Current World No. 1 Courtney Conlogue is having the best season start of her career: Of the three contests that have run so far, she's won one of them and finished runner-up in two, and has her eyes set firmly on the World Title prize.
Conlogue finished World No. 2 at the end of 2015, a painful miss after coming so close. She used the offseason to reflect on her mistakes and make small improvements every step of the way. But the biggest difference so far? She's having more fun (even if she doesn't show it on gameday). Before Courtney returns to Brazil for the Oi Rio Pro -- which she won last year -- she sat down to talk strategy for this season, her first love, and why being selfish isn't so bad.
WSL: What's the secret to your consistency so far? Has there been a shift or something new you're doing?
Courtney Conlogue: I think it's just taking the reins of the dream that I have and really trying to manifest it into reality. I have this huge goal, and you have to take baby steps. For me, being strategic but having fun while doing this whole process, and embracing the highs and the lows.
I've been fortunate, I've had a lot of highs, though getting second for me is like, "Agh, I could've gotten first," you know? And figuring out why I didn't win and learn from the losses. I think that's why, and admitting to the mistakes that I've made. I think every athlete, when they do that, learns faster, and progresses faster. I'm a huge thinker. So, I always process and break everything down.
I'm taking the reins of the dream that I have and trying to manifest it into reality.
WSL: What are some of the things you've tried to tweak?
Controlling the heat, utilizing priority properly and simplifying things, not trying to overcomplicate it.
WSL: Overthinking is something Carissa Moore has talked about this as well.
CC: I think it's learning what triggers you. As an athlete with this long season, you have 10 events and you have to create consistency with all the variety of locations. So when you come to every location, you're trying to figure what you have to do to be the best when you put the jersey on.
Oh, I watch everyone. You can understand some of their tactics.
WSL: Do you spend a lot of time watching the other women on Tour?
CC: Oh, I watch everyone. But that's because I love watching surfing and observing what they do, because they're very smart as well. Every athlete, you can draw off of what they're doing, and understand some of their tactics.
WSL: Competing against Tyler, for example, who you've faced in two of your three finals this year -- how do you see her as a competitor?
CC: She's a very serious competitor. She always puts on this, "Ha ha," lighthearted attitude. But I think the one that's doing that is probably very serious, trying to utilize humor to soften the blow. I also think she's a smart competitor. She utilizes her strategy and makes it a strength. She definitely has tricks up her sleeve.
WSL: Is it safe to say there's a shift happening right now on the women's side?
CC: There's a lot of will behind these athletes right now. These women, we're all pushing each other to the next level. When you're doing that, there's going to be a shift because there's a lot of talent.
There's a lot of will behind these athletes right now. These women, we're all pushing each other to the next level.
There's so much: mental composure, strategic, all that stuff that's all components. Curveballs, how you react to that. Equipment doesn't show up. At the end of the line, the World Champ is the one that dealt with all those situations the best.
WSL: What was a big curveball for you last year?
CC: Getting injured in Fiji. I tore my oblique off the rib, completely, before the comp started. So I didn't get to surf the wave until I was surfing in the jersey. It was very painful, it took a long time to heal. At the US Open (two months later), I still had the pain.
So that happened, and then little things in France that didn't go my way. So those little moments. So this year is about doing better than that, doing better than last year and figuring what I have to do to win, and having fun in the process.
WSL: You are a laser-focused competitor. But how do you have fun and relax?
CC: I'm an explorer, so I love to go for hikes and walks. It's a great time to process everything. I relax by having fun with family and friends and just embracing life, period. I'm serious, but that's for what my passion and profession is, surfing and trying to achieve this one goal.
WSL: Have you had to cultivate the balance that works?
CC: Definitely. There's a lot of balance that you have to learn as an athlete. Especially in surfing, when you don't have a coach or someone always drilling into you, going ‘Hey, you have to train now. Hey, you have to surf now.' You have to create your own routine and your own schedule that works for you. And for me, my first couple of years, I was figuring out what that schedule was. What triggers me to be the best, and how can I do that and be at the high, longer and be at the low less. You don't want to have highs and lows -- you don't want to look like a wave with your performance.
WSL: What does daily life look for you leading up to a contest?
When I'm home, I get in the gym a lot more and work with my trainer a bit. And I'm surfing every day. But, I've learned how to rest, too. That's probably the biggest thing I learned with my ankle injury, is that the body needs to recover. The I feel like I come back fresher every time. Every day consists of different things, whether I'm getting into my art studio, or catching up with friends, or surfing and working really hard.
You don't want to have highs and lows. I look at how can I be at the high, longer and be at the low less.
WSL: What's your dynamic like with your mom? Does she serve as your coach, or a traveling companion?
CC: She's everything. She helps create seamlessness in my life. Whether it's travel plans, filming me when I need it so I can study, making sure I'm doing everything nutritionally properly. She's along for it and enjoys this journey with me. She does a lot, I don't think people realize how much she really does. She's a huge component of how I do. My mom and I found a process that worked with us. The first few years were trial and error, trying to make me the best in the water. And we just keep working on that.
WSL: Do you lean on her emotionally as well?
CC: She is my mom, so I talk to her if I need somebody to talk to. And she's probably the most honest out of everyone and the most willing to listen when I need someone to listen. So she's always been that important aspect to my success.
WSL: Have there been tradeoffs for you? What do you feel like you've had to give up to do what you're doing?
CC: Probably things where I get injured. Like snowboarding, I don't snowboard. It's not worth it for me. There's always plenty of time after my career to go hit the powder. There's no reason for me to do it now.
Things to give up? I don't know. I don't sacrifice anything, I just choose not to do it, because it doesn't help me on my journey. It helps making decisions a lot easier when you have a goal.
WSL: What about romantically? Is that a component of life on tour?
CC: Right now my only love is surfing, and that's all I care about. I'm being selfish right now with all that stuff. There will be plenty of time for that. I'm not searching for any of that right now. Right now I'm passionate about surfing and my dream, and that's what my focus is.
WSL: That single-mindedness is remarkable.
CC: It's not us being rude or anything against other individuals. But we have this dream, and travel -- I travel over 250 days out of the year. I have time for my friends and my family and that's where my time is spent. Those are the people I love. So if I have any inkling of having time to spend with them or my pups, I'm enjoying that. I don't have time to worry about any of the other stuff right now.
Right now my only love is surfing, and that's all I care about. There will be plenty of time for that.
WSL: Where does that come from?
CC: I think it comes from the heart of an athlete. My first love was the ocean, so why not embrace that?
WSL: Looking ahead, Rio went well for you last year. What is that place for you? The city, the waves.
CC: I figured out a formula that allows success. And I love that place -- the people are so passionate and insanely wild. It energizes you and fuels you.
WSL: Last year the crowd on the beach was unlike any we had seen at a WSL contest before. What role does that play in your performance?
CC: I use it to fuel me. You just -- it's amazing what their energy can do for you if you're listening, It fires me up, I love it. It's the best part of performing: You want the people that are watching to jump out of their seats and start cheering. It's the best feeling, because it means you did something special.