It’s all about the journey.
That was the biggest takeaway for Courtney Conlogue on Saturday, Aug. 29, as she embarked on a journey across the Catalina Channel, a grueling feat that took 7 hours and 45 minutes to hit the finish line set on the sand of Huntington Beach.
The pro surfer and fellow paddlers brother Ryan and friend Landon Holman were greeted on the beach by cheers from supporters, fans, friends and family, as well as flashing lights from the Huntington Beach Marine Safety Department and a rescue boat that met the trio out at sea to help bring them in on their final stretch.
“Everything, the process going through everything we experienced, was just incredible,” Conlogue said. “That paddle was definitely a journey and quite the experience.”
But her journey didn’t start on the island at dawn Saturday morning, instead it began months ago as the well-known Santa Ana surfer started her recovery from a brain injury caused by multiple concussions during competitions that required extensive therapy and “reprogramming” of her brain.
The paddle was an idea she had to not only challenge herself physically, but also to try and inspire others who may be struggling, either mentally or physically, during the coronavirus pandemic.
She made the paddle a fundraiser to benefit two groups she is passionate about: Feeding America and A Better Chance. Though she hasn’t tallied the final amount, she said thousands of dollars had been raised as of Monday, and the fundraiser is still open.
Conlogue trained for months for the paddle near the Huntington Beach Pier, where she grew up surfing on her way to becoming one of the world’s best – it’s the same spot where she twice won the U.S. Open of Surfing title.
The voyage was met with rough waters, literally, on Friday as the boats made their way to the island, facing whipping winds and swells that caused many aboard to become seasick.
“Everyone one of us paddlers were feeling it the whole day,” she said of the sailboat journey to Catalina. “We all plugged away.”
It took nine hours to reach Catalina on Friday – longer than it took Conlogue and crew to paddle back the following day.
They departed at sunrise on Saturday from Two Harbors, opting for a longer route than leaving from Avalon.
Despite glassy condition the entire trek, it was a grueling, exhausting paddle, but as an athlete, Conlogue has learned to never give up.
“Saying ‘can’t’ for me is like vinegar in my mouth. Can’t and quit are two things that don’t exist in my vocabulary,” she said. “That’s just in my blood and how I’ve been raised. It’s just in me. There were definitely moments I was feeling it though.”
Brett Barnes, manager of Duke’s Restaurant in Huntington Beach, was aboard one of the support boats that made the journey with the trio, following along to help with water breaks and to refuel the crew.
“She was just unbelievably strong the whole way,” Barnes said. “She’s multi-dimensional. She’s not just a great surfer and athlete, but a rock climber and an artist. It just shows how well-rounded she is as an individual and not just focused on one thing.”
Barnes arranged for the lifeguards to meet them out at sea for the final leg to the mainland.
“She’s our hometown girl. Everybody collaborated, it shows you the community comes together to support someone like that and the purpose of the paddle,” he said. “They came out in droves because of who she is and who she was supporting. That’s the heart of our community, that support.”
Seeing the rescue boat and all the people on shore to greet the paddlers got her “all choked up,” with the last three miles a fight to the finish line, Conlogue said.
“I was so surprised,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a better crowd to bring us in. I’m so grateful for all the support we had. All these small moments, in the scheme of things, that are unforgettable.”
And, she said she hopes the effort will remind people they are not alone during this tough time in history.
“That’s what I wanted to do through this paddle,” she said, “to let me people know they are not alone and we are there for them.”
Source: Orange County Register