Under Ceej

Twelve years ago, he was part of the last American world team to take home the gold. This year, with his first-place finish in the Men's Open division, he almost gave the USA its long-awaited team gold. Two years ago, {{{CJ}}} Hobgood was in a black competitive hole, losing to lesser opponents and baffled at his unshakeable slump. Now, with friend and coach Chris Gallagher on the sidelines and a whole new {{{lease}}} on life, the 2001 world champ is back in the winner's circle with a victory at the Billabong Pro Mundaka and his recent triumph at the ISA World Games. Now sitting at sixth in the world going into Brazil, Hobgood enlightens us on competing for "pride and country."

SURFING MAGAZINE: What was it like competing in the ISA Games again? Were you getting 1996 flashbacks?

CJ HOBGOOD: Yeah. I was kinda glad no one really remembers this, but I probably did the worst on that team. I think I finished 32nd or something, but I was around cheerleading everyday and vividly remember Taylor Knox and Benny B walkin' away with gold. Also I felt like Benny B was a big reason I was doing the games this year and knew that a big part of how’d we do as a team would depend on me and Benny.

What’s the level like compared to surfing in the WCT?

I must say the level is really high in the ISA but it is so completely different than the WCT is right now. The ISA is 4-man, 20-min heats in smaller waves. The biggest difference is the judging panel — it’s made up of a completely international panel as that's the fairest way. However, that equals a very different opinion in what is good surfing. For the most part, the WCT judges do reward who is doing the best surfing.

What’s your thoughts on the Junior surfers on the team? Did they hold their own?

They held their own very much in the surfing department. But these games — with the panel and 4 man heats – you really need experience first and surfing ability second. That's just what these things are. Nat and Dillon absolutely ripped but like many other kids who were going mad, would fall to lesser surfers on experience.

Was it weird to have a mixed team like that — say, you and Benny and then two 18-and-under kids? Did you try to recruit other American WCT guys or was it required to keep it two and two?

Joey [Coach Joey Buran] did all the recruiting. I did nothing. Benny and I just ended up traveling together through France and Spain so we were on a different page friendship wise. But honestly the whole team got along so well. Our girls did amazing and Taylor — our longboarder — is one of the best longboarders I've ever seen.

Seems that with Gallagher on the sidelines, you’ve been clicking in contests. What’s one of the main things he’s done to help your game?

It's just everything made a little better. I know you guys want me to name one thing, but I wouldn't be telling you the truth if I pinpointed one thing. It's slight improvements on everything that make the real difference.

How was Joey Buran as Team USA coach?

Great. I have so much respect for Joey and coaches in general.

How do you think these ISA games should evolve? Do you think the pros should keep staying involved or should it be strictly for the 18 and unders?

Well, I’m a tennis freak. I love the Davis Cup and the Ryder Cup in golf. I think it's important that the pros are involved. It just shows that they love surfing, love their country and don’t need to compete for money. It's going in the right direction and with the internet and proper companies getting involved, it won't take much for everyone to really want to be a part of this special event.