My friend P. told me a story about the CEO of one of America’s, really the world’s, largest chemical companies. My friend was pissed at him. He had lost, from what I could tell, well over 80 million when that company’s stock tanked. The company had missed its earnings promise. But that was not what my friend was mad about. The CEO had spoken to the MBA class my friend was teaching at Columbia, and after the CEO was done, the CEO gave him a bro hug onstage. My friend was pissed because he felt he should have read this as a tell. The CEO knew they were going to miss earnings and was suckering him by hugging him in front of his class.
The first time I met Courtney Conlogue, more than a week before today’s semi-final loss, I eavesdropped as she spoke to what I can only guess was an agent or manager. She talked, mostly about the places she loved to eat in SoCal and some new charcoal drink someone had sent her cases of. Her mom, who is sweet, was also guarding her. I couldn’t tell, like I can’t tell around many of the professional surfers, how old she was. When it came to business, like Ace Buchan, she sounded more sophisticated and mature than I will ever be. When it came to general talk, she sounded much more like a college student. The talk was about food and clubs. But her mom was listening to every word.
I knew Courtney Conlogue was going to lose the night before her heat. I said so in a bar after I saw her. It was Tuesday night. The contest had been stopping and starting for a week based on shifts in swell and weather. I was eating at Chez Minus, the killer mussel place in Capbreton that was the antidote to the “Happy Burger” a mile away in Hossegor. I’d bought a whole bottle of cider and was attempting to share it with my table of strangers. Courtney and her mom and Travis Logie, her coach, stopped by my table on their way out. I spoke rather stupidly about the next day’s heat. If she lost early, this year’s world title would fall to Tyler Wright. If she made it to the final, the title would be decided at the next and final contest of the year in Maui. When you bump into other surfers, you can always talk about where you’re going to surf tomorrow. Unfortunately for Courtney, I took it upon myself to give her advice about her heat today, to tell her about that scene in Hoosiers, the basketball movie, where the coach goes out onto the basketball court in the huge arena his small town team is about to play in and has his players measure the height of the basket, the width of the court, etc., to show them that the arena may be bigger but the playing field is the same. It’s a shitty analogy. The playing field in surfing, at Hossegor, changes by the minute. I was saying, “Just surf,” when her mom said, graciously, “You mean, keep it simple.” An exit. Her mom leaned in and kissed me on both cheeks. Courtney followed suit. I was flattered that she would lean over to give me a hug but surprised when she went in to kiss the second cheek, maybe the most “French” thing that had happened to me all week. Sweet and awkward and exactly what her mom did. I liked her. I wanted her to win. But she did what her mom did, and I knew she was going down.
The Crowd Listening To Tyler Wright’s speech in the freezing rain
A couple of weeks before I came here, my daughter was trying out for a club basketball team. The coach who runs the club team introduced himself after Siena, my daughter, introduced herself to him. He once coached Diana Taurasi, the best female player in the world. He asked her a question about where she went to school. She looked at me for the answer. He asked her another question, and she looked at me again. He said, “did you see how she looked at you when I asked her a question?” He said. “My kids used to do that too when they were younger. It means that you, Dad, are too involved.” I learned that from Diana and Chelsea Grey’s parents. I’ll never forget when we were in Las Vegas for a tournament and I asked where her parents were. She said she didn’t know what hotel they were staying at but they were around. His point was that was that, while she of course had the natural ability, her parents had given her the space and independence to learn to make her own decisions. They weren’t in her head. She played free.
Besides her humility, one of the things that stuck out to me in Tyler Wright’s acceptance speech was that she said she finally got to go home, that she’d only been home four days in four months, and she was tearing up. You could see the loneliness and stress and sense of accomplishment coming out of her eyes. I thought about a speech she gave a few years ago after, what I think was her first win on the tour. It was also a very emotional speech. She said that it had been a very difficult year, that it was her first year traveling alone, without a parent or guardian. I couldn’t help but wonder if that independence, going through those struggles a year or two ago alone, contributed to her confidence and dominance–she’s won the world title by points before the final event. I know too well what dirtbags surfers can be, what dirtbags 18-25 year old testosterone-juiced young men can be, especially when “blowing off steam” after a competition, so I don’t blame any parent for not wanting to leave their daughter to her own devices on the road. Still, though, I couldn’t help but wonder if Courtney might win with, well, more independence.