Clifton James Hobgood has one world title under his belt, and after 14 years on tour he is enjoying a bit of a revival this year, ninth in the world title ratings. And while he's been surfing better than ever, after ducking out of the Oakley Bali Pro in the quarterfinals he admitted, "If I'd won in Fiji last month I might have just walked away." Lacking a major sponsor, it's either serving as motivation or a burden.
For all the "new blood" and the "young professional" generation, the attribute you need to win at venues like Keramas and Fiji is experience. To some extent, the same holds true for all the critical waves on tour. Look at who's won at Teahupoo the last few years -- Mick Fanning, Kelly Slater, and the late Andy Irons. Hobgood won in Tahiti nearly 10 years ago back in 2004. Right there is more experience than most of the tour combined.
How about Pipe in recent years? Parkinson, Kieren Perrow, Irons, Taj Burrow, and his majesty, Slater, and again, while lacking a title, Hobgood's right there. He finished in the quarters last year. Of course, there will always be a rookie or a wildcard to make headlines in heavy reef breaks now and then -- your John John Florences and your Nat Youngs -- but at the end of the day, those standing on the podium are likely north of their 30th birthday. More importantly, they've simply competed at these revered breaks for over a decade. X Games Surfing caught up with Hobgood about it all and, not surprisingly, he had a lot to say.
"Experience helps so much. It's always a different beast competing in those reef breaks and the more you do it, the better you get. Maybe that's why Kelly wins every year," offers Hobgood.
Hobgood won at Teahupoo in 2004. When he briefly fell off the tour in 2011, he announced his return loud and clear with some heroics at Pipe a few months later. He remains brilliant in heavy water lefts.
"It's just some weird relationship. Maybe those waves know how much I stay up at night thinking about them," jokes Hobgood.
But the record of experience vs. youth is no joke. In the '90s, the tour guys would dedicate weeks at a time learning how to ride these reefs in idyllic settings. And they've competed at some of them 15 or 20 times.
So while the question has turned from "if" a Brazilian will win a title to "when" one of them is going to have to pull a Bobby Martinez, and surprise the world in a man-eating wave right out of the gate. Do any of these young South Americans have it in them?
Hobgood feels that they will have to improve their game a bit, but adds, "That's why I think Medina can be that guy. He can make it deep at those spots."