Matt Warshaw on the legacy of the retired-too-soon Santa Babs goofyfooter…
Yesterday afternoon, the surf historian Matt Warshaw made a post on his website about the long-retired Bobby Martinez.
It began with: “Immensely talented pro surfer from Santa Barbara, California; world-ranked #5 in 2006; the first Mexican-American to qualify for the pro tour; known as much for his colorful anti-surf industry rants as for his powerful, stylish turns.”
And, included, “Martinez seemed to take pro surfing’s often-shallow inner workings as a personal affront, to a degree that soon began to affect his competitive drive. He held onto a top 10 position, but 2009, the career complaints that he’d so far kept mostly among friends—about judging, contest formatting, venues—began showing up in public forums.”
Were you sad when Bobby jumped off the tour in 2011 just after being DQ’d from the Quiksilver Pro in New York? Oh, I was.
Not long afterwards I flew to Santa Babs from Australia just to record his thoughts for a magazine profile.
Warshaw’s post about Bobby re-fired my thoughts about Bob, still just 33 years old, four years younger than Taj and a decade behind Kelly. And yet retired for four years already. Ain’t that crazy?
Being a professional contest surfer, in that regard, makes so much more sense to me than just being a photo pro, or whatever they’re called these days. Maybe if you’re 21or 22. But as an adult? I don’t know. Craig Andersen, and Dane, and that whole aging Modern Collective crew — there’s gotta be some heavy-duty existential dread floating some of those guys’ heads.
Anyway, I wanted to ask Warshaw, what did Bobby Martinez leave behind? Anything? This interview took place between Sydney, Australia, and Seattle, Washington.
BeachGrit: I read with immense interest your post about Bobby Martinez. Seven NSAA titles, wins two events in his rookie year and finishes fifth. Quits tour at 28 because “every surfer was complaining and no one was happy… endless amount of shit… it fucken got to me.” As a historian, tell me how Bobby is remembered… or is he remembered…
Warshaw: When did Bobby pack it in, four years ago?
BeachGrit: 2011, yeah…
Warshaw: Sadly, to me anyway, I think he’s more remembered these days for being . . . take your pick, a giant crybaby, or the New Millennium Dora.
BeachGrit: Sadly? Why?
Warshaw: Sadly, because when I was making those two little vid clips for his page, I remembered what an amazingly good surfer he was. Or is, I mean! Better now then he ever was on tour! Smaller boards, a bit more flesh on his bones, and look at him go!
BeachGrit: You’ve written that you never really liked Bobby’s “surf-rebel rants.” I was thrilled every time he took the microphone. Why didn’t they excite you?
Warshaw: No, they did. They excited me in that he wasn’t boring. Chas just wrote a little love note about Joe Turpel’s handling of Mick’s shark episode, but for my money the standout world tour announcer response of all time was Todd Kline’s post-heat webcast interview with Bobby in NYC. The shock and joy dancing across Kline’s face! Surfing, for a few great moments, was vicious and funny and slightly out of control, and I still get a buzz watching it on YouTube.
BeachGrit: Oh, you do jumble things. You like ‘em or not?
Warshaw: What I liked about the New York blowup was just how slashing and sudden it was. But really . . . what’s behind it? What was Bobby so angry about? Not just in New York, but those two or three years before, and even after he quit. Why so mad? You’re a Top 10 professional surfer, making, I don’t know, a half-million a year? Living a block off the beach in Santa Barbara?
BeachGrit: Did I tell you of the time I wrote a cartoon (with the artist Ben Brown) about Bobby and, as a fan, I made what I thought was a lovely pictorial of his life, but he was… furious. And, I believe, ready to use fists. This wasn’t an initial worry ‘cause he little, five five max in his little Ed Hardy slip-ons, but then I later saw what a boxer he is. Ooowee, I sure was lucky he didn’t make me pay. Do you love this sort of passion?
Warshaw: No. I mean, yeah I love passion, but what you’re saying here, it just sounds to me like Bobby doesn’t have a sense of humor.
BeachGrit: Of a scale of one to ten, how dumb was Bobby’s decision to quit the tour?
Warshaw: For a lot of people, Bobby obviously included, being on tour is an awful way to live. If you love being home, if being around friends and family is important—all true for Bobby—then flogging around the world nine months out of the year or whatever, while at the same time turning your favorite thing into a cutthroat job, it’s like you’re fucking your life up four or five different ways. So good for him for stepping off. Same with Dane. Mick and Kelly and those guys can do it. Others can’t. So yeah, Bobby’s decision to leave was completely sound. But trying to play it off like it the ASP tripped him up somehow? That’s where my eyes start rolling.
BeachGrit: When I flew over to Santa Babs to write a story about Bob not long after he quit, it seemed like he’d hit hard times. He was thinking of getting into a little concreting like his Dad.
Warshaw: I read that story just last weekend. The part that really got to me, it was so honest and kind of raw, was when Bobby told you that surfing for him had become aimless. He needed to have a goal, he needed to have something to chase. It got to me for two reasons. Bobby obviously hadn’t yet got to a point with his surfing to where he couldn’t just do it for the sake of doing it, which is sad. But even sadder is, you DO need to have something to work on, a goal to aim at. Bobby, you, me, everybody. Being a professional contest surfer, in that regard, makes so much more sense to me than just being a photo pro, or whatever they’re called these days. Maybe if you’re 21or 22. But as an adult? I don’t know. Craig Andersen, and Dane, and that whole aging Modern Collective crew — there’s gotta be some heavy-duty existential dread floating some of those guys’ heads.
BeachGrit: When do you think a surfer should retire? Bobby told me, “I looked at guys who were there longer than me and go, how the fuck are they doing this? How are they still there?” Is it an age thing or when your rating hits a downward trajectory or do you wait until you fail to qualify?
Warshaw: None of those guys on tour today, and nobody going back to, I don’t know, Tom Carroll pounding out fender dents in a garage—none of them have any idea what it’s like to not be a surf star or a star in the making. Making a big change in your life is so hard. And so scary. A career change is terrifying. On the other hand, not making that kind of change is slow death. And that’s where Bobby was at there at the end, in New York. Maybe it wasn’t conscious thought, but he was smart enough or brave enough or both to cross the bridge. And blow it up behind him.
BeachGrit: When was the last time you saw Bob surf and tell me your impressions.
Warshaw: Mini Blanchard did a clip on Bobby for Channel Islands, it came out maybe six months ago. Shot mostly in Ventura, last winter. Bobby’s riding these little quads, like 5’6”, and all the joy is back, all the power, all the flow. His last couple years on tour, and for a long time after, he was so obviously just surfing by the numbers. But that the Channel Islands vid — Bobby is a man reborn.