Clifton “CJ” Hobgood – Biography
Clifton James Hobgood has gotten a raw deal. Sure, he MIGHT not have won the world title if not for the terrorist attacks of 9/11. That’s just a reality, but it’s led to some caveats and implied asterisks when his name is uttered alongside other world champs. However, it takes more than luck to be in first place on the ASP tour, and that’s where “CJ” sat when the tour was effectively canceled amidst the unprecedented global events. Heck! The surfing world title used to be decided by one contest, so five contests have got to stand for something. But controversy aside, “CJ” began his career with a flourish as “Rookie of the Year” and went on to carve out a performance niche that demonstrated both grace and growth as a surfing athlete and artist. Clean-cut and religious, CJ’s understated persona may have at times shrouded the flame of his radical surfing while the shadow of his equally talented twin brother, Damien, diluted his uniqueness. And while more outlandish personalities drew the spotlight, Hobgood stayed true and surfed pure, thus distinguishing himself globally as a dynamic free surfer. But in a world where numbers and achievement matter most, CJ was the 2001 world champ, and that can never be taken away.
Born in Melbourne Beach, Floridain 1972, CJ’s future in professional surfing at first seemed unlikely. Central Florida’s waves are notoriously weak and for most of the year, non-existent, yet somehow the zone has produced a host of talented and successful wave riders (Kelly Slater among them). CJ and his twin brother Damien would follow that path as they spent their formative years in nearby SatelliteBeach. CJ started surfing around 1984 and applied the same competitive approach he and his brother applied to other sports. He told Surfer Magazine, “I think we were always competitive, but with sports, it was different, because we were always on the same team… We had to learn to work together to achieve. ”
CJ improved with more competition and travel. By 1991, he was the Eastern Surfing Association’s Menehune champion and boy’s champ in 1994. He took the NSSA juniors division a year later. Continuing his ascent, in 1996, he won the ASP East Junior Pro. 1997 saw the young goofy foot graduate high school, win the NSSA east men’s title, and take third in the fiercely competitive Australian pro junior. All the requisite boxes were checked.
The following year, Hobgood turned pro. In 1999, his first full year on tour, he finished an impressive 18th place with the added honor of “Rookie of the Year.” A year later, he moved up to 7th place and won “Breakthrough Surfer of the Year” distinction at the Surfer Poll Awards. Following logic, his steady progress was sure to place Hobgood near the top of the heap the next year, but tragedy would intervene with ironic results. At 22 years old, CJ Hobgood won the 2001 world title when 3 of the 8 scheduled events were cancelled due to world-wide travel restrictions in response to 9/11. This left CJ, who hadn’t won an event all year, in first place in the ratings with 10 surfers in contention. Of the win, he told Surfer Magazine, “I don’t really look at that kind of stuff as a milestone, I just look at that as something that no one can take away from me…No matter how hard they dis me, I’ve got that.” CJ would go on to win several events inTahiti,France, andJapan (in addition to the 2008 ISA World Championship and the OP Mentawais specialty event).
Regardless of asterisks and inferences, CJ Hobgood established himself as not only a feared competitor but also as an ever-improving force in progressive surfing, grabbing the Surfer Magazine cover spot in 2009, launching a massive aerial above the caption “Where do we go from here?” Still regarded among the avant guard elite well into his 30’s, his low, staunch and functional style holds fast in the pit. His goofy-foot attack is functional and exciting, technical yet punctuated with spontaneous, high-risk deep rail hacks and high-flying aerial variants. However, his contest performances have been hit and miss. He told Lewis Samuels, “OK, we’re getting better at technique, but that’s not what the judges are into right now. The judges are into flipping out… big airs, and all that stuff. That was good, that was great, so I had to find a balance.”
Balance has been the key. CJ’s surfing is a perfect balance of old and new with one of the best tube riding acts around, especially in heavy lefts. He is lethal at Pipe and Teahupo, but his eye for the air makes him dangerous in beach breaks as well. Ironically, theSatelliteBeachkid who cut his teeth in knee high dribble has become known as one the world’s best in heaving reef break. But after a string of bad results in 2011, he found himself with $1,175,608 in career earnings and 13 years on the ASP pro tour, falling from the mid-year rotation one spot from qualification.
CJ has been married and divorced, but he continues to straddle life as a pro surfer and single father to daughter Genevieve. In 2009, he told Stab Magazine,” Being a single dad is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Surfing can’t even scratch the surface of that.” Somewhere between religion, fatherhood, fishing, and a little tennis, one might think that CJ would stay busy back in Central Florida, content to fade from the scene. Instead, he has offered up his talents to promote a non-profit that supports victims of depression and addiction: “To Write Love on Her Arms.” Still at the top of his game with his heart drenched in Jesus and salt water, CJ Hobgood is likely to continue his balancing act for a long time.