Editor’s Note: Damien Hobgood, along with his brother CJ, have long been some of surfing’s greatest pros and greatest people simultaneously. Through films (Playground to Secret Machine and Year Zero) and their ability to travel the globe dripping in southern charm, they’ve managed to log all-time sessions at some of the world’s craziest spots, without making much ado about it. Pipeline, Cloudbreak, Ocean Beach, Restaurants, Teahupoo, Green Bush, France. Look up all-time sessions at these places and every time CJ and Damien are on the list. We recently sat down with Damien as he explores the world of surfing outside the set itinerary of the world tour and find him enjoying every nook and cranny. From the dive bar karaoke to the all-time session chasing to quality family time. Damien continues to be a guidebook for how to rule at ripping. To see the entire interview, grab a copy of our latest issue: What Youth Issue 7 —Travis
Interview by Chris Cote
PRESENT: Interview from the fake beach at The Wadi Adventure Wave Pool in Dubai.
WHAT YOUTH: I hate to start this thing off with a downer, but we kind of have to begin with you’re new life as a free surfer. So what was the moment you knew you were off tour and how’d that feel?
DAMIEN HOBGOOD: It was during my heat with Adam Melling at Pipeline. The waves sucked, the wind went onshore, the heat before ours was scoring in the two and three range — just not looking good. I remember talking to the Lord and asking him to give me something I could get psyched about. I thought without a shadow of a doubt that I was going to make it out of that heat, though. I just had to get ninth and I was going to make it back on tour. Unfortunately, it was probably one of the worst heats of that comp. So that was kind of ironic. Especially when I knew what the forecast was holding for that event. I thought in that moment that if these are the waves I’m going to be dealt; maybe I do need to take the year off. Maybe I’m not supposed to make the tour.
When you came in from that heat, you must have had some crazy emotions going through your head—what were people saying to you afterwards? What was that afternoon and the rest of that day like?
I was super excited.
Yeah, everyone probably didn’t know what to say to me, but inside I was so excited.
In a way you must have been relieved because you wouldn’t have quit, and now this forced you to do what you’ve been wanting to do anyway.
You’re exactly right. I felt like the Lord was saying, “Hey Look, I’m going to make you take this off and I’m going to throw a lot of obstacles in your way.” I knew I couldn’t get discouraged by it, so when it was over, I was excited about it. Now, I could live the excitement that I was holding back on throughout the year.
What was the first thing you wanted to do?
Well, I was already at Pipeline and I knew there was a good swell coming, so I was staying for that swell. They finished the comp and mostly everyone went home. If you’re on tour you’re already thinking about the next year. You’re getting boards ready, you’re spending time with the family and you don’t even want to go out and hurt yourself at Pipe because you want to compete in the next year. So I was relieved because I was going to surf my brains out over the next couple days when it was really good and I didn’t even have to care if I got hurt — I really had no worries.
What was your first session as a non-World Tour surfer like?
I don’t even remember. I just remember thinking about that swell. I’ve already been able to pack in so many memorable experiences in such a short time since being off tour. I was able to go to Jaws and not have to worry about being ready for a comp or hurting myself. I get to come here and surf this wave pool that I’ve really been wanting to surf. This stuff gets me excited because I’m doing stuff I haven’t done before. I feel like a kid who just got on tour or just discovered a new surf spot or something. To me, that’s what surfing has always been about. The excitement and adventure of not knowing what the wave is going to be like, how you’re going to make it out to the lineup, where you’re going to sleep, and what new friends you’re going to meet. All of that has always been the reason why I surf. It’s never been about catching the best wave or being the star of the session. It’s always been about the process of getting there. The process of traveling through airports or hooking up with people who will take you different places and show you knew things. I love hanging out with the guys on tour and I’ve made some really good friends, but I enjoy hanging out with a bunch of other people too. It’s been cool to feed of the excitement of other people. A lot of the time on tour people hold back their emotions and don’t want to show their cards because they are there to win. That was always hard for me. I was always making jokes and hooting for the guys that could have been in my heat and a lot of times on tour, the fun parts of surfing get sucked out of it.
You told me a story in Tavarua about wanting to sit down with the judges and talk to them about your scores or whatever. Do you remember what you talked to them about?
I have really no idea, and I really want to talk about judges because no matter what the judges are like or what they’re looking for, I should be able to make that heat or make enough heats to make the tour. It’s up to me and my surfing — not the judges. I didn’t even get to ninth place all year. I don’t deserve to be there if I couldn’t get a ninth. Of course, when you’re in the moment and something happens you want to talk to them, but at the end of the day, it’s my fault. It had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. In Fiji everyone was telling me that I should go talk to the judges and give them a piece of my mind after I lost. I was having a beer down at the bar thinking they’re kind of blowing it and maybe I should say something to them. So, they walked down to the bar and I asked them if they wanted a beer. I bought them a beer and never said anything about the contest. It was done. I was over it. I’m not the person that’s going to harbor that. Once it’s done, it’s done. It was funny, I felt much better buying them a beer than I think I ever would have making a big fuss and complaining to them.
How’d you feel when the contest as Snapper started this year — must have been feeling like you were missing the first day at school or something.
I wasn’t necessarily thinking about the contest. I was mostly just missing the emotion that you get in the excitement of the first heat of the year when everyone’s coming back together. There’s a feeling in the air that I missed that for sure. It wasn’t like I was depressed, it was just an emotion I was used to having every year at this time and now I’m not experiencing it. It’s just different. At the same time, I was experiencing other emotions that were just as good if not better. That’s what is so awesome about surfing. I’ve been doing it for so long and I can still experience emotions that I haven’t ever experienced before. What sport can you feel the way you did your first time surfing over and over again?
Right before the first WCT event started, you were actually surfing your first session ever at Jaws. What was that experience like?
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Earlier in the year I flew over to Maui and had a board shaped by this guy Sean Ordonez, who shapes a lot of boards for Albee Layer and Matt Meola, so I was super excited. Jaws has been getting a lot of hype lately, a little too much maybe, so was thinking I should wait, but at the end of the year a lot of people were doing other things so I went over to get a couple waves under the radar. It was all about the experience. Whether I caught 20 waves or no waves, it wasn’t about that. It was about experiencing something.
Once you see the swell that’s going to hit, what’s the actual process of getting there?
It was cool because it didn’t blow up and was a little under the radar. Then a few days before it was supposed to hit it kept getting better and better which is usually the opposite of what happens. The swell usually gets downgraded, but it was the opposite. It was a hard decision because California was supposed to be good, so I felt like I was missing something there, but something was telling me to go anyway. Mikah Nickens from DaKine picked me up, my board was already at his house waiting. I stickered it up early in the morning then we went down when it was dark and got on the back of the skis. It was kind of sick, I got princess parking. I got taken straight out and didn’t have to go through the shore break. I was stoked because I only had one board and I didn’t want to break it before I even got out into the surf. Just to see that bay and see where they were launching and seeing the guys getting ready and seeing the process was really cool for me.
What about the waves you caught?
When you’re out there, you don’t really remember the waves you caught, but you remember the waves that other people caught. For me to see Dorian knife it on the wave of the session made the whole trip worth it. It looked like the lip was almost hitting him on his head and he never flinched getting off that rail. To watch him drop in on that wave at the angle he took and how he had to be so committed with the lip made it worth it. Gaining knowledge in surfing visually right in front of me that I probably wouldn’t be able to get if I wasn’t there.