I was 16 years old when I finally ripped the surf posters from my wall. That was the year I finally outgrew the idea of having surfers for heroes. For, what hero accomplishes something that benefits only them? That was and is my reasoning on the topic. And while I continue to admire the skill and daring of such surfers as Kelly Slater and John John Florence, they are not heroes to me. They are simply people that place their feet on wax better than anyone else.
My two remaining surf heroes include Skip Frye, who continues to be impressive by living humbly and giving his quiver and his life away, and a goofyfoot named Damien Hobgood. Hobgood won heats and hearts by putting everything on the line with skill and passion.
But Damien and his twin brother C.J. were about as unlikely to reach the top of pro surfing as Bernie Sanders was the Democratic ticket. These twins grew up in the usually surf-starved state of Florida where they dominated the amateur ranks before heading to the North Shore of Oahu, which is the equivalent of playing Broadway after appearing as a tree in a school play.
The boys arrived on the island with little reef experience, just in time to catch the act of two other brothers of around their age — the homegrown dominators, Andy and Bruce Irons.
By 2001, C.J. had ripped the title from the hands of every international contender in the world to become the 2001 World Surfing Champion.
While glad for his brother, Damien would never sit still for being upstaged by him. In his pursuit for surfing’s greatest accolade, he pushed himself further than anyone — holding the record for the highest two-wave grand final score in pro surfing, 19.9 points out of a possible 20, before that record (and almost every record in surfing) was broken by fellow Floridian, Kelly Slater.
Damien was on a roll when he was injured in 2005 while surfing some of the biggest waves anyone has ever paddled into at Teahupoo in Tahiti. While he never did crack the No. 1 slot, he did place fifth one season and was in the top ten for most of his career.
But none of that is what makes Damien Hobgood a hero to me. While he is considered a nightmare to compete against, his deep care for others is what I consider among his greatest attributes. Damo, as he is known throughout the surfing world, was raised with loving parents, but still shows up annually for the Boys to Men 100 Wave Challenge, an event that benefits kids with either absentee fathers, or no father at all.
Former pro surfer and current world tour commentator Peter King once told me of a time when Damien had been punched out in Hawaii. As King tells it, Damien did not retaliate but showed compassion for his attacker by offering to help him, rather than fight back.
Now, I’m going to say something that many of you won’t like. Here goes: Surfers tend to be selfish. Come on, you know it. I am certain Damian Hobgood can be selfish at times. Still, when I see him, he is helping teach a kid the finer points of pro surfing or hanging out with his kids. It would be hard to imagine having a better dad, or hero.
Currently Damien Hobgood lives in Encinitas with his wife Charlotte and their three children.