Hogan's Latest Fight: to Join Surfing's Elite

Times Staff Writer

'When I take off I don't know what I'm going to do. . . . I can get myself into an awkward position and get out of it and nobody knows how I pulled it off.'

Jim Hogan just couldn't believe it. Only a week after he was second in the Boarder Line tournament at San Clemente, Hogan was surfing in the Stubbies Classic at Oceanside, riding frisky and fine, when he was called for interfering with another surfer.

The penalty lost him the heat and suddenly ended the tournament for him. It was a judgment call, fast and firm, and there was no way he could compete against it.

"I couldn't believe it," said Hogan, 24. "I've only had two interferences in my life. I just couldn't believe it."

It just couldn't have happened to the guy who, for 14 years, has used intense situations the way artists use paints.

Not to the guy who helped save the San Clemente Pier buckled by a storm.

"I put on my own Jim Hogan Jr. surfing tournament and donated a percentage of the proceeds to the pier," he said.

Not to the guy who once wrestled and pinned a taunting 6-footer on a Maryland beach.

"He said 'Let's wrestle,' and I laughed it off," said Hogan, a former high school wrestling champion who is 5-feet 5-inches. "He kept on, and there was this Frisbee going around and everybody kept putting money in it, wanting me to wrestle him. I looked at the Frisbee and said, 'Well, if you really want to wrestle . . . '

"I pinned him in about 18 seconds, made him scream a little for the crowd first, took the money and walked."

Not to the guy who habitually turns into a contortionist just so he'll know what to do next.

"I consider myself a radical surfer because I try things that are impossible and pull them off quite a bit," he said. "When I take off I don't know what I'm going to do. I wait for the wave to give me an opportunity to do something. I can get myself into an awkward position and get out of it and nobody knows how I pulled it off."

Not to Jim Hogan, the teacher, who shows beginners how to surf every Tuesday at the Paskowitz surfing school, an annual summer camp at San Onofre State Park. Takes them lunching to his brother's San Clemente restaurant for free chicken and ribs every Wednesday. Always has a half dozen surfboards handy in his trunk just in case they're needed. And, reaching into a cardboard box in his back seat, can pluck forth a black and white action shot of himself which he can quickly autograph and make a younger surfer's day.

Not to Jim Hogan, the neighborhood guy, who gets waves and friendly smiles from just about everybody in San Clemente. Even Indy, the blue and gold parrot perching in front of his brother's restaurant, squawks when he drives by. And if you don't believe it, he'll drive by again and Indy will move his clipped wings and squawk again.

Not to Jim Hogan, the philosopher, who reasons that the earth is covered by six times as much water as dry land, so any fool knows you have to surf six times as much as you work. The credo is attached to the glove box in his car.

Not even to Jim Hogan, the private guy, who just bought a condo above Trestles, his favorite surf break, which he dutifully decorates in surferama provincial: board closet always jammed to capacity, water bed temperature adjusted just so, trophies tossed out when they overflow into the kitchen, and three or four foreign surfers crashing on the floor for the tournament's duration "as long as they clean up their messes in the kitchen."

Still, the interference was called against Hogan, who was trying to win his first Assn. of Professional Surfers tour stop. The Stubbies was especially important because this year it was dedicated to his mother, Lynne, who died last October. There was nothing he could do. Which is strange because Hogan, his energy level hovering somewhere between danger and evacuate, always seems to be competing against something. He will compete in the Op Pro Surfing Championship at Huntington Beach, beginning today.

"You could say I've been fighting my whole life," he told Surfing magazine. "I've been struggling since I was born."

Hogan was born two months premature and weighed only 2 pounds 15 ounces. He spent his first six months in an incubator.

"The average kid is about six pounds, so Jimmy was less than half," said Jim Hogan, his father. "The doctor said he wasn't going to live more than an hour."

Throughout school, Hogan was always smaller than other kids, making some believe he was an easy target.

"The last thing I'd say to him before he went to school in the morning was, 'Don't fight," his father said. "He got to the point where if somebody just shoved him, he would waylay them. I don't think he ever lost a fight."

He wasn't afraid to compete against nature either. Hogan Sr., a former state champion bowler who managed a bowling alley in Santa Ana with help from his wife, would drop Jimmy off at Capistrano Beach in the mornings before heading to work. He says he knew his son was safe because he could swim like a fish. However, he did have one commandment: No surfing. He thought it was too dangerous. That was true at first, anyway.

"I came to pick Jimmy up and asked the other kids where he was and they pointed out in the water," he said. "He was doing really well, better than most of the other people in the water. His mother and I talked about it and bought him a board and a wet suit."

If you wanted to find Hogan after that, you had to plan on getting sand between your toes. He was surfing from dawn until dusk. He began competing and surfing against people such as Tom Curren, whom he says he would beat once every three times.

Meanwhile, his height was still hindering him.

"I went out for the football team one time and they said I was too small," he said. "They put me on a throwback team and I turned out to be one of the best halfbacks. The other team then wanted me to play for them, but I said, no. I finished up the season and just never played again after that."

When he began wrestling, though, he found something he could do almost as well as surf. He won three South Coast League titles at San Clemente High School. Had he not wrestled with a dislocated elbow his senior year, he probably would have won a fourth. By the time he was finished, he was named Triton of the Year, San Clemente's highest athletic honor, and held 18 records, including a six-second pin.

Following graduation, Hogan knew what he wanted to do with his life. Curren, who had won the National Scholastic Surfing Assn. title in 1981, then turned pro. Hogan won in 1982 and his sponsors allowed him to turn pro.

However, Hogan was never able to surf with Curren on the ASP world tour. He finished 24th his first year, 26th his second and third years. Because he wasn't in the Top 16, he says he would have to share a hotel room with three other surfers. Four guys would crowd into the same rental car. He even gambled in Australia once so he could pay his hotel bill. He felt he was always either on an airplane or moving from one crowded hotel room to the next. All that was hurting his concentration, and his surfing.

"When you get to the top, everyone has the same ability as you," said Hogan Sr. "After that it becomes a mental game. It took me seven years in top competition to build that confidence in bowling."

When Hogan returned home from abroad last spring, he learned his mother had developed cancer. When he won the PSAA's Trim Malibu Classic last year, she was unable to attend. When she felt better, she watched him from the beach, seated in a wheelchair.

"We got a wheelchair and stickered it all up and she called it her surfmobile," Hogan said. "She would sit on it and watch me surf. And she'd get mad if you called it a wheelchair, it was her surfmobile. But you watch somebody disintegrate right in front of you, that's the worst."

With his mother's encouragement, Hogan then went to Japan to compete on another leg of the ASP Tour.

"I surfed great that heat and the next thing I know I had a big lump in my throat. Right then I knew my mother had passed away," he said. "We coordinated the time difference, and she passed away at the same time I was surfing the heat.

"I sprinkled her ashes right out there," he said, gesturing toward the San Clemente Pier. "I know she's out there with me when I surf."

Meanwhile, Hogan moved up to 21st in the ASP standings but the problems making ends meet continued.

"So I quit and that was the biggest decision of my life," he said.

When Hogan entered the PSAA Aloe-Up Open in Oceanside in March, the ASP automatically stripped him of his world ranking. Having missed the PSAA tour's first three events, Hogan started out 2,500 points behind the leader, Mike Lambresi. Since then, Hogan has moved to second place and has a chance to overtake Lambresi, now only 601 points ahead, at the upcoming Budweiser Superbowl of Surfing at Malibu.

For the first time in a while, Hogan is feeling he can compete against anybody. Gary Forbach, a martial arts instructor in San Clemente, is teaching Hogan balance and breathing exercises. Bob Anderson, a local nutritionist and weight trainer, is overseeing his diet. And he has even able to make money. Most important, though, Hogan says he's really feeling confident.

"I don't think he's reached his peak yet," said his father, "but I think once Jimmy reaches that concentration level, I don't think there's anybody in the world who can beat him."

Added Hogan: "I figure if I go through the American tour and win it a couple of years, my sponsors will put me back on the world tour. They'll do it right then."

And that's important to him, because he's never won an event on the ASP tour.

"That bothers me," he said. "But there's always another contest around the corner. The Op Pro's coming up, and I figure I'll put it all together sooner or later."

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