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Interview:  Alexei Obolensky  / Photos:  Nick Pumphrey

Interview: Alexei Obolensky / Photos: Nick Pumphrey

For those of you who, like I grew up on an unhealthy diet of surf films or just surfing general in the early 00’s you’ll be more than familiar with  CJ.

Think west bowl ‘Chopes. Fiji. Pipe. Secret Machine. Everyone riding boards with Yellow rails because CJ had Yellow rails. CJ shaped and influenced countless surfers across the world. Having retired two years ago from being a staple on tour for 17 years, the soft speaking, southern drawling Floridian left his mark on the past two decades of competitive surfing as we know it. One of the best backhand turns in the world, unparalleled anywhere where big and barrelling, as well as being renouned for being the nicest guy out there. So when we got a text saying CJ was in town and keen to chew the fat over a couple of vinos, who were we to say no? We learnt quickly that retired is a loose term, and whilst competitively CJ is out of the game, it seems he’s got more on his plate than ever…

WT: CJ! Europe, you’re here. We’re drinking wine in Biarritz. How good is this?

CJ: Yeah over for a long weekend, cramming as much in as I can work wise. Hardly brought anything with me but the waves have been so fun, around Bourdaines and Estagnots – I’ve bought the sunshine it’s been amazing. Everyone is walking around with a smile on their face – out of hibernation mode.

WT: Isn’t spring just the greatest! (Our eyes can’t help but be drawn to CJ’s Submariner, an item much coveted in our office) Hello the Rolex!

CJ: Ah it’s funny, it was actually given to me by Globe when I signed. It reminds me for how much they did for me, and my career – it’s so great that it’s come full circle.

WT: How so?

CJ: Well, I’m stoked from relationship we had over the years. Since starting Salty Crew and with Globe owning the  majority of it they’ve been so amazing from the beginning and now being involved with them now on the brand side, and not as an athlete it’s great to see both sides.


WT: It must be insane having had a long career in pro surfing and now kinda be on the other side of it. From having been a grom, to a pro surfer and now being in the position of marketing manager or brand owner director. It must interesting having transitioned to being the other side of the desk so to speak?

CJ: Ah man the transition was crazy. When I was doing the tour, I was doing sales at the same time, going to surf shops with Salty Crew and showing them the line. For example when I was surfing the contest at Pipe, I had the Surf Expo tradeshow in January. There was still a couple of days left at Pipe and I was still surfing the last days of the event but January was right around the corner so I had to get my appointments in! So I was hitting people up arranging appointments – They were asking – “wait are you surfing the contest” I would reply “Yeah yeah I’m surfing the contest but that life is already done”.  It was a strange transition time for sure. Throughout though, my main driving force was that people did so much for me, I had such a great run, you know why can’t I be in a position to do this for somebody else?

W.T I guess that surfer owned brands are nothing new, however being able to compete at a top level yet also be at the coalface living the sales rep life is pretty impressive

C.J Yeah, I guess I’ve learnt that you can put me in a pen with pig and shit and I would be okay, I really would you know. I’ve done all the little, different, however shitty jobs that come with a brand! It’s been amazing working sales to understand the reps, the retailers and the different aspects of the business. I’m not saying I know a lot but enough to understand what’s going on!

W.T Where are you based now?

 C.J I’m in Florida, Orlando – an hour from the beach, it’s crazy. People are like you’re a surfer and you live an hour away from the beach? When I was on tour I had long times away from my family, it was fun for me to live my dream –  be whole hearted, just give it all, have that warrior mentality. But was was on my heart was I got to get home to my kids and my family, and then I would get home and I wouldn’t know how to do that and how to be around them. I’m still trying to figure that out, I was checked out for so long doing the job. For lack of better words having an affair with my job on my family I’ve been through a divorce, I’ve got three girls and I’m always learning to do be a better husband and a father. I’m not trying to make up for lost time or anything like that I’m just trying to sink in, and that’s why I’m really thankful to be in Orlando, an hour away from the beach which has allowed me to focus on my family.


W.T Do you still do a few surf trips?

C.J Yeah, as much as I can get away with! I love coming to Europe – we did Portugal at the beginning of the year, Hawaii in February. Fiji. There’s a few things I need to do body and healthy and the surfing I can still do….

W.T When I was younger I grew up watching Secret Machine and mainly you and Damien. We were in Mexico at the beginning of the year and Damo was out at Salsipuedes that very same wave from the movie and that was the most insane shit I’ve ever seen!

 C.J No way, he never miss a swell there! That sort of thing you were doing and the memories come back is how I feel when I’m here. A lot of that stuff happened to me Europe and not that I’m living in the past or anything like that but it allows me to enjoy those experiences again like you guys in Mexico. I’ve never even surfed that wave and Damien has never missed a swell there so it’s quite funny.

I think all those experiences are essential – whether it’s skating, surfing, snowboarding, cause when we’re kids learning how to surf those are moments where you’re like “who do I want to be?” Those experiences were inspirational for you to go out there surf a certain way, try a different thing. You’d wanna surf this wave like this guy. I don’t think it changes for anybody cause you’re always drawn to that and I think professional surfers do that – it’s a great parallel.

W.T: Who are you surfing with now when you’re on one of your trips, what is the set up?

C.J You know what, I’ve been doing a few trips with Lucas Dirkse and he is just one of those guys that makes me feel so one dimensional! I’m so lucky to hang out with him. He’s amazing at riding longboards and twin fins and then will surf one of my boards and absolutely shred. His family are farmers and amazing at growing things – a full green thumb.

W.T Everyone has that mate that’s annoyingly good at everything right?

C.J Oh for sure – but that’s been super inspirational for me –  he’s also a commercial fisherman with his dad.  So he’s the pretty much the gnarliest fisherman! I went to Mcbay we were on a boat for two weeks with him from San Diego to Cabo and I swear the guy knows everything about everything. We were on these boats and at the end of the trip I was like dude if we didn’t have you on the trip I don’t know what we would have done. There were so many things he would see, but also fixing the issue and unless you live on a boat you wouldn’t know about these things. He made a living off fishing – this is a guy I would wanna be.


W.T How did you get involved with the guys from Octopus?

C.J. Ah through Joe G and we’re getting old and it sort of ran it course and time. I was like “Hey Joe just send us some pads” which they did and we were super stoked. We came back to them and said “Hey I know you’ve got a great thing going and the crew that you guys have is just insane and we look up  to all you guys but hey if theres everything, if you wanna do a pad, or whatever, I don’t know if it’s going to hurt the business!”. But they were like “Yeah let’s do a pad!”. Myself and Damo love how they are running that brand, it’s a very core, authentic, simplistic model there, that I think people appreciate that. I was really attracted to that and obviously I respect those guys a lot, and the fact that they even let us through the front door is more than we deserve.

W.T So what’s next? You’re in Europe for a bit, had some waves, had some fun, had some wine?

C.J Yeah dude for me it’s all about family, and the more I learn about business the more the wheels just go like crazy with all things that can be done with opportunities and relationships that are made, and what else you can plug into it. So yeah that’s where am at. I’m back to a place I love, now I’m thinking I got to get back here soon – I’ll just have to take my family next time!

-> If you haven’t done it yet, check out CJ and the rest of the Salty Crew team in “Find refuge in the Sea”:

©Wasted Talent Magazine
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