New Jaguars wide receiver Chris Conley surfs.
As in, really surfs: Catching waves easily, getting quickly to his feet, making the best of whatever the wave offers, even when it’s not much.
Oh, it’s apparent that he’s pretty new to it, though his progress has been quick — it’s been just four months since he caught his first wave. But the foundation is clearly there as he, along with every other surfer at the Beaches, waits out summer’s flatness for the first hurricane swell of the season.
“I’m just trying to get all my practice reps in,” he said. “Getting ready for it.”
For now though, as a recent and eager convert to the surfing life, Conley is not at all jaded about the prospect of getting up before dawn to surf barely-there waves on a cloudy Saturday.
After all, he’d been out the evening before, and the waves, if possible, had been even worse.
As he walked toward the dunes, his board under his arm, Conley explained his obsession, his new challenge. He kept his voice low; it was early still, and houses at Neptune Beach are close together. “I think I had this idea in my head since I was a kid of what surfing was,” he said, “and when I got the opportunity to try it, it just got me excited about all those childhood dreams.”
He is a man of enthusiasms, said his wife, Brianna, who was ready to paddle out with him.
“When he loves something, he’ll just talk about it like it’s the most important thing in the world,” she said. “I love that about him.”
He’s kind of a nerd, she said.
Conley, deadpan, denied that. “Never,” he said. “Never that.”
But in an introductory team video after signing with the Jaguars in March, he readily acknowledged the fact. “I’m probably the biggest nerd that you’ll ever meet that wears a football uniform,” he said then.
So what did he think about Godzilla?
“I don’t understand all the bad reviews,” he said, looking up from waxing his surfboard. “I grew up watching the Toho Godzilla films with my dad, and so I felt like in the movie I saw a lot of tributes to the older Godzilla films. There were a lot of Easter eggs, and a lot of shots that they shot that were purposely shot to look like they were on a big set, with Godzilla walking around. I thought that was awesome. That brought me back to my childhood. It kind of looked like a live-action person in a suit, even though it was CGI [computer-generated image], so I was a fan of that. I think they’ve done a good job of kind of honoring the origins of Godzilla.”
(Easter eggs, by the way are inside jokes and tributes and allusions that, in this case, only Godzilla fans would get. Conley got plenty of them.)
As a junior at the University of Georgia, he made — and starred in — an accomplished 26-minute-long “Star Wars” fan film, “Retribution,”set on campus. It has almost 600,000 views on YouTube.
That wasn’t necessarily a plus when it came to pro football, he said during an interview his rookie year with Sports Illustrated. He said NFL teams asked him “countless times” during the draft process just how serious he was about film-making, as if that could get in the way of football.
“They want their athletes to be intelligent people who are well-rounded,” he told the interviewer, “but at the same time, when someone comes up to them that may be too well-rounded, they get nervous.”
The Jaguars, though, don’t seem to mind him being well-rounded, at least when it comes to surfing. A team representative even asked a local pro surfer, Tristan Thompson, if he’d show Conley around the waves. Thompson readily agreed, and has become a regular surfing partner with Conley.
“He’s a full-on nerd surfer,” Thompson said approvingly. “He’s really gotten into it. If you surf, you know the feeling of riding a wave. He got hooked.”
Conley’s surfing life didn’t necessarily start well, but it did inspire him. He took a humbling surfing lesson in Hawaii in February (he stood up just once during a long, trying session), then went to a surf camp in the Dominican Republic — day after day of surfing. Since coming to Jacksonville from the Kansas City Chiefs, he’s been out in whatever the ocean has to offer, several times a week at least.
“It was just a pleasant surprise when I decided to come out here,” Conley said. “I was kind of pumped by the fact that this was one of the things we could do while we were here. It’s been good. We’ve had the opportunity to meet some really rad people. They’ve been super-chill.”
One of those people is surfboard shaper Mike Whisnant, who made Conley a custom board with a Georgia Bulldog “G” logo on it. Conley was with Whisnant during much of the making of the board: “I’m a big tinkerer. I like to see how things work.”
Whisnant, reached at his shop later, chuckled at Conley’s enthusiasm, saying it made him excited about surfing all over again. “He’s going to conquer it for everything it’s worth,” he said. “He’s so infectious. I told him, ‘You’ve got to keep coming around. You need to stop by — I get stoked just having you around.’”
On Saturday at the beach, the waves were so small that Conley left the custom board behind in favor of a longboard with more float and glide, to make the most of what the ocean was grudgingly giving him.
He and Brianna Conley had brought company: college teammate Amarlo Herrera and Herrera’s girlfriend, Sydney Fassel, both game to try surfing for the first time. Thompson gave them some tips before going in the water.
Conley watched for a while, and laughed heartily when Herrera, on dry sand, jumped up on his surfboard as if he’d been doing it his whole life.
“You ready? Let’s go,” Conley said, heading toward the ocean again.
Matt Soergel: (904) 359-4082