Rosanne ‘Rosy’ Hodge has a few stamps in her passport. A snapshot from earlier this year looks like this:
- Maldives for 10 days
- back home (San Clemente, California) for five days
- Fiji for three weeks
- back home for a few nights
- then off to her native South Africa for two weeks…
… to work on the live broadcast of the J-Bay Open. Somewhere in between, she also touched down in France for five days to attend a speciality women’s fitness event for Roxy, the brand that has sponsored her since the age of eight.
“I’ve got the best job in the world,” says the 29-year-old from East London on South Africa’s east coast.
Few would argue: As part of the official commentary team of the World Surf League (WSL), Hodge gets paid to visit – and surf in – many of her sport’s most exotic and iconic spots, without having to shoulder the stress of competing. “I think I surf more now than ever, and that has just been so good.”
Her life has always revolved around surfing; she’s damn good at it, too. Hodge grew up in an area of powerful waves, heavy reefs and fierce surfing talent. Her skills were noticed early on by her older brother, who provided encouragement. By the age of seven, she was charging; by 14, beating the boys. Nurtured by the likes of four-time world champion Wendy Botha and former World Tour campaigners Greg Emslie and Royden Bryson, Hodge enjoyed a glorious junior career, taking nine South African Championship titles before qualifying for the then ASP Women’s World Championship Tour in her first year after school. She travelled the world competing and spent four consecutive years on the ASP World Tour as a top-10 campaigner. But, late in 2010, this run came grinding to a stop when she failed to pre-qualify.
Surfers have to stay within a certain ranking on the Championship Tour – contested at the best breaks in the world – or they’re relegated to the Qualifying Series (QS). “I was obviously a bit shattered about that, because being on Tour had been my dream since I was a little grommet [young surfer],” says Hodge.
“Then I was hanging out at Rocky Point in Hawaii and I bumped into one of the women who worked on the Roxy and [brother brand] Quiksilver productions. She asked what I was going to do now.” Hodge had no clear answer, because the truth was she didn’t know: grind it out on the QS to try to pre-qualify, or return to South Africa and get a ‘real’ job?
“She asked me if I would mind commentating at the Roxy Pro on the Gold Coast [of Australia],” says Hodge. “I was like, ‘I got nothing to do!’ Obviously going to the Goldie is a great opportunity, and trying something new would be fun.”
So, in early 2011, she found herself on the Gold Coast, commentating rather than competing as the year before. “Obviously it was fairly nerve-racking, but I had so much fun,” she says. “From there, Rip Curl asked me to do the Bells Beach event, and then I got asked to do the Western Australia events, too.”
Later that year, she also commentated on the Quiksilver Pro in France, and she was soon doing all the Roxy events. During this time, Hodge also had a minor part in the movie Blue Crush 2; she followed this a few years later with a role in The Perfect Wave, alongside Clint Eastwood’s son Scott.
In 2013, when media company ZoSea acquired the ASP and set about creating the WSL, there was a definite move away from what they called ‘bro-casting’ Tour events toward slicker, more professional broadcasting, and part of this was the creation of a full-time commentary panel.
“They wanted to create a commentating team and really take the broadcasts to the next level,” she explains. “I was beyond excited when they approached me, because I was really enjoying doing the commentary and I was learning all the time, so they offered me a full-time position on the Tour.”
Hodge’s life in surfing had been given a new focus. But her lithe, bikini-model build and ubiquitous dimpled smile alone were not enough to earn her a place on that panel, alongside the likes of seasoned broadcaster Joe Turpel, former champs Martin Potter (known as Pottz) and Peter Mel, and World Tour veteran Ross Williams; she still needed the legitimacy of her former pro surfing career.
And how she flourished. Hodge managed to keep the stoke and to continue travelling the world and surfing after the prize money had dried up, by reinventing herself to remain relevant. She used the experience of years on Tour, riding the various breaks and getting to know the athletes, to carve out a new career direction in the field she loves.
While hers may seem a glamorous and extraordinary case, Hodge believes this approach can be translated to most careers. “Be mindful of opportunities that come your way,” she says. “I’ve been so fortunate in that respect, especially that the timing was right so I could take advantage,” she says. “Surfing is obviously something I love and I’m passionate about, and I believe you need to follow that passion, whatever it may be, and see where you end up.”
Hodges paddles out at T-Street Beach, near where she lives in San Clemente, California:
By no means has it all come easily for her, however. “Public speaking freaks me out so much,” she jokes. While broadcasting is not strictly public speaking, Hodge knows that there are thousands of viewers around the world watching the Tour live, glued to her every word. Stats from the Tahiti event in 2014 – the largest recorded live audience in pro-surfing history – show the webcast delivered 2.2 million consumed hours of live competition and reached more than 12 million households on television.
“Just thinking about it makes me want to hyperventilate,” she says. So how does she deal with those stressful situations? “It is easy to let your nerves get the better of you and mess things up. I think the solution is remembering to breathe and using that nervous energy in a positive way.
You need to harness it and tell yourself, ‘OK, this energy can be good,’ then just roll with it. Also, I think interviewing – much like everything else in life – is better when you are just yourself.”
With no formal speech or broadcast training, Hodge has relied a lot on being herself, but being surrounded by the professional outfit that is the WSL, as well as her fellow commentators, has provided heaps of on-the-job experience. She’s also constantly learning, something she believes is crucial to any success.
“I still get so nervous, and I try to just take a couple of breaths and hope that I don’t mess up,” she says. “I hate seeing myself do it, but obviously I need to watch the replays, because it’s part of learning – you pick up on the mistakes. I still stutter a lot at the end, though, and drop the dreaded ‘back to you, guys…’ Aargh!
“With the World Surf League, they do put a lot of effort into making sure that we are well taken care of, and they give us advice along the way. We have a really well-oiled team that kind of comes and gives us the guidance we need. Obviously I respect Joe [Turpel], Ronnie [Blakey] and everyone else on the commentary team, and we give each other advice. I’ve learned a lot from that.”
According to Hodge, broadcasting live on Tour is a unique experience. “It’s emotionally charged, especially if they haven’t made it through the round. For me, it’s all about being aware of what happened in the water and then feeding off that energy. With every event, it’s getting better, and I’m getting a bit more confidence, I guess.”
Of course, the Tour is not all work. A typical WSL World Championship Tour event will have a 10-day waiting period, but need only four (when conditions are best) in which to finish, so there’s a fair amount of downtime. “It is too much fun,” says Hodge. “I honestly thought that I would be so sick of the guys by now, but we’re a really tight-knit crew. Even on the days when there are no contests, we’ll send group texts to each other and there will just be constant banter flying back and forth between us. I have to pinch myself – we have world champions like Ross Williams, who I’ve looked up to since I was a kid, on the team and Ronnie and Joe, who are just so funny and amazing at what they do. It’s such a cool group.”
So does she ever miss the competition and wish she was still on the other side of the microphone? “I feel like the level right now is so high that when Pottz or someone else gives me a compliment and says that I still surf really well and that I could be on Tour, it’s a huge pat on the back,” says Hodge.
“I’m really proud of the level the women are at today. I’ve known Carissa [Moore, three-time world champ] and the girls since we were young, so I’m just so proud of where they are. Especially Bianca [Buitendag] – she’s doing so well. I admire them all, but I think I have a better job.”