C.J. Hobgood's lasting memories from his 15 years on Tour won't be his heat wins. Most are a blur. Instead, he insists, what he's taking away are the struggles he overcame, and the connections he made with friends and fans during his most trying times.
"To have these experiences that connect with and whatever they might be going through in their own life, and for them to relate and think, 'well if it worked out better for him than it should work out for me,' that's the biggest thing."
In the beginning C.J.'s biggest challenges came from his identical twin brother, Damien Hobgood which C.J. admits made him a better competitor.
"When I was a kid I wanted to be a pro surfer. But I had a twin brother who looked exactly like me and I figured, 'There are only 40 people on the Tour. How the heck is there going to be room for me and a guy who looks exactly like me? And when I get there he could totally be stealing all my limelight.' Y'know, when you're a kid you're selfish. I always knew it was going to be harder, and it felt like that. But the reality wasn't that. The reality was I would have never been able to do the things I did and be on the Tour for this long if it wasn't for my brother."
That was a realization C.J. made long ago, which is one reason why in his final event this year at Pipeline, in a subtle tribute to his brother, C.J. paddled out on Damien's board.
One of C.J.'s other significant challenges came in 2008, when his longtime contract with Globe came to an end. After being humbled by the experience, he made the most the situation by using his empty board space to promote causes he cared about, like To Write Love on Her Arms, a drug abuse and suicide-prevention organization.
"I felt like I was doing something that was bigger than me, embarking on something that I hadn't chosen but could relate to. I vividly remember talking to these guys, 'Don't let other people define you. Don't let other people decide your self worth.'" He emerged from that chapter stronger, wiser, and more confident than ever.
Then in 2011, C.J. missed a crucial midyear cutoff (the only year such a mid-year cut existed), and lost his elite Tour seed. Publications like Surfer started speculating about a possible retirement. And C.J. did too.
"I had really mentally and emotionally accepted the fact that I was done competing," he told Surfer in 2014.
But in fact he wasn't ready to walk away. On a whim, in the fall of 2011 he flew to the Azores to try to win enough cash to fund his upcoming wedding. He won the 6-star qualifier (now a QS10,000). Two months later he earned a wildcard slot at Pipeline, where he advanced far enough to requalify.
Today C.J. Hobgood is content because he's walking away on his terms. With 15 years of perspective its easier to see how the bad times led to his best. When he received the 2015 A.I. Award at the Billabong Pro Tahiti, he said, "If you ask me what I'll take away from these events it wont be the drops, it wont be the beatings. It'll be that moment that I had with somebody who did so many great things for surfing (Andy Irons) that will be with me for the rest of my life."
See the complete "Psychology of the Sticker" series here.