview in New York signing off because I was leaving the tour, I had to answer the question: "What do you want people to remember you by?"
When I was a kid going through the amateurs, I wasn't that great and, at that time, I just wanted to surf as much as possible and maybe get a job in the surf industry so I could keep surfing. I just wanted to surf and that's all kids think about. But for some reason, other people have always believed in me a little more than I have believed in myself and everything early on just came so quick... almost too quick. Getting on tour in my first year trying and all the ancillary achievements... but that's not what this is about.
When I signed off in New York, I was only thinking about how I wanted to be remembered and that's when it got real. I just said, "I love Jesus and I love my fellow surfers," because, for some reason, it got simple for me. I was given a gift, a platform to inspire others and I've always thought that one of the reasons we compete with others is because it's a form of connecting. I hated my twin brother at times. I always competed with him, but that's also a reason we connected and I feel that way about my teammates as well as all the surfers I compete with on tour.
That's where my heart was at and that's what came out of my mouth in New York. Then, to be fine with everything and my life off tour was so strange when I was given it all back a short time later. It's a chance I had to live out and that's where I wanted to be.
You see, the hardest thing in life is to be completely honest with yourself and maybe that's why I was given a twin brother--to help me with this honesty. Ever since we started surfing, I would yell at him when he blew it and he yells at me the same way. To do that from an early age, you almost become truthful to a fault. It's part of where I'm at today. All the stuff I've been through allows me to truly enjoy my situation today.
#2 Two decades is a long time for a young industry and the surfing world has undergone a lot of changes in that period. Tell us about your first experiences in sponsorship, the highs and lows since, and how you've arrived where you are today?
It has been a long time and maybe we are about to see things come full circle. When I was a kid my first sponsor was G&S (Gordon and Smith). I was 12 at the time and received just about two boxes of clothes a year. It did the trick and I was stoked. Then when I was about 14 years old, my brother and I got a sponsorship with Billabong and that was next level. At that time, Bob Hurley ran the US side of Billabong and Paul Gomez helped us out big time. Then I signed a deal with Rusty at 17 for travel expenses and by 18 I was going to start getting money, it was beyond my wildest dreams.
When I was with Rusty, I signed on with Globe shoes in 1994. In 2004, I signed on with them as an apparel sponsor as well--head-to-toe Globe. I was ecstatic and making way too much money, but times were fat and nothing could go wrong at this point in my life. Then, in 2007, I had a meeting with the Globe guys and they said times were going to get tough and they were going to put their apparel business on the backburner while the economy found its way. I have always loved my relationship with everyone at Globe and I am very proud that I have ridden for them for 20 years. This year marks two decades since we started.
When people ask me what my greatest accomplishment is in my career, I can proudly say that I have always endorsed things that I believe in. I can say that, in my entire career, I have never signed on with a beer company or an energy drink company. I'm not saying that I don't enjoy a beer or have never had an energy drink. But in my life, I have always gone with my heart and what I felt was right, and I've never felt right endorsing something like that.
You see, that is where the mind and body grow, but the bank account does not immediately follow. Take, for example, in 2011, when I decided to spread the message about hope and that peoples' stories do not have to end with drug addiction or suicide and that it is okay to talk about what you're going through. I was given this opportunity because my good friend wrote a story about a friend and printed that message on a shirt to raise money and get her treatment. I had "To Write Love On Her Arms" (TWLOHA) on the front of my board instead of signing on with a surf company. Maybe that was a dumb move, but I went with my heart.
So realistically, since 2008, I have not had an apparel sponsor inside the surf industry (over five years) and some of this was my doing. I understand that and without the support of people around the world throughout the past few years, I would not still be here, so thank you to all of them.
However, with that said, I do realize the balance in where the surfing industry is today and the effects of that. Every time an announcer would say, "Why doesn't CJ have a major sponsor?" or every time a fan would say "#sponsorcj," the real truth of the matter is people outside of our surfing world were deciding our fate. Maybe it is our fault, my fault, maybe the surf industry has lost its way. It has lost its salt. Actual surfing seems to have faded into the background somewhat and a lot of the "non-surfing" stuff has moved to the forefront. Especially over the last year, I have really grown to enjoy the freedom that not having a major sponsor has offered me. My future rests in my hands and I am in control.
Now I have the ability to support and get involved with the things that I believe in and not just the things that pay the bills. The more overwhelming responsibility I have felt is to preserve our surf industry and inspire my friends to do the same. I would always look to skateboarders, they are always creating their own brands and then taking care of each other. So that is where I am today.
#3 Tell us about your new project. Who are you working with? What's the philosophy behind it?
For the last six months, I have been working not to land my next big pay day but to partner with individuals that love to surf and want to get surfing back to how it all began. Like back before surf culture even existed. When the surfing lifestyle was just an utter devotion to the sea. The devotion was simple. When there was surf, they surfed, and when the surf was flat, they fished or they dove, and when the wind picked up, they sailed. The point is: these guys never got out of the water.
When they were in the water, they were living. Everything else was just waiting. Salty Crew is a brand built by a family of salty characters that truly lead this sort of lifestyle and that's the lifestyle I have chosen to lead as well. We want to give back, [S]alvaging A [L]ifestyle for [T]omorrow's [Y]outh. It's not about making money, contacts, contracts or deals. It is about getting salty, and it's for those who choose to stay salty.
My story is a small part of what Salty Crew represents, but at this point in my life, I think I know what I want. I want to SURF, FISH and SERVE! I want to stay salty. I want to be able to help out my fellow surfers when they're in need in more ways than just saying I can relate. I want to be the salt of the earth. I want to inspire and help other surfers. I want to be a part of brands that protect the fabric of our industry and the core of the whole surfing experience. I want to help preserve all the salty characters that make up this family of surfers.
This is what I want, and I think all my experiences and what I have been through has prepared me for this.