Courtney Conlogue is a pro surfer with a message of female empowerment

Oct 22, 2015 at 3:03 p.m. ET
Image: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Upon first meeting, pro surfer Courtney Conlogue appears deceptively laid-back and California. You’d never guess that the 23-year-old native Californian would be so incredibly competitive and tough once she pulls out her surfboard. But then you watch her go.

Conlogue’s specialties in surfing are barrel riding, big waves and backhand surfing (among other talents), and she is not afraid to get out there with the men and give them a run for their money.

Conlogue started surfing at age 4 during a camping trip in Mexico with her family. She was watching her dad and thought, “I could do that.” From there, a passion was born.

More: "Runner's high" may actually be the same as a marijuana high

“I loved everything about surfing from the beginning,” Conlogue said last month during an interview in San Clemente, California, during the 2015 Swatch Women’s Pro Surfing Competition. When the talk turns to the ocean, Conlogue’s entire demeanor changes. It’s clearly a deep love.

“Surfing is all about spontaneity,” Conlogue says. And it’s the truth. The ocean is unpredictable. Unlike so many other sports, where the equipment and playing field are generally predictable factors, the ocean changes from day to day. There is no way to predict the weather or the way the tides will come in each day. And because of that, every surfer must adjust his or her expectations and style accordingly.

“Surfing will humble you,” Conlogue says. “You have to learn to trust your gut, since every day you are venturing into the unknown.”

For women, who are often focused on perfection and over-preparation, it is an eye-opening opportunity to be guided by one’s gut instinct. The women in surfing tend to have a similar mindset, Conlogue says, especially the successful ones. There is this idea of going with the flow, both in the literal and figurative sense.

“None of the other sports I played ever gave me what surfing did,” she says. Of course, it’s not all dreamlike. The women on the pro tour are close with one another, says Conlogue, whose winnings to date total well over $600,000. Still, every pro female surfer is well aware of the disparity between what men are paid and what women get.

The prize purse for the women’s competitions is a fraction of what it is for the men, though it has been steadily improving over the years. According to champion surfer Cori Schumacher, it’s not just about money either. She says:

"Female pro surfers continued to collect substantially less than the men in both sponsorships and prize money. They were not give [sic] equal opportunity to surf the best conditions in competitions, and often saw non-surfing models replacing them in advertisements for the brands’ women’s clothing lines."

Pretty depressing stuff. But it’s something women see across the industries. And Conlogue and women pro surfers like her are working to change all that. “I have seen so many little girls out there who worship these women. It wasn’t always like that.”

As a parent, it’s hard to imagine a better role model. Especially since Conlogue is not just about what happens in the water. She gives back to the community as well. She’s a huge supporter of SurfAid International and Boarding for Breast Cancer, and when she is not surfing, she is an artist who always has a sketchbook near by.

More: 11 Audiobooks perfect for your long runs

Off her board, she stays fit with skateboarding and mountain biking. For Conlogue, the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dreams at such a young age is amazing, but she refuses to forget where she came from. Or that little girl who was wowed by the ocean and her dad paddling out into the waves.

“The best advice I have for any young female athlete is just to go for it,” says Conlogue, who knows her greatest strength is her inability to take no for an answer. Every day is a fight. And sometimes we lose fights. “But the point is always to get back on the board,” Conlogue says.

It’s something that applies to so much more than surfing. She has bad days, but in the end, it’s the fun and passion that keep her coming back for more. “You can still win a world title even with a few losses. You just have to make sure your wins are even better than your losses.

Great advice. For surf and for life.