Two weekends ago, Courtney Conlogue surfed for 14 hours. She hit Salt Creek in Dana Point and the River Jetties in Newport Beach and had a couple of marathon sessions on the south side of the Huntington Beach Pier. Then the Pacific went flat.
For most surfers, the calm between the storms is a time to repair board dings, tidy up around the house, maybe partake in some yoga. For Conlogue, it allowed her to do what she's enjoyed since she was young: train.
Training has been a fixture in her life from the time she was 5 years old. One morning before school, she recalls, she was lying along a line on the vinyl flooring in her parents' Santa Ana home and doing 50 pop-ups. The next weekend, when she went surfing with her dad, Richard (an engineer at Boeing), at Trestles, she felt a difference in her paddling and how quickly she got to her feet.
“We were always at the beach, it was just what our family did,” Conlogue recalls. “My dad would be surfing, and we'd be on the sand until I was old enough to learn.”
She's now 18 years old. Her hair is a sun-streaked blond and brown. Her face is lightly freckled, and her skin is tan. She stands 5-foot-8 and is 135 pounds of muscle. She has a natural ebullience. She's well-spoken and quick to laugh.
And she's more than just another stoked Southern California surfer.
At least 17 million people surf worldwide. Of that number, roughly 20 percent are female. And of that 3.4 million, only 17 qualify for the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Tour every year. In December 2010, Conlogue officially qualified to join this exclusive group.
It's not an easy path. Surfers sacrifice time with their loved ones, credit scores and educations to join the ranks of professional surfing. Women and men (the men's World Tour has 44 spots) can compete on the World Qualifying Series (WQS) for years before getting a whiff of the major leagues—if they ever make it to that point at all.
Conlogue qualified in her first go-around, all the while balancing a full courseload for her senior year at Sage Hill High School. She graduated in June, after four years on the Honor Roll.
Among the youngest on the tour, Conlogue—a Billabong team rider—will join with another notable distinction: the lone female surfer representing the USA.
While Kelly Slater has held the surfing torch for American men, racking up his 10th world title this year, it has been 13 years since Floridian Lisa Andersen completed her four-peat. Twelve of the years since, an Australian woman has won it all. Right now, 22-year-old Stephanie Gilmore is the four-time defending champ.
“Someone needs to step up and rattle that chain a bit,” Conlogue says.
We'll find out soon enough whether she'll be the one to do so. The first contest is in late February at Snapper Rocks, followed by Bells Beach in March. Gilmore will have homefield advantage, since both of those breaks are in her home country.
These days, prepping for the pro tour isn't all about water time. More and more, surfers are realizing the necessity of getting to the gym.
Conlogue, for her part, has always been a fitness fanatic. “It's the environment my kids grew up in, with my husband surfing and me working out a lot of the time,” explains Tracey Conlogue, Courtney's mother. “They didn't really do the video-game or computer-game thing.”
Right now, Conlogue doesn't have a set schedule or routine. She has a number of different fitness components that kind of, sort of piece together. She just goes until her body says stop. “I don't really think I can overtrain,” she says.
Some days, she'll disappear on 35-mile rides along the Santa Ana riverbed on her new road bike or for countless hours of skateboard training at the Vans Skatepark in Orange. Or she'll go for hikes with the family or friends in the local mountains.
But those are the casual, unstructured workouts. The core of her current training is a surf-specific exercise routine and mixed martial arts.
In 2009, Conlogue broke big when she won the U.S. Open in overhead surf at Huntington Beach Pier in front of thousands of spectators. That same event, another local surfer stepped into the spotlight: Brett Simpson was mostly a regionally known name before that win. Then he went on to qualify for the men's World Tour and repeated as U.S. Open champ this past summer.
Simpson, like Conlogue, credits his training with Kevyn Dean, founder of Dean Sports Consultants (DSC). Sessions—which take place in a white tent the size of a basketball court on the grounds of the Hilton in Huntington Beach—implement physio balls; medicine balls; a thick, white rope; and a stereo system. Of the five to 15 participants on any given day, Conlogue is always the only female.
Dean remembers the first time she showed up for training, saying, “She outworked everyone.”
The day after her DSC workout, Conlogue is at a dojo on Warner Avenue. Being a competent street fighter doesn't carry over to surfing, but stamina, quickness and agility do. She's meeting with Todd Aimer, who owns Z-Ultimate Self Defense Studios.
Aimer has known Conlogue from the time she was being pushed into waves by her dad at Lowers. “She's a powerful surfer, almost as powerful as me,” he says with a sly grin. “She's smart—very careful with her words.”
As soon as she's stretched and ready, the jump rope comes out. “Just a couple of minutes of this is tough for most athletes,” Aimer explains. “I have her do eight.”
The workout is 45 minutes of pain. After the rope, the 9-pound medicine ball comes out, followed by the boxing gloves. Aimer works her through a series of punching and kicking combos. She particularly enjoys the kicking.
They laugh between sets, but as soon as the workout resumes, Conlogue's demeanor changes to ultra-competitive mode as though someone flipped a switch.
She's only been working with Aimer for a few months, and after each workout, she's drenched with sweat but riding an adrenalin high. “I didn't realize fighting could be this much fun!” she says.
With her high-school education behind her, she'll be taking a few college courses online in hopes of someday getting a degree in business or marketing.
“Right now, I'm a student of the World Tour,” she says.
There's a lot to learn. For starters, she'll need to know how to get around the world in an economical fashion, with her six travel boards making it to each place. That's where her mom—or, as Courtney refers to her, “my Sherpa”—comes into play. She'll serve as board caddie, travel agent, cook, driver, sightseeing companion, head of the fan club and all-around support system. “If you look around the Tour, the girls that make it, who thrive, they have that support,” Tracey says. “Look at the top five on the [World Tour] and the 'QS: I know all those girls' parents because we see each other at every contest.”
In total, Conlogue will compete in 16 events through the year. Aside from the World Tour, she'll be competing on the WQS—just in case. Remaining on the World Tour requires requalifying. If she has a rough rookie season, she could find herself needing those extra points.
Simpson, for one, doesn't think she'll need them.
“She has what it takes to be contending for a world title in the next couple of years,” he says. “And that's blowing no smoke up anyone's ass.”
This story appeared in print as “The Fighter.”