MAN ON FIRE
HOW BOBBY MARTINEZ QUIT THE WORLD TOUR TO RECONNECT WITH HIS LOVE FOR SURFING
What’s Bobby Martinez been up to since he quit pro surfing with one of the most spectacular sprays in the sport’s short history? Gettin’ pitted off his dome for one thing.
MAN ON FIRE
Five years after famously quitting “this wannabe fucking tennis tour,” giving it a free character assessment as he walked off the beach in New York, Bobby Martinez, everyone’s favourite MexicanAmerican surfing anti-hero today lives quietly at home in Santa Barbara, California. He surfs when it’s good, hits bags in the gym when it ain’t, hangs with his family and completely ignores the pro surfing life that drove him loco for all those years. When Bobby said he wasn’t coming back he meant it. Turning down half a million dollars to just go surfing takes some balls, but Bobby is a man of his convictions. Believe it.
So used to seeing him on tour, on edge, wound tight, bristling at the brass, the guy sitting opposite me on a park bench in Currumbin is almost unrecognisable. It’s Bobby all right, but it’s like he’s had the weight of the world removed from his shoulders. He’s never looked happier. His wife, Cleo is Australian, and along with their daughter the Martinez family spend three months every year on the Gold Coast, making him essentially Mexican-americanAustralian these days. Bobby keeps pretty underground while he’s here. He won’t surf Snapper. He did run into Mick Fanning at dinner one night, ran into Dingo in the gym, had a surf with Bede the day before, but largely Bobby’s time is family time. Talking with him it’s clear he’s found space and he’s found peace… until, that is, someone went and mentioned Trump. SW: You were here in Australia for that big nor-east swell in June. You get a piece of it? BM: Yeah, I got some waves. I don’t even know how to read the charts here, so I was just going off what people told me. Big swell and offshore winds they told me. People were, like, really pumped up for it. Some people said it would be too big, but I didn’t have high hopes, I just took it as it came. I’m not from here, I don’t know anything. I was, just, let’s see what happens when it comes.
I don’t think anyone who lives here really knew either. The system was just too big and too close to the coast. That was a rare swell, huh? I was tripping when I saw what actually came. The first day or two I stayed up here on the Gold Coast. I remember seeing the big day out the front here and it was really messy and wild, but there was a week of waves. That was a long run. Once it settled down, that’s when I drove down the coast.
Have you road tripped down that part of the coast much before? No, I did it once years ago when I was 17. I drove from here to Sydney, but I haven’t been back down there since, so it was all new for me again. It’s amazing coast down
there. Everything about it amazed me; the small towns, how quiet it was, I loved it better than anything I’ve ever experienced here in Australia. And the people were so cool and made it great. It was beautiful; empty beaches everywhere, it was like what I envision when I think of the coast south of Sydney, just little towns with no one around and beauty everywhere.
And you found waves. I was with Asher [ Pacey] and he took me there. I had no idea where we even were. Asher had to send me a map. He was already down there with his crew and I drove down real early, left the Gold Coast at maybe two in the morning. I just drove in the dark and pulled up at first light. There was plenty of swell and it was empty. It was solid, really good, and just a few of us out.
We haven’t seen you, well, pretty much anywhere since New York, which was what, five years ago? What have you been up to?
Just family, living, surfing when the waves are good, but mainly a lot of family stuff.
I’ve got to say, you seem happy. I’m enjoying my life way more than I ever have, that’s for sure. Yeah! No stress, not being around bullshit I don’t want to be around, just surfing because I love it as opposed to just surfing because I have to. It’s different now. It’s cool. I feel like a little kid again. I don’t surf as much, nowhere near it, and I’m not out there when it’s shitty, but when it’s good I’m out there all day. So it’s good. I’ve got a good balance. I love it. We come back to Australia every year for a few months. That’s our thing. I just stay pretty underground when I’m here.
How’s the contrast between here and home? It’s definitely different. They’re two different places, although I try and get in a routine here like I do at home. Surf if I’m motivated, and if not, go to the gym and get my fix, and then it’s just family. But my fix is in the gym.
I’ve seen you dragged Dingo [ Dean Morrison] into the gym while you’ve been here, working on his boxing, blocking punches with his nose. He told me he’s getting worse at boxing but better at catching them with his head. I was laughing. But he’s been on it. There’s a gym at Cooly I’ve been going to and just trying to find a rhythm here, but everything’s different here to home.
In terms of what? The pace of life? The quiet places are similar. If you go south of here you go into the country, and if you drive south of Santa Barbara you go into country so there are some places here that remind me of home, but home isn’t this great. Australia is the best country I’ve ever been to for sure. The people are really nice, I don’t feel like there’s so much segregation here, racism and an all that shit that’s constantly going on at home. It’s different here and I feel that the people are willing to help you. I feel the people here are a lot kinder and more genuine. You run into people everywhere, but day-to-day it feels different. It’s a special place here.
You’ve been in Australia for three months and during those three months there’s been a lot of shit going down at home in America, with Trump and all. It’s hard to watch everything, even at home… This stuff is always there, the racism and the cops and all that, but now it’s been brought to light because everyone has a phone with a camera. That’s the only difference. Apart from that nothing has changed, which is a sad thing, but hopefully there’s some change coming. The Trump thing, I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve never voted and I’ve never cared about it, but now I watch it and take an interest because of Trump. Watching it I was blown away by the whole situation... the cop killings, the shit Donald Trump says.
It feels like the temperature is rising and people getting steamed up. It does feel like we’re on the verge of something. People I talk to back home, I get the sense we’re on the verge of a civil war, the country is just not getting along. From what I’ve heard it’s not looking very good and things haven’t got better since I’ve been here. Now you have people doing things to the cops and payback and where does that all stop? It’s crazy. I don’t know where it’s going to end.
Oh well, if it all goes to shit you can just move to Currumbin. If Trump wins I’m moving here for sure! My wife and I have already said that, if he wins we’re on the first plane back here.
Your interview in New York, that interview, the point where you walked away from both the tour and pro surfing entirely, is what people generally remember you by… not the wins in Tahiti or the ninja backhand. Does that piss you off? It did in the beginning but it doesn’t now.
How do you feel about it today? I don’t even remember what year that was, but it was a while ago, huh? To be honest, I don’t even really think about it. It doesn’t even register.
But do you want to be remembered for more than just being the guy who tore the ASP a new asshole? I don’t care what people think. If I cared I wouldn’t have done what I did. You’re not supposed to speak your mind on tour and you’re supposed to be a certain way, and for me that hasn’t changed.
Did you grow up competitive? And if you didn’t, what led you to pro surfing then? I never actually have been competitive. I was just going with it, because I felt I always needed to take that next step. My first few years I wasn’t taking things serious, I had a lot of outside influences other than surfing that dragged me away from it. When I got home and I was doing shit I shouldn’t have done, and if I was really into pro surfing I wouldn’t have been doing that. I can look back and I know the reason why was that I just wasn’t into it. I was just going along with it, because that was the path, that’s what everyone wants you to do, that’s what the sponsors want you to do, and that’s where your contracts lead… and I’m just not competitive. I can lose at ping-pong, I don’t care, but if it’s something about family then it’s personal and then it kicks in. You don’t fuck around with that,
Previous spread: The sweetest amber. Opposite: You don’t win Mundaka and Chopes without a first class tuberiding game. While he’s critical of his surfing, Bobby still threads with the best of them.
but with anything else I’m not competitive at all. It didn’t mean anything to me, not in the beginning, not at the end.
Did surfing heats suck the fun out of surfing? For me it did. I surfed in the beginning because I loved it, then as time went on I surfed these waves I didn’t want to surf and I tried to do three turns on those waves and for me that wasn’t fun. You know, I don’t even do that today. I don’t go out when it’s shitty. It just changed surfing for me, that’s what it did, and like you said it took the fun out of it. There were times when I enjoyed it, sure, when the waves were really good and there’s one other guy out, but it’s still a tease because you’ve only got half an hour of it and you’ve still got to surf within these peoples guidelines. So I don’t know, it was a Catch 22 for me, but I was enjoying it less rather than more as time went on.
Did you look up to anti-hero guys when you were growing up? I just watched their surfing, I didn’t delve into their personalities. I judged them purely on how they surfed. They were the people I looked up to in surfing but now as I’ve grown, someone like Christian Fletcher is one of my favourites because he’s one of a kind. Just the way he and Nathan Fletcher did their own thing. I didn’t see it like that as a kid though. I was young. I was all about surfing.
“IF TRUMP WINS WE’RE ON THE FIRST PLANE BACK TO AUSTRALIA.”
What do you think people liked about you? Was it that you were the anti-hero to all the surfing heroes on tour? I honestly don’t know. I feel like I’m very respectful to everyone and I certainly don’t think I’m too good to talk to anybody. It’s not my nature to be outgoing, but I’ve never been a dick to anyone unless you’ve done something to me. I’ve always been good friends with a lot of the guys on the tour, I give it like I want it to be returned. I don’t lie and I don’t beat around the bush and that’s the way I’d prefer people be with me.
Your honesty was famous, and in the end it cost you a career in surfing, but is it a case of that honesty making you a loser in the short term but a winner in the long game? You’re sitting here and you seem a fair bit happier than you did on tour. A little too much honesty can bite you in the butt, but it depends how you want to live your life. Does money mean more to you than living the way you want? If it does, well bite your tongue and do what other people tell you. That’s not me. I’m not like that.
The guys on tour hold a deep respect for you, but you were the only guy calling stuff out about the tour, stuff that privately most of the other guys also wanted changed. Did that create a tension there? No, because I make my own bed and I don’t need anyone… look, if I’m gonna get in a fight I don’t need 10 people with me. I didn’t do it for them; I did it because I thought it was right. And that’s the way I am, I’m gonna say it like it is and I can’t speak for them and I don’t care if they came with me or not. You got to speak up or shit stays the same.
After New York and after you walking away from the tour was it nice to just be at home and decompress? It’s still nice. The tour wasn’t for me and it was nice being home and a big relief. I still look back, I’ll see a recap of a contest but that’s as far as I look back. Even now I look back and shake my head and go I can’t believe I stuck that out for four or five years or whatever it was. I actually pat myself on the back for that. But yeah, I’m still enjoying being at home.
What’s a day at home look like for you now? I’ll have my daughter early because my wife goes to the gym, then I’ll go the gym, and then it’s my daughter and my wife all day. Surf if the waves are good, but realistically I’m only surfing when the waves are really good, and that’s about it. I live a pretty simple life. That’s my life. Family… family is everything to me, so I pretty much don’t do anything else.
You’ve boxed for years; are boxing and surfing complimentary? Do you get something out of one you don’t get out of the other? Oh yeah, you get humbled in boxing. No one humbles you in surfing. You go into the gym and the only way you learn is to get beat up and it puts things into perspective.
I suppose it’s like surfing big waves and almost drowning, then finding a new respect for the ocean.
Have you ever fought on a card? You know, my boxing the last few years has slowed down. The gym I used to go to, the City has shut it down so I’m doing more jujitsu and wrestling these days. I’m glad because boxing is a hard sport. It’s not good coming home with headaches, especially when you’re not out to win a world title. At first I didn’t mind, but now I’m 34, I’m old, it’s time to hang everything up!
How has your surfing changed since you left the tour? It’s definitely not as good! I surfed yesterday with Bede and he hadn’t been on a shortboard for eight months and he was surfing so much better than me and I’m like, damn! I really just don’t have it! He’s out there ripping and doing big airs and my timing was off, man, my surfing is so much worse now! [ Laughing] That’s the truth, it’s not where it was but I surf when I want now and I have fun all the time, as opposed to back in the day.
You ever miss it? No. Never. I don’t miss it at all.
So no surf trips either? I haven’t been on an organised surf trip since I left the tour. A family surf trip, sure, but nothing organised. That trip down the coast with Asher was as close to a surf trip as I’ve been on.
So you’ve disconnected fully from the grid? Completely. It just doesn’t sound like fun to me. I’m not lying, it just doesn’t.
Did having a grommet have anything to do with that? Did it make you see the world differently? It made me view people differently, appreciate the human life, and all I now think about is the way my daughter is going to be treated and that makes me want to be a better person. Has that got something to do with having a girl instead of a boy? Did having a daughter mellow you out at all? I guess you could say that, because if I wasn’t emotionally engaged I wouldn’t look at people the way I do now and treat them with respect. I look at my daughter and I don’t want to do anything but the right thing. Before it wasn’t that I didn’t care, it was just that I didn’t think about it. I’ve learned a lot through my daughter, just having her has directed my emotions… I don’t know if they’re emotions so much but it’s more a moral side, a right and wrong, and knowing how I act makes a difference to my daughter as she grows up. As times go on it’s what it’s done for me, changing in that way, and I needed that change and she’s bringing me to it. My wife took me for who I was, and I wasn’t perfect, but I would love my daughter to think I’m perfect.