Hillard Grossman

Re-printed from FLORIDA TODAY, January 3rd, 2022 

Top photo: Nathan Adams/ESM

Swaying palm trees in Bali, thunderous waves in Oahu and Champagne toasts off the coast of France. It was all part of the jet-setting lifestyle for professional surfers CJ Hobgood and Danny Melhado.

Of course, along with the glamor, there were bumps, bruises and broken bones, not to mention the thousands of miles and hundreds of days spent away from home, hauling a quiver of surfboards through airports, and eating exotic, yet strange-looking, foods.

CJ Hobgood      photo: Nathan Adams/ESM

Now, oceans apart, their legacy connects again Wednesday evening when both South Brevard legends are inducted into the 25th edition of the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame (new website: www.eastcoastsurfinghalloffame.org) at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, part of Surf Expo, which runs from Jan. 5-7. The ceremony will take place at 5 p.m. Jan. 5.

“I don’t know if this ever pops up on your radar when you’re growing up,” said Hobgood, a former world champion whose twin brother, Damien, was inducted at the previous Hall of Fame ceremony in 2020. “I think surfing was still kind of counter-culture back then; maybe you’d get like one mention on “SportsCenter,” but I couldn’t imagine (what it became).”

Now 42, happily married a second time and raising three girls, 16, 15, and 8 in Orlando, Hobgood already has been part of at least a couple of Hall of Fame ceremonies: the Walk of Fame and Hall of Fame in Huntington Beach, Calif., where in 2007 he claimed the U.S. Open of Surfing title in front of thousands on the beach, and the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame.

Starting in 1999 — his Rookie of the Year season — Hobgood spent 17 years on the world circuit, an incredible feat of consistency, qualifying among the top 43 surfers in the world year in and year out, only missing six months when a new half-season format was introduced.

He and his brother (who spent 15 years on the major tour) would race their bikes, surfboard in tow, up Sunrise Boulevard or DeSoto Parkway after their classes at Satellite High just to see who’d get the first wave behind the old Mark Realty building, now the Pelican Beach Park clubhouse.

“There were a lot of dreams, things we wanted to do, and we got to do them. I got to see the world,” Hobgood said. “I have a lot of fond memories of surfing back in Satellite Beach and at Sebastian. Danny was older than us, but when he was in it (on tour), that was cool.”

Hobgood came along during the highlight-reel days of Cocoa Beach’s Kelly Slater, and even outlived the Association of Surfing Professionals namesake, finding ways to tackle new, aerial-progressive judging rules as the sport merged into the World Surf League.

He won four major titles — in France, Tahiti, Japan and Spain — as well as the 2001 world title.

Melhado, 49, moved to Indialantic from the mountains of New Hampshire — where his pastime was shoveling snow — as his junior high school days were starting. He learned to surf on an old, odd-shaped, “yard sale” board.

“The kids used to tease him that his board was pregnant,” said his brother, Mike. “A couple years later, he was winning contests” and sponsors quickly began to notice.

He spent time at a local Christian school, then attended Melbourne High, before graduating from surf-friendly San Clemente High in California, where in 1991, his school’s surf team won the state championship.

By 1997, he was traveling the world on the major circuit, trading waves and scores among the top 43 surfers in the world. It also was the year Slater locked up the record fifth of his 11 world titles.

Today, Melhado remains an icon in Japan, where a trip to Tokyo at age 17 “ultimately changed the course of my life in a big way.”

He not only has taught professional surfers there the sport’s progressive style, but for the past 12 years he’s operated the highly successful Happy Surfing Okinawa school on the tropical island, along with its guest quarters.

He said he’s grateful to his parents and people like Hall of Fame legend Pete Dooley and his wife, who first sponsored him and helped him search for the correct designs from Ricky Carroll’s wide selection of surfboards.

“We all surfed Sebastian Inlet growing up and it was a heavy pecking order,” Melhado said. “I was lucky to find a spot in the mix and loved the vibe of all the older heavies and the kids coming up. It was a great driving force for us all.

“Yeah, Florida and the East Coast, in general, has produced a lot of great talents. I think, growing up and surfing in marginal conditions helped us all. Keeps you hungry and appreciative of the times you do get to surf in good conditions.”

At Sebastian Inlet, he was as respectful as Hobgood.

Satellite Beach surfer Gary Wheeler recalled the times he and his brother would surf at Sebastian Inlet.

“Danny was the kind of person who usually would let us have the wave,” Wheeler said. “That shows how humble he was. He also showed he had just the right stuff, being from the East Coast, to make it on tour.”

Melhado’s favorite memories of Brevard County are numerous.

Danny Melhado

“But growing up surfing with Kelly in the boys devision,” leads the list, he said. “Kelly was just Kelly … no one was going to match him.

“Breaking in with the Sebastian Inlet locals like Bill Hartley, Mark Puchate and Matt Kechele to surf the famous (First) Peak,” also has been unforgettable. “Brevard produced so many great legends … Dick Catri, Jeff Crawford and so many others who paved the way.”

Growing up in Indialantic, the “Coral Way Crew,” where he lived, just happened to include world-recognized surf stars such as Todd Morcom and Paul Reinecke.

“They were all really good surfers, and they pushed each other,” Kechele said. “Danny was probably one of the best First Peak surfers I ever saw.”

It helped Melhado claim a number of impressive pro titles, including the ASP East Pro Tour title an unprecedented three years in a row. He also was selected to the U.S. Surfing Team and spent a few years on the world qualifying circuit before reaching the major leagues.

“I loved to travel, and at that time doing contests was the only way to keep traveling,” Melhado said. “I honestly had a hard time competing and for the most part hated that aspect of surfing. It was just a means to travel. Now I love how I can surf, run a business and be in control of how and when I want to travel and surf. … Every day is different and that’s what keeps the stoke going.”

Hobgood, too, has plenty of memorable moments as he’s been embarking on a new, real estate career.

He, unfortunately, had to sell his silver 2001 World Championship cup in order to keep another dream alive, filming the highly-acclaimed documentary “And Two If By Sea,” revealing the sometimes contentious rivalry between he and his twin brother.

“It’s been going strong — we’ve been pumped,” he said.

“Honestly, though, (life’s) just fun, with (being a representative for outdoor equipment giant) Salty Crew and real estate, my family’s been so cool for the next chapter in my life. … I lived the dream and now people are acknowledging me for that dream, so I’m humble and super thankful. This is what they call the cherries on top.”

Class of 2022

CJ Hobgood (Satellite Beach), Danny Melhado (Indialantic), Jeannie Chesser (Miami Beach), Bill Hixon (Neptune Beach), Chris Lundy (Gulf Coast), Kristy Murphy (Jupiter), John Parton (Palm Beach County), Eric Penny (New York), Kathy Phillips (Maryland), Matt Walker (North Carolina) and Spyder Wright (Maryland).