As a pro surfer, Damien Hobgood makes surfing look easy. He has beaten world champions and stood atop the winner’s podium in the highest level of professional surfing. Along with his twin brother C.J., Damien is among the best surfers in the world, known for insane surfing no matter the conditions, from the proving grounds of Lowers and J-Bay to rolling P-Pass and thunderous Cloudbreak – even the towering wall of water that is Jaws. Three words: the guy charges.
He takes on adversity outside of the water and dominates it the same way.
In 2014, with 13 years on the World Tour, Damien failed to re-qualify for the 2015 World Surf League (formerly the Association of Surfing Professionals, or ASP) after pursuing entry by way of competing on the WQS, or pro surfing’s qualification league. In the time away from the globe-trotting tour, Hobgood, 35, devoted himself to a new set of goals; focusing on being with his family, helping other surfers and overcoming a relatively unknown challenge to him; chasing heavy waves such as Mavericks and Jaws to strengthen his big wave skills.
During the year, he and C.J. also exceeded their goal of over $80k for a behind-the-scenes documentary (directed by Justin Purser) about their sibling rivalry on the pro tour via Indiegogo and starred in the highly acclaimed Joe G-helmed Globe adventure surf epic Strange Rumblings In Shangri-La. More recently, Hobgood is featured in the Sweetgrass short film Lightwaves, with Australian ripper Chippa Wilson. And although he’s not attempting to requalify for the World Tour, Hobgood will be busy chasing big swell through the winter and charging just as hard as ever.
We caught up with the Encinitas, CA-by-way-of-Satellite Beach, FL goofy footer in late October and talked about his plans for the documentary, what it was like on tour with his twin brother, his role in Strange Rumblings, the progression of surfing, helping the next generation of surfers and plans for his future in the sport.
How stoked were you and C.J. when you exceeded your goal for the documentary?
We were super excited. Obviously it’s been a roller coaster ride for us, just because we’ve never done anything like that, and were kind of feeling weird about asking for help, when you’ve been so blessed. You don’t know how it’s gonna come off, and so, yeah, it was kind of weird, but at the same time, there was a lot of faith that we had to believe, that people would want to see it and help, so we definitely got really blessed by how many people were amped to want to see what we wanted to do.
It really seemed that with everyone coming together to support you, it really exceeded your expectations.
Yeah, it really did. It definitely did.
What was it like surfing and being on tour with your twin brother?
It was awesome, just because you always had a kind of a piece of home, a familiar face. He knew me, I knew him really good – it kind of made a crazy adventure a lot more fun and a lot more easier to do. So yeah, I mean, I don’t think we would’ve ever did as good as we’ve done without each other…push each other half the time, and keep each other in check. I think there was a lot of help that went along with that.
I have a brother, and we’ve always pushed ourselves, from sports as kids to our professional careers these days. I guess it’s the part of being a brother.
Totally. A lot of times you’d look at it as like, ‘He shouldn’t take from you’, and you know, like, ‘wonder if his twin brother does the exact same thing I do’. It’s kind of like, taking from me, but in the end, you realize that, we’ve been there pushing each other all along and hadn’t even really known it.
It’s always after the fact, too.
What have you guys talked about, or your thoughts, on being away from the World Tour at the end of the year? [In December 2014, the WSL announced C.J. had requalified for the 2015 tour as a wildcard entrant]
I’m not exactly…I know that C.J.’s mentioned to me he’s not sure he wants to do it next year, but I’m not positive that’s what he’s made up in his mind. I can’t really say if he’s gonna step away or not next year. That’s kinda up to him. But for me, it definitely was pretty weird, the first six months of this year, for sure.
Have your thoughts/feelings changed? I know there was that shock early in the year – not having to show up to comps, having to get ready – how have those emotions changed?
Yeah, you always have dreams and stuff you’ve been wanting to do all along, but it’s hard to do when you’re on tour. You can’t really do both. You’ve gotta dedicate your surfing to the Tour. And, so basically that’s what I’ve done most of my career. But in the back of your mind, you’re always like, ‘I want to do this, I want to do that…’ You’re dreaming about different things, areas you want to go, but you know that that time will come. So yeah, I’m in that time now, kinda re-shifting things and kinda getting ready, and kinda have some dreams I want to try and tackle. You know, you don’t always know how it’s gonna look, and you know, how if you’re gonna succeed or fail, or what it’s gonna look like. But it’s fun doing some different things, for sure.
You and C.J. both seemed to carry the best attitude that you could have into every event. Do you feel the tour judges are awarding that? That they’re finally getting to that? It seems with every transition there’s some catching up to do. Are they there yet?
Yeah, I do. I feel that every year [pro surfing] gets better, and I kind of look back to when I first got on tour – from where it was then to where it was now – it’s definitely, like, night and day, and I think they’re trying to do as good a job as they can do, and I think it’s more…a little more money coming into it, and just a little more professionalism across the board. It’s been coming into it, and you’ll see it get even better.
I want to talk about Strange Rumblings in Shangri-La and your work in the film; notably your scenes in Brazil and Greenbush. How awesome was being a part of that project and working with Joe G again? You guys tore it up in that film.
Oh, thank you. Yeah, you know what, it’s one of those things that, all the time Globe’s been doing those videos, we’ve been on tour, never really or able to dedicate the time that you want to – you would like to dedicate – but, you know, Joe does such a good job and you want to try to be as available as possible, but it definitely kind of breaks your heart a little bit, cause you’re like, ‘Oh, I want to be on this trip, this trip, and that trip’…and at the end of the day, you can only go on, like…I was able to only go on two trips, so it kind breaks my heart a little bit, you know, but two trips are better than none. You want to go on all of them. Or, you spend more time on the ones you were on.
There’s the State Road clip you have up online – do you have any plans to keep releasing edits? Maybe even a Hobgoods surf film in the future?
I don’t have any aspirations to release a Hobgoods surf film, but I do like doing those edits and kinda playing around with stuff. I have some ideas that I want to do along the lines of kinda, just an internet thing, but yeah…no film. I’ve done that by mainly doing the documentary.
That’s a lot of work in itself. I can only imagine what you have going into that.
We’re excited, you know? We’re super-excited.
Being out in Southern California, who do you see from the ‘QS or ‘CT that you’re pushing for to get to the next level?
Oh, yeah, there’s a lot of kids – a lot of really good kids. But I’ve definitely been having the pleasure to kind of travel and work with them a little bit – it’s been really fun. I’m always a fan of the Coffins [Conner and Parker], the Gudauskas Brothers…I’m a fan of a lot of people, I really hope they do good. I’m not sure that I’ve had much to do with anything that they’ve done.
Any other projects that you’re currently working on or coming up?
Oh, not really, but I definitely like doing things that are a little more meaningful than just showing up and trying to do good in a contest. Then I also really enjoy seeing the younger kids have aspirations of getting on tour – I always enjoy if I can help facilitate their dreams in any way. It’s always rewarding for me. In that sense, it’s pretty fun for me. But yeah, nothing really, you know, the movie, and definitely want to chase some bigger swell and kinda push my boundaries personally in that area.
You’ll be spending a lot of time this winter on the bigger waves again?
What do you see about your next progressions in big-wave surfing? I’ve read you’ve said it makes you feel like a kid again. What do you enjoy most and what’s the next challenge for you?
Well, one, it’s just so new. It’s not new, it’s just new for me, like a lot of the places I’m going to, I’ve never been before, I’ve never surfed – they’re that unknown and also that unknown of – are you gonna go? How’re you gonna stack up? What you’re going to do, what it’s going to look like? There’s a lot of stuff like that, and also how you kind of envision and how you want to ride the wave, and how sometimes it can be like that and other times you can realize it’s a little bit harder than I imagined. Or maybe, ‘I can’t take that line’, or maybe I need to get this other board that allows me to do this – it’s a lot of fun in trying to figure some stuff out.
Have you gotten any good advice from any of the big wave surfers?
No, not really. I haven’t asked…so I don’t really know. Totally. But a lot of the stuff they do…everybody does things different ways, and they kinda got their crew and their kinda thing, so I’m not really sure what they think of me, or what…I haven’t really been given any advice, but obviously, then again, I haven’t asked.
How would you like to keep your presence in surfing going forward?
I love surfing, I love the sport. I love the people, and you know, so that’s never gonna change. You know, when you love something, you want what’s best for it, and whether you’re on tour or off tour, it doesn’t really…you can still have as much influence, and actually, maybe more, because you dedicate more time to certain things that you’ve been wanting to do, but you cant, because number one, there’s just not enough time, and two, you won’t be ready for the job you’re supposed to be doing.
Both you and C.J. have been the first that have come to mind – along with Kelly and A.I. – as the surfers that have really progressed the sport into the modern day. Where do you think surfing is heading next?
I feel we’ve seen a lot of progression. It’s just, we’re kinda at this point where if you’re gonna be the best, you gotta be able to do it all, in all conditions. And, you know, so, so I think that’s kinda what we always had in our minds, of like, you can’t have any weaknesses in your game. I think now, these guys that, they’re actually the best in each category, you know? In their game, and I think that’s kinda where it’s headed, and where it’s at. You know, you’ve got, like, you gotta be the best aerialist, the best carver, the best barrel rider, the best backside, like, you’ve gotta be able to do it all, and I think that’s what [C.J. and I have] tried to do, but we didn’t succeed as much as some of the other guys, but that’s what we always try to do. You know, a lot of people came, would show up, and were like, ‘Oh, that’s just not his event, he’s not gonna do good,’ [and] we were like, ‘No’. We never want to show up and have that feeling.