I was twelve when he won the World Title.
He grew up on the East Coast, I was growing up the East Coast. He’s a goofyfoot, I’m a goofyfoot. I was just starting to realize my love for surfing and even at a young age, I remember thinking that there was such a unique pep in his surfing. He was an obvious idol.
Many years and a whole lot of good fortune later, I actually got to hang out with him. While covering the CT last year, I stayed with CJ and friends at Margaret River, Bells Beach and Portugal. I learned a lot about him during that time. But I learned even more from him.
I remember having a conversation about relationships with him. He said something along the lines of, “You have to love the person that you’re with for who they are, no matter what, and expect that same love back. Like, if I do something stupid — I forget to take the trash out or something — that’s just a weird part of who I am. You have to love people for stuff like that instead of blaming them.”
On the surface, I feel like that was such a bizarre thing to remember — especially because it only came up in passing. But when I really think about it, it’s a good lesson and a great metaphor for who CJ is.
In a more formal interview, CJ told me that he doesn’t want to be remembered as a great surfer. He wants to be remembered as an average surfer who worked his ass off to earn every single thing that came his way. And as much as I’ve always loved his surfing, he’s kind of got a point — he’s never had the precision of Mick or the flair of John John. But he worked hard and he won heats and he set an example.
That’s why I think CJ means so much to so many people. Forget about the World Title — it’s not a defining characteristic of who CJ is and I’m pretty sure he got rid of the trophy anyway. Because more than a World Champion or a guy who competed on the tour for years and years while still nailing bangers clips in surf videos, he’s an inspiration.
With words, CJ taught me to love the flaws in the people I hold close to me. But with actions, he taught me to embrace my own imperfections and find a way to do something special with them all.
Thank you, CJ. —Brendan Buckley