True Rewards: The Hobgood Challenge Presented by Pacsun

The lineup looks like a Colgate commercial. Big teeth everywhere. Giddy laughter. Faces permanently frozen into plastic smiles — at least, until another serious peaks pops up out the back and demands full concentration. A late drop. A frothy foamball rinse bathed in blue light. And — six or so seconds or more later — a white-spit kickout where the non-stop giggling begins all over again.

"I'll guarantee you we are, without a doubt, the luckiest surfers on the planet," laughs one longhaired Californian, fresh from his latest life-altering tuberide. {{{CJ}}} agrees, going on to claim it's the most perfect righthand wave he's surfed "in 27 years." But when Dusty Payne shyly admits he's having his best session ever — that he's happy he skipped the Pipeline event — that's when you know you've scored something special.

After all, Dusty just turned 18. And unlike most cocky teenagers – he really has seen and done it all.

So have Dion Atkinson, Eric Geiselman, Clay Marzo, Garut Widiartha and Owen Wright. All 20 or under and together they can check off centuries of surfing achievement and experience. National championships and amateur world titles. Years of Mentawais boat time. Miles of North Shore miracles. Gallons of magazine ink and gigs of video clips. Doing things surfers twice their age only dream of so many times now, it feels less like a fantasy cruise, and more like punching the clock over and over again. And beyond any mid-season injury or drug problem, that may be the greatest threat to a big-time pro career. Because half of every "dream job" is a job. And everybody wants to blow off work now and again.

"Obviously these kids know they want to be on the WCT," says Damien, setting up the premise for the inaugural Hobgood Challenge presented by Pac Sun. "But they also know the WQS is gonna be gnarly for a while. Our goal was to give them a little taste of what's waiting on the other side so they try that much harder. Because if there's no gold at the end of the rainbow, then why do it?"

Staying motivated is the driving force behind the twins' competitive philosophy and the defining tenet of their annual getaways for future pros. While the first "Camp Hobgood" focused on unknown, untapped talent, the second two filled a different void: pushing proven American amateur standouts in a week-long setting of increased interaction and constant competition. This year, CJ and Damien opted take their mission a step further, focusing an international field into one stand-alone event — a man-on-man invitational — and the first ASP-rated specialty Pro Junior contest of its kind.

But the Hobgood Challenge isn't about earning ratings points. (Of which there are none.) Or even cash. (In fact, all six competitors split the $16,000 purse evenly before ever paddling out; the winner taking home just $1 more than his foes — while donating an extra grand to the charity of his choice.) For the Hobgoods, the experience should be the ultimate reward, as they strive to reproduce a model version of what it's like in surfing's big leagues.

“These guys already have heaps of competitive fire – We want to show them a side of surfing they’ve never seen before.” – CJ Hobgood

"These guys already have heaps of competitive fire already," CJ continues. "We want to use the competition to bridge that gap and let them see the environment we see sometimes — this is what Fiji is like when it's pumping; this is Tahiti when you're dropping in to the biggest wave of your life one day before the contests starts — to show them a side of surfing they've never seen before."

On a map, the islands of Micronesia appear as a sparse constellation of tiny, terrestrial stars in a big, blue universe. From the air, they begin as faint chalk sketches, silhouettes that slowly fatten into lithe islands surrounded by white-ringed atolls, deep channels marking many tempting reef passes. So far apart, early explorers routinely missed different islands on their journeys through the Pacific, and modern surf adventurers are no different. Our destination is one of the freshest finds in the sport — barely a few years old — yet already lauded as a world-class right by past visitors such as Pancho Sullivan and Kieren Perrow, whose guest book entry brags he "spent more time looking out of the tube than in." Unfortunately, there's even more messages sadly scrawling, "Sorry we didn't get to see what she can really do."

Upon arrival, CJ and Damien have been stuck on that page for two days. The infamous freight train slowing to a chest-high crawl. We kill time shooting photos, eating sushi, flipping from waterfalls and snorkeling a coral slab clearly rife with colorful fish and huge surfing potential. Of course, the whole top 45 will tell you much of life on tour is waiting for swells, sometimes running heats in sub-par conditions. At least with the lack of surf, we've got the place almost to ourselves — and a couple innovative comps to get the kids thinking creatively.