Mood of Living Q&A:
Mood of Living: What inspired you to surf? Can you describe your first experience?
Courtney Conlogue: I think what inspired me to surf first was my love and passion for the ocean, the beauty of the surf, and the fact that my dad did it. Surfing was something my family did on the weekends. I’m a very active person and I have always been into trying several different sports. I started out on a boogie board during a camping trip to Mexico. There was a point where I just didn’t want to boogie board anymore and wanted to learn how to surf because I thought it looked cool. I asked my dad to teach me and our whole family ended up surfing. Every single weekend we would go spend the days at the beach.
MoL: What led you to pursue a career in professional surfing? What is it like to compete professionally?
CC: I think I knew I wanted to surf when I stood up on the boogie board the first time. At Lowers, Trestles when I was 6 years old, 2 years after I’d started surfing, I remember my dad pushing me into a massive wave (it felt massive at the time, it was probably only 3 feet!). I ended up on this right-hander and just rode it all the way in. I ran up the cobblestone rocks and thought, “That was amazing!”. It was exhilarating, I had my adrenaline pumping, and I was just stoked.
It was then a gradual growth to pursue professional surfing. When I was in fourth or fifth grade I wanted to be either an astronaut or a pro surfer. I didn’t know what pro surfing entailed but I knew it would be a lot of surfing and that was all I wanted to do. I got my first opportunity to compete against World Tour athletes at Honolulu Bay when I was 14. I made quite a few rounds and decided to pursue being on the tour my senior year of high school as I’d accumulated a few points. I qualified for the world tour the same week as my high school graduation. It was definitely an exciting week of my life.
There’s a lot of different components to surfing professionally; both logistically and in the water. You have to travel with boards, deal with airlines and other not-so-fun stuff but then you have the amazing part of competing in ten different locations around the world. I’ve now been competing on the World Surf League for six years. I get to spend three months in Australia, a month in Europe, two weeks in Brazil, and two weeks in Fiji, along with quite a few others. One of my favorite aspects is not only just putting the jersey on, performing, entertaining, and trying for the World Title, but actually experiencing all these different locations. I feel I have families all over the world. Being one of the top 17 on a very elite tour is pretty cut-throat and competitive but I love that aspect and how it challenges you as an individual and an athlete. That’s the reason I chose professional surfing, because it challenges me the most out of everything.
MoL: What were you doing before your career as a professional surfer?
CC: I was studying really hard, balancing high school and surfing. I did track and field and cross country for my high school team. I skated and played golf; though sometimes very badly! I love art; I was very passionate about it and still am. I was involved in philanthropy, which I try to maintain because surfing has given me a great platform.
MoL: What does it mean to you to be one of the industry’s top ranked female surfers?
CC: It is an honor to be part of this change and to be helping evolve women’s surfing in a positive direction; but it’s taken a lot of hard work to get there and I’ve definitely earned it. It’s amazing to be a part of the top 17 elite women and to be one of those women fighting for a title at the end of the year. The previous generations have really helped women’s surfing get where it is today.
MoL: How did it feel to be able to compete in your hometown?
CC: I love competing at home! I actually haven’t had my best results here on the World Tour but it’s an amazing feeling that I don’t even know how to explain. When you come in and have these individuals who support you and love watching you surf, you get this cool gut feeling that you can’t really pay for, you just have to experience it.
I feel honored to be representing the U.S. on a global platform. We haven’t had a women’s world champion in over 20 years so it is incredible to be at the forefront trying to bust down that door and create a great platform for the next generation. It’s a challenge. But I love challenges and I think it’s fun. You win, you lose, you cry, you laugh; it’s everything.
MoL: What has been the most memorable moment of your career so far?
CC: Winning the U.S. Open was amazing, for sure. Winning in my backyard when I was 16 years old and still in high school was incredible, too. Another is winning the Bell’s Beach contest this year. I sustained an ankle injury there two years ago that took me out of the water for five months; no surf, no competition. I have watched the Bell’s event webcast ever since I was a little girl. To finally win it this year, to hear the ring, and to hold such a historic trophy; it was amazing. I needed a massive score on this one wave, and I just thought to myself, “I am going to give this every breath I have left”. Everyone goes 100 percent, but I was going 200 percent on that wave. I was putting together everything I’d learned for the past two years to try and win that thing.
There are legacies that have been in the surfing culture for decades and it was such a highlight just to be next to those names and to have finally accomplished that accolade. It’s especially something for an American to win that trophy, which hadn’t been done since Lisa Anderson around 20 years ago (1997). I was honored to be able to follow that name up. I was actually trying to hold back tears.
MoL: What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in your career? What motivates you to push through any setbacks you may face?
CC: When I hurt my ankle I’d say it was an obstacle initially but I used it as an opportunity to grow. It was only the third event and I was thinking, “Who’s picking on me right now? Why do I have to be the one getting injured?”. Now I look back on it and during those months out of the water, I had to discover a lot about what I needed to do to improve as a person and as an athlete. I had to find alternatives to enjoy so I took up painting again and started paddling long distance between 9 to 14 miles. Just to be back in the ocean was such a healing thing for me. When I would paddle, it was just me, my thoughts, and the ocean. Even though I could have received an injury wild card, I challenged myself to re-qualify despite missing three events and I ended up doing that! They take the top ten, so that was a pretty cool accomplishment for me.
I think small goals are the key. No matter how small the goal is, even if it’s just being able to push yourself into one extra wrap, it helps. When I was injured I tried to get one small extra thing out of every exercise I was doing every single time. And I think that pursuing the little goals that create the big picture has always helped me accomplish things. I’ve been on tour for six years and getting a world title is a big goal. You’re always going to have wins and losses, but that’s part of the process. One thing you learn from surfing is that the only thing you can control is yourself. You can’t control things around you, the ocean, or other people. You can only be the best you can be. I’ve tried to be the best on my worst day and I think that’s important in surfing and in any sport.
MoL: What’s the riskiest thing you have ever done?
CC: It depends on what you consider risky. Sometimes my surfing is very risky. I think if any novice is doing what I do, they could probably be risking their life. I went hang gliding in Brazil -that was pretty crazy-, jumping out of a plane in Hawaii, and bungee jumping in South Africa. I’m an adrenaline junkie so I think it’s fun, but I think for anyone else it’s risky.
MoL: As a competitor in such an extreme sport, are you ever afraid? How do you overcome the fear?
CC: I don’t know if I’m afraid, but I hate to lose. I don’t really think it’s fear. Fear of injury, maybe; but you can’t control that kind of thing. You can just try to make good decisions and if things happen, they happen.
MoL: Who is the most influential person in your life?
CC: I have to say my family. They’ve had to make so many decisions to get me to where I am, and it wasn’t always easy. We were rubbing nickels a lot to allow me to be a professional surfer. It was a lot of hard work so I could accomplish my dream. But I am stronger as an individual and that gives me purpose to accomplish things.
Also, the surfers around me in the water inspire me. Fans come up to me and hug me. It’s the coolest thing ever to be able to inspire others. I feel like that inspiration inspires me. Inspire to inspire.
MoL: What puts you in a good mood?
CC: I love coffee, so any time I have a cold surf and I come in freezing, a cup of coffee or hot tea is perfection. And my dogs; my dogs definitely put me in a good mood. I like to be in out nature too. I love rain. There’s something about rain for me. I think there’s this amazing feel-good energy when you smell the earth after it rains. It’s just amazing. California is in constant drought but when I travel, I love the rain.
MoL: What does success mean to you?
CC: I don’t even know where to start. There are so many layers to it. Obviously accomplishing my goals and being the best person that I can be; whether it’s in my professional career or daily life, I think that’s success. And being able to make people laugh and inspire them. I really want to leave this place a better place than when I entered it; to be a positive influence, for me, is success.
Courtney is involved with non-profit organisation A Walk on Water.
MoL: Where do you find peace?
CC: I find peace in nature, running, or surfing. Out of everything, I’d say nature. When I lose a heat, the first thing I want to do is run or surf. Surfing is a very healing thing. There’s nothing better than just being in the ocean.
MoL: What is your favorite place to surf in the world? What places do you still hope to visit?
CC: That’s a very difficult question because there’s quite a few. I love Europe; France and Portugal have amazing waves. In Australia, there’s Bell’s Beach and Margaret’s. Fiji is not so bad; it has beautiful water. And Maui is great too.
I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland. I haven’t been to Italy yet. I want to see the pyramids. I’ve marked where I’ve been in the world on a map and there’s so much more opportunity for travel! After seeing all of my pins up there, there’s still a lot of the world to see.
MoL: We would love to know more about your personal lifestyle: do you like to cook and do you have a go-to recipe?
CC: I love cooking! My older sister and I live at my house and we cook every afternoon. She usually sautés everything, but I’m a good sous-chef. I make a killer barbecue. California always has perfect barbecue weather so I am definitely a barbecue fanatic.
I usually do a salad and add a bit of carbs and protein. I typically have chicken or fish or steak and a nice diverse salad with beets, cranberries, spinach, and all that good stuff. I have everything in moderation. I feel like I am in tune with what I need since I’ve been an athlete my whole life. I try to keep it pretty simple by choosing better and healthier solutions to cravings rather than eating junk food. I’m very lucky I have a savory tooth instead of a sweet tooth; that takes a lot of the problem out!
One of my go-tos is baking beets with red wine vinegar, a little bit of salt and pepper, some garlic (I love garlic), and some goat cheese rolled in rosemary. I usually drizzle a little balsamic glaze on top. Born and raised in Santa Ana, I love Mexican food so I make healthy versions of Mexican dishes too. On the road I rent an apartment everywhere and end up shopping at open markets and buying really fresh produce, so I’ll dine out only every once in awhile.
MoL: How does the style of your home reflect your personality?
CC: It’s a really cute Dutch colonial built in 1903. Everyone assumes it would be a bit nautical, but it’s the exact opposite; very Ralph Lauren, very Restoration Hardware-esque. Right now I’m working on the backyard to make it cozy, which has been fun. I’m going to have a copper fire pit for when people come over. My house has this fireplace room with a sofa and a leather chair. I literally built the room around the chair as I had always wanted one. I spend a lot of time reading and just relaxing in there.
I call it my happy place because every time I am there, the whole energy and ambiance of my home is cozy, homey, and happy. I want my home to be the place where I can hang my hat and just chill out. Sometimes you want to just grab a book and read, or play board games, or have a little dance party. I left an area in my house open so we can dance if we want to dance or stretch and do yoga. Upstairs, one of my rooms is an art studio so if I ever want to paint it’s all set and ready to go.
MoL: Do you have any pets?
CC: At the family house (they don’t stay at my house since I travel so much) there’s Draco, my Australian Shepherd. When we turned twelve, each one of us kids got to adopt a dog and be responsible for something that was living, so I picked Draco. I really liked dragons when I was younger, so I decided to name my dog Draco someday. My brother has a chocolate lab at the family house too, and her name is Coco.
MoL: What is your favorite smell?
CC: Coffee, the smell from the fireplace, and rain. All cozy things.
MoL: What kind of music is on your playlist?
CC: My playlist is pretty diverse right now. A lot of alternative music, a bit of pop. Sometimes I need to get amped up, so I’ll listen to somebody like David Guetta or Lady Gaga. I have some Stevie Wonder songs on there too… it’s a whole different mix of things! You never know what music you’ll be in the mood for; sometimes you want to rock out, sometimes you want to chill out.
MoL: Do you have a favorite quote?
CC: I read so many quote books; I have way too many. There are so many good quotes out there, people are just too brilliant! There’s a simple one that I like a lot, though it is kind of cheesy: “Even impossible says ‘I am possible.’” Or, “You can’t direct the wind but you can adjust your sails.” That’s a great one too.
MoL: Speaking of quotes, do you have a philosophy for living positively?
CC: I think right now people just need to be themselves. Be the best versions of themselves that they can be. There’s a simple quote, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” I really believe in that because everything I’ve had to do wasn’t about discovering who I am, but rather about creating who I want to be. Everyone should be the best them and create who they want to be because that makes the world beautiful. I meet so many amazing people when I travel. I see inspiring stories daily and I think people just need to be themselves more often. And really do what you love, I think that’s important. With surfing I sometimes get frustrated or angry, but deep down I will always love it.
MoL: What do you want your legacy to be?
CC: I’m still creating it right now. Obviously I do want to be a world champ, but there’s a lot more than just that. I want to inspire as many people as possible and make a difference. There’s a lot of opportunity here to accomplish whatever you seek. Figure out what you want to do, who you want to be, and manifest that into reality. For me, I want to help as many people as I can, turning their dreams into realities. Whether I’m able to do that for one person, a hundred people, or thousands of people, it doesn’t matter – if I’m able to impact even just one person at a time, that would be amazing.
Photo courtesy: WSL