SAGE HILL SCHOOL
Newport Coast, Calif.
AT FIRST it's difficult to spot Courtney Conlogue, 14, in the dimness of early morning as she paddles among the adult surfers off Manhattan Beach, Calif. Then she takes a wave and stands, and the sun shines a spotlight on her. "There she is," says her father, Richard, on the shore. His daughter, the second of his three children and one of the best young surfers in the country, completes her ride with a flashy but flawed 360-degree spin off the wave. "She didn't finish that well," Richard says matter-of-factly. "That would have gotten about a five [in competition]."
Courtney competes very successfully in a world of elite teen surfers—Dave Prodan, a spokesman for the ASP surf tour, calls her "the most dominant 14-year-old we have in the U.S. by a landslide"—but she follows her own path. While many of her rivals are home-schooled so they can surf all day and travel at will, she is a full-time freshman at Sage Hill School ( Newport Coast). During the school week she stays out of the water and her board stays in the garage. "School comes first in our family," says Courtney, whose goals include winning world titles and becoming a marine biologist. "I try to get all my homework done by Friday so I can wake up at 5 a.m. [Saturday] and surf. It's been difficult because I'm taking conceptual physics."
Prodan is amazed that she performs so well, given her schedule. "Even if the [other surfers] are not home-schooled, I'd guess most of them are in the water every day," he says. "She's already beating girls twice her age, and she's doing it despite getting less than 50 percent of the practice time." Her father, who is also her coach, thinks the limited schedule (she also practices taekwondo and competes on the cross-country and track teams) actually helps. "I believe in the long run she'll enjoy surfing more by not doing it every day," Richard says. "If you do something too much, you may lose the fun."
Courtney, whose parents are recreational surfers, took swim lessons at eight months and first surfed at age four. In 2006 she was the youngest female to win a World Qualifying Series event. Last month she won the Billabong Junior Pro in Puerto Rico, and at the WQS Vans Pier Classic in Huntington Beach, Calif., she was the only surfer to score a perfect 10 on a ride. Her success has brought her nine sponsors, including surf giants Billabong and Reef, which give her an income and pay for her equipment and travel.
With cooperation from her teachers, Courtney still works in some longer trips. Next month she will compete in Portugal at the ISA World Junior Championships, in addition to surfing in Huntington Beach and San Clemente. "I want to win national titles this year," says Courtney. "I want to win as many world titles as I can." The one thing she's not likely to lose along the way is her sense of being more than just a surfer.