A few waves from the recent run of swell in Bobby's hometown.
Bobby Martinez Discusses Just About Everything (A Long Read)
"In the middle of it all, I’d ask myself, “What the fuck are you going to do after this?”
It’s been six years since Bobby Martinez snarled into the camera on the live webcast at the Quiksilver Pro in New York and subsequently walked away from life as a professional competitive surfer. ASP Rookie of the Year in 2006, he finished fifth in the world his freshman season and continued to post event wins and top 10 finishes for the next six years. Then he made his now-famous indictment of the ASP on live air and as a result was chucked off tour. For a hot minute, he became an early social media maven then promptly gave it all up and returned home to Santa Barbara.
Today, at 34 years old, he’s happily married and living the life of a suburban dad. He freely admits surfing has given him this life, but has no intention of going back. His days are considerably more domestic than they once were—and he loves it. He’s let go of the angst and anger of his formative years. His Cheshire Cat-like smile has become more prevalent than the brooding scowl.
Some months ago, I had the opportunity to spend a couple hours on the phone with Bobby talking through his surf life for a piece for The Surfer’s Journal. The conversation was wide-ranging. Bobby seemed at ease and more comfortable in his own skin. It was an enlightening chat and, I feel, one worth sharing.
Stab: A lot’s been made of your formative years, but I’ve always wondered how you first started surfing in the first place?
Bobby: Nobody surfed in my family when I was young, and still nobody surfs in my family. Growing up I was tight with my cousins. My dad was one of seven kids, so we had tons of cousins that were around my age. None of them ever wanted to surf. My dad doesn’t surf. My mom doesn’t surf. I’m the only one. My dad was always driving us to the beach, playing sports, soccer, always doing things with us if we wanted to. So, he used to take us to the beach a lot, and we loved it. We were kids and kids love anything, I guess. That’s when I started boogie boarding. Then I saw people surfing and started trying to stand up on my boogie board. One Christmas my dad got me a surfboard. As I grew up he would give people gas money, a couple bucks, to pick me up and take me. That’s kind of how I got my rides to the beach.
The back shed collection.
What about your non-surf life as a kid?
When I wasn’t around surfing, I was around kids of color. I’m 99 percent Mexican. I heard a lot more Spanish than English growing up. I had more black friends than I did white friends. If I wasn’t surfing after school I was hanging with my friends and my family. It was a complete contrast, like two different worlds. We would never see white people.
Do think surfing helped keep you out of trouble?
Some of my friends were doing shit that leads to dead ends in life, so I guess you could look at it like that, but I had no idea what surfing entailed. I had no idea I would travel or make money and buy a home. I had no one to look up to. It wasn’t like, “Oh my friend’s sponsored and he’s now going to Hawaii.” I had no idea.
Were there any mentor figures that took you under their wing that helped you along?
No, not that I remember. I mean, I had some guys help me. There was a guy named Daryl that I used to help me get surfboards. He owned a surf shop and I was getting boards from him and David Pu’u. But besides those guys, who were giving me surfboards and rides to the beach, there was never a person that saw me and helped me. Yeah, that never happened. Nobody took notice and approached me. I can’t remember anybody who pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey man, what’s going on?”
Do you feel it may have been the opposite, that your skin color held you back?
I don’t know how people looked at it. I just know how I looked at it, so I’m not too sure. I had weird things throughout my career. For instance, I was sponsored by Billabong when I was younger and their whole team was going to go Puerto Escondido for a trip. It was going to be all of their young team riders and I didn’t get an invite. I won the NSSA Nationals and right after I won I got the invite. I don’t know if there was something weird going on, but when I look back on it, maybe there was. I mean, I’m just another kid and they’re inviting tons of kids. I don’t know what the motivation was behind it.
I’ve had stuff happen to me throughout my career. Like when I finally got the cover of Surfing Magazine. The American magazines throw the worse photos on their covers, and they run guys that are not even from America or guys I’ve beaten my whole life, and they all have covers. I know I had great photos and I was winning CT contests. It wasn’t until after I won the contest at Teahupoo that they put me on the cover…and it was on a fucking head-high wave. It was almost like they did me a favor because they knew that as I was growing up they never gave me any love.
I don’t know, there are things where if I think about it, it just doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know if that’s because of the color of my skin, or the way I am, or they just want surfing…I don’t know. I was never in a position of power to dictate someone’s sponsorship.
Bobby, to this day, is one of the best barrel riders in the world. And, his backhand, well, that's bar none.
When you walked away from the tour, were you prepared for whatever the next chapter of your life may have been?
Even when I was in the contest in the middle of it all, I’d ask myself, “What the fuck are you going to do after this?” I knew it could end right away, even if I was doing fine. So, I always had that in the back of my mind and I always thought, “What am I going to do?”
I think surfing’s going to fuck a lot of kids up right now. For example, in Australia they have these government funded surfing facilities where they coach the kids, they want them to be the next world champion, and they’re trying 150 percent to get these kids to win a world title. They’re starting really young, and they have coaches, and they’re doing all this shit. It’s crazy because most of the kids aren’t going to make it, and the ones that do, are they really going to make enough money to survive? Yes, but right when it’s over they’re going to have to do something. I just feel like every kid should know the reality that 99.9 percent of the time you’re going to be left on your ass, flat out with nothing.
Do you feel surfing’s creating a generation of kids that will get some free clothes, maybe a few paychecks, but will be unprepared for that transition to the straight life?
It’s like they’re intentionally being set up for failure. I think it’s pretty sad. I don’t want to do that to my family or my kid. But I’ve seen kids come up the beach crying because their parents are pushing them too hard. They’re telling them shit, saying their board doesn’t work or something. I’m like, “What the fuck are you doing that to your kid for?” I don’t get it.
You’re a father now. What’s a day in the life of Bobby Martinez the dad like?
I’m with my family a lot. I have a three-year-old daughter and my wife’s pregnant again. It’s really early but looks like we’re having another girl. We just kind of hang out. When my daughter’s at school I’ll go to the gym or surf. I’m a full dedicated dad. I love taking my daughter to school and picking her up. It’s the best thing I’ve ever experienced in my life, for sure.
Sounds like you’re enjoying the pace of life these days?
That’s the thing, the time goes by so fast and every day is precious. I’m very lucky to be where I’m at right now. To be able to spend these moments and watch my daughter grow, you know, if I’d had her while I was doing the contests I wouldn’t have gotten to watch her grow like this. I remember seeing people travel with their kids on tour, and now that I’m a parent I just don’t get it.
People will ask me if I want to go on a surf trip and I’m like, “Nah, I actually don’t.” It sounds fun surfing, it’s what I love to do, but when I get out of the water I don’t want to be with a bunch of guys. Not to be a dick, but I want to be with my daughter and my wife. I went on a surf trip my whole entire life. I would love to go to Namibia and surf that wave, but am I going to? No. And I know that because I don’t want to. I do but I don’t, you know what I mean?
Sounds like surfing doesn’t play the role in your life it once did?
It’s not nearly as much a part of my life because I don’t surf nearly as much as I used to, but it’s still part of my life because I don’t want to ever not surf, if that makes any sense. But I’m not driving down to Emma Wood and surfing three-foot shitty waves to just go do some turns or try an air.
Do you follow pro surfing?
No, I don’t. I don’t follow any of it.
So you’re just a civilian surfer?
Exactly. I just want to surf, get in the water and be happy. It reminds me of being a teenager. Even though I was doing the contests and shit, it wasn’t like I wanted to compete because I wanted to win. I just did it because I liked it. And now I’m back to being like a kid again. I’m sticking with it because I love it.
It’s all about balance, right?
When I quit the tour I fucking hated surfing more than anything and I really didn’t want to surf. The way it went in the contests and the people I was around, it really just made me hate surfing. I was just doing it because people around me were like, “What do you mean you don’t want to do this?” I know people that were on tour and never wanted to fall off. They just loved it. It took me years to find that love again, and I only just found it recently.
Do ever look back and see the Bobby that was on tour as a different person?
I feel like it was another lifetime. I can’t even fathom being that person or doing what I used to do. I kind of look at myself and think, how the fuck did I do that? Did I really do that? I have all trophies that I won, but they’re in a box in a closet in my daughter’s room. I don’t have them out. There’s nothing in my house that’s surf related. Nothing. No magazines, nothing. There’s nothing in my life, and there has never been, where you walk into my house and you think, “Oh, okay, this guy must surf.”
You said you reached a point where you hated everything about being on tour, but are there any positive or happy times that stand out?
There are good memories, but they have nothing to do with surfing. I realize now that winning a contest is so pointless. It means absolutely nothing. The things I care about are meeting somebody on the road that I may still keep in touch with. Obviously, surfing gave me everything I have, but when I think of memories I don’t think, “Oh, I got a perfect 10 in this heat. Or I had an amazing contest here and I won.”
What about sessions or individual waves, was there any satisfaction out of the actual surfing you were doing at the time?
No. Back then, during my whole surfing career, there was no satisfaction the entire time. I hated it. I didn’t even enjoy surfing. What it came down to was loving surfing only when I was surfing good because I felt like I needed to feel good to do good, so my whole entire life during the whole I was doing the contests, there was no enjoyment…ever. I hated surfing and that’s why. I had the best waves of my life and it was all hate because I wasn’t surfing for the right reasons.
And now you’ve come full circle?
I could care less how good I’m surfing today. I just go out and have fun. Today it’s for the pure enjoyment. I think about it today, and I think about what I liked about surfing when I was a kid and it was that it took me away from everything. You’re out in the water and you’re alone by yourself. There’s something beautiful about that. You leave all the bullshit behind. There’s serenity there. That’s where the peacefulness in surfing comes from, I think.