Courtney Conlogue toured the coast of Portugal and traveled the ancient pilgrimage route across the top of Spain, from Santiago de Campostella along the Bay of Biscay to the spa town of Biarritz in France.
"My favorite place was the cathedral in Burgos; it was amazing," she says.
But Courtney was an accidental tourist. Her cultural sightseeing was accomplished only with the unwanted assistance of an ash-spewing Icelandic volcano. Her Volkswagen Passat rental car was easy to spot in the heritage site parking lots — it was the one with a stack of surfboards strapped to the roof.
Conlogue, 18, is a rising star on the professional surfing circuit — the No. 3-ranked woman in the world. The Santa Ana, Calif., teenager travels the globe in a sort of beautiful bubble, speeding from surf spot to surf spot. France, Peru, Hawaii, Brazil, Indonesia, Portugal, Tahiti and Australia.
She can give you directions to surf spots on four continents, but she hasn't seen Big Ben, the great Buddhas at Borobudur or the rain forests of the Amazon. If it isn't a surf break or an airport, it's hard to fit in the time.
"She's been to France three times but never been into Paris," says her mother, Tracey Conlogue. "Just changing planes. We saw the Eiffel Tower from the air."
But before you feel sorry for her — and Courtney Conlogue is the last person who would ever want you to feel sorry for her — know that she and her mother made these observations while sitting on the beach just east of the Banzai Pipeline on Oahu's North Shore at the end of their month in Hawaii.
When Courtney saw photographer Mark Rightmire and me arrive on the beach, she gave a wan, slightly disappointed smile. Nothing personal. We were just another thing that was going to keep her out of the water. But Courtney is no pensive teen. Talking to the press, making appearances for sponsors, meeting with fans are all part of the life she has embraced.
"I just want to go out and do what I love to do and hope it will pay off," she says. "I want to have fun, which is what surfing is all about. I may not get to some of the sights, but I get to meet a lot of interesting people, see all these different cultures and surf these great places."
Courtney is too young to rent a car in most countries. Her parents had to sign for her passport. That means her mother has often been swept up in the amazing but grueling experience of bouncing around the globe.
"I never traveled to a foreign country until I was 45," Tracey said. "Courtney had a contest in South America, and I needed to go with her. Five years later, I need more pages for my passport because it's getting filled up."
Tracey plays the roles of helper, cheerleader, Sherpa, chauffeur and logistics coordinator.
"She needs to get there, get acclimated to the time change, surf and get ready," Tracey said. "A big part of it is just showing up and going out — whether the surf is good or bad, whether she's feeling great or tired."
Courtney graduated from high school last year and is taking distance-learning classes from Orange Coast College. Sometimes she travels without her parents, though only with trusted friends like surfing veteran Stephanie Gilmore, who took Courtney on a trip to Indonesia.
Some of the other younger surfers have a parent on parts of the tour, and they form a small community. Courtney's main sponsor, Billabong, also has staff members, led by girls team manager Megan Villa, who look after the needs and safety of the company's roster of surfers.
"I trust Megan, otherwise I wouldn't let my child go," Tracey said. "Sometimes I need to give her the freedom of mobility. It's created self-reliance. This is what she wants. She's focused on winning and getting better."
The rewards of success on the pro surfing circuit are immense. Conlogue experienced it when she won the US Open of Surfing in 2009 in Huntington Beach. But surfing has more than its share of crash-and-burn stories of drugs and alcohol.
"She's seen the results of it," Tracey said. "There's been moments of" — she pauses to pick her word carefully — "dialogue."
Tracey says she knows there will be a time when she will step back and let Courtney make her own way around the world
"I'll know — we'll know — in our hearts when the time comes," Tracey said. "She has the support of her family. She'll create her own family of people who will support her goals. But I don't think it is time yet to rip the carpet out from under her."
Courtney runs out of the water and stops in front of her mother.
"I'm feeling a little burnt on the shoulders," she says. Tracey gets up, finds a tube of sunblock and plasters her daughter with white goop. Then it's back to the surf.
Later in the day, I talked to Patrick Gudauskas of San Clemente, who just finished a successful rookie year on the top men's tour. I recounted Tracey Conlogue's comment about Paris. He smiled and said the same could be said for a lot of surfers on the tour.
"Yeah, I've been to Paris it feels like 40 times and never been out of the airport," he said. "When you're competing, you just want to get to the next event. If you have some extra time, you want to spend it surfing to get used to everything before your heats. It's what you want to do and what you are being paid to do. I hope to see all the great cities someday, but it's going to have to wait."
One day Courtney will go off to travel the world and Tracey will stay home in Santa Ana. Maybe they can meet somewhere between Orange County and Bali along the way. Perhaps Paris. I can suggest a nice cafe by the Eiffel Tower.