Reignited – Once again, Bobby Martinez can see the light.


Once again, Bobby Martinez can see the light.

It’s been an extraordinarily busy few days for Bobby Martinez. Before he qualified for the 2006 WCT season, the Santa Barbara sensation had almost become used to spending his pro career in the media shadows. But when you’re suddenly ranked second in the world, second only to Kelly Slater after your first four WCT events, well, folks tend to notice.
After a third at Duranbah and a ninth at Bells, Martinez’s victory at Teahupo’o fanned his spark into a raging bonfire. On May 13 (his father’s birthday), minutes after the final horn blast, Martinez sat on a jet ski in the channel, grinning ear-to-ear, claiming to be the happiest he’d ever been.
Happy and in demand. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times corralled him for a feature in the sports section; on Thursday, ESPN sent a Hollywood fashion/celebrity photographer up to his home for a swank glimpse of the humble surf star; on Friday, ESPN dispatched a magazine writer for a bit of mainstream Q&A with this mustachioed Mexican surfer dude. Meanwhile, reporters from Santa Barbara’s News-Press and San Diego’s North County Times had been leaving messages daily on his cell phone.
“Man,” says 24-year-old Martinez, sighing happily from his new home in Santa Barbara’s Westside, the same rough, gang-infested area he grew up in. “I’m just not used to this shit.”
He may not be used to all this attention yet in the pro ranks, but Martinez had arguably one of the most successful amateur surf careers in history. His eight-year (1991-1999) NSSA tour earned him a record seven National titles, ostensibly scaring the wits out of 1999’s WQS troops. But a half-decade of the ‘QS grind was harsh to the affable goofy-foot struggling intensely with recurring defeat and strained further by personal distress, sponsorship woes, and a shattered shoulder. It was enough that he considered throwing the towel in.
Yet born winners can’t lose forever. Blasting into 2005 with a big WQS win in Brazil, Martinez floated fresh focus and determination straight to Portugal six months later, where he at last clinched his hard-won slot in the big leagues. And now, on the 2006 WCT, Martinez has shown the world that he’s more than just another rookie-he’s a serious force to be reckoned with. No big deal, you say? Well, just compare Bobby’s blazing start to some other promising young surfers’ first years on the WCT. Bruce Irons barely re-qualified, and Coolie kid Joel Parkinson eked out a 21st.
Around 8:00 p.m. on a Friday, after the ESPN guy split, I managed to corner Martinez for a little more Q&A. In the nick of time, too-the next morning he was headed north to Steinbeck Country for a relaxing weekend with his fiancà‡e, to be followed by a quick jaunt to San Diego and a flight south to the Rip Curl Search WCT event in Mexico, where, amid the dry and dusty Oaxacan heat, he aimed to keep his bold flame alight. -Michael Kew



TWS: So, is the mustache permanent?
Bobby: I’ve gone through phases when I’ve had it for a while, and I can grow it in about two weeks, so I don’t know. It’s something that I might get sick of, or maybe not, but I’ll always have something going. I won’t be clean-shaven for the rest of my life, that’s for sure | laughs| .

TWS: Are you enjoying yourself on the WCT?
Bobby: Oh, yeah. All those times I wanted to quit, well, I’m so glad I didn’t, because you know all the years I struggled and failed on the WQS? Boy, it’s all been worth it this year-all those times struggling, losing in my first heat and coming home feeling really discouraged. The WCT is the tour that I’ve dreamed about, and I’m finally getting a piece of it. It’s been everything I expected it to be.

TWS: Who are you hanging with?
Bobby: C.J. and Damien | Hobgood| -they help me out a bunch. They’re my biggest influences. They’re willing to tell me what boards to bring, to help me out anywhere I need help or a place to stay, or answing any questions that I may have. I stayed with them in Tahiti.

TWS: You had a huge win there. Now, let’s be honest here: were you relieved that the swell wasn’t giant?
Bobby: I don’t see how it’s humanly possible to not be scared at that place. It’s a scary wave. But I would have liked to have seen it big and surfed it big, just to get a feel for it.
I grew up surfing right points; we don’t have any waves like Teahupo’o around Santa Barbara, so to get something like that was what I’d looked forward to most | on the tour| , because you can’t experience a place like that anywhere but there.


TWS: You competed in NSSA contests from the age of eleven until you turned pro at seventeen, winning seven National titles. How did the NSSA help your pro career, and did winning make you want to win more?
Bobby: I wasn’t thinking much about it. I wasn’t going to those contests thinking I was going to end up turning pro. But it helped me out in certain ways. The NSSA taught me discipline-show up before 7:00 a.m. if you have a 7:00 a.m. heat. You learn how to win, you learn how to lose, and you learn how to show up and be on time for your heat.

TWS: After winning everything under the sun as an amateur, was it hard to go into the pro leagues and not be the top guy?
Bobby: Before I broke my shoulder, it didn’t get me down because I really didn’t care. I didn’t give it my best in order to feel like I failed. I wasn’t doing every contest to try and qualify. I was just doing it to do a couple of contests here and there, to build up a seed so when I was going to give it a full shot, I wouldn’t have to start from round one. When I finally built up a decent seed and went full-on and kept failing and failing and failing, then, yeah, I got really frustrated. I was having problems with my sponsors, too. I didn’t win a WQS event until last year, after doing every contest in the last three years.

TWS: Why did you have a tough time the first few years on the WQS?
Bobby: It was definitely a big change. Going from the NSSA to the WQS is like going from the WQS to the WCT-it’s night and day. The WQS was just the next step, and I was having fun, partying, doing stuff I shouldn’t have done if I wanted to surf. I wasn’t really concentrating. I’m not saying that’s why I didn’t qualify, because when I concentrated, it still took me a long time.

TWS: Must’ve felt great after you did.
Bobby: Yeah, I was looking forward to something new, surfing good waves against one other guy in places I’ve always wanted to see. I never looked forward to going to Brazil and surfing two-foot onshore beachbreak-that never looked fun to me, but that was what everyone has to do to get to the WCT tour. Every surfer wants to go to Jeffrey’s Bay, to Tahiti, you know? It was all worth it, and I’m glad I stuck it out. I wouldn’t take anything back-struggling on that tour was a learning experience, and at the time, I wasn’t meant to qualify.

TWS: Did you ever seriously consider quitting?
Bobby: If I hadn’t qualified last year, I definitely would’ve quit. I won Brazil in the beginning, and I knew that if I couldn’t back that up, I’d never be able to do this. I didn’t have a sponsor for five months. It’s not like I didn’t want to surf anymore, but I wouldn’t have done the WQS any longer. I’d done it enough to be frustrated with it. I don’t want to go back there, which is why I’m going to try my hardest to re-qualify this year.

TWS: Let’s talk about boxing, another sport you’ve pursued. How did you get involved with it?
Bobby: When I was young, I had a friend named Ben from the Westside who was a really good boxer. His sponsors would fly him places to compete in matches and stuff like that. I’d see him kick a lot of peoples’ asses, and I’d say, “That f-ker’s bad!” A few years ago I finally had some time at home, so I decided to get into it myself. I used the gym’s gloves for a while and learned some footwork before I bought my own gear.

TWS: Have you fought in an amateur match?
Bobby: I signed up, but I never actually got a fight. The most I’ve ever done is spar with kids at other gyms; I’ve never been in a match and weighed in and all that. I was trying to, I really wanted to, and I still would love to eventually. Whenever this surfing thing stops and I can get back into the gym, I’m going to right away. I don’t care if I’m 35 or 40-I’m going to do an amateur match one of these days.

TWS: Do you have a favorite boxer?
Bobby: I like Antonio Barrera. I like Erik Morales, too-I like the wars they’ve been in with each other. I like Zab Judah, Floyd Mayweather, Johnny Tapia. Tapia’s a nut. I’m a fan of anyone who stands in that ring, regardless of whether he’s a world champ or not.

TWS: What attracts you to boxing?
Bobby: It’s an art. Seeing everything a boxer does, and knowing how in-condition his body is. And it’s fun getting hit and hitting back. Plus you know you can fight and not worry about the cops coming.

TWS: You grew up in a rough Mexican neighborhood, but you surfed a lot, which makes you an anomaly among your neighborhood peers even to this day. Why?
Bobby: For one, you have to get an extra couple of bucks to get a wetsuit and a surfboard, and you have to have a car to get a ride to the beach. Not too many Mexicans live by the beach. And a lot of these kids are just having a hard time getting clothes or anything. It’s tough for them, and they don’t know anyone who makes boards; in their culture, a way out might be boxing or soccer-something in their neighborhood that they can do.

TWS: What was your neighborhood like, and has it changed since you were a kid there?
Bobby: It’s the same as far as when you drive through, you’ll see nothing but Mexican folks. The gangs are still there, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. It’s funny, because no one ever saw stuff on the news, and all the kids I was around growing up will tell you the same thing. So much shit would happen there in Bohnett Park, and it would only be us who knew about it.

TWS: Were your friends involved in gangs?
Bobby: All my friends were Mexican and were into gangs, living a different life. But when I was eight, I met Andy Vogel, my first white friend. I remember duck-diving and I popped up underneath him at Leadbetter, and we became best friends. Then I met his brother and all of his friends, so eventually I knew a mixed bunch of people.
If I didn’t surf, I’d go to the Westside Boy’s Club, and when I went to school I’d be around kids who grew up in my area. When I’d go to the beach and surf, I’d be around Andy, his brother, and all of their friends, who didn’t know any of my other friends. So I had two groups of friends-one day I would be with all my white surfer friends, and one day I’d be with all my Mexican non-surfer friends.

TWS: Were you pressured to join a gang?
Bobby: No. I had friends and family in them, but it never occurred to me to get jumped into a gang. If I wanted to, I could have, but they knew I didn’t want to. I was always active, playing sports, doing other stuff.

TWS: So you never had problems with gangsters from Goleta or the Eastside?
Bobby: No, because I never gangbanged. I never went to the other side of town looking for trouble.

TWS: Well, now you’re causing trouble for guys on the WCT.
Bobby: Oh, I don’t know about that | laughs| .

TWS: How do you feel about being the first Mexican on the WCT?
Bobby: It doesn’t cross my mind. Skin color aside, we’re all surfers. I don’t look at it like, “Oh, gee, I’m a Mexican on the tour!”

TWS: Do you feel like you have the Rookie Of The Year award on lock this year?
Bobby: No, not even. Shaun Cansdell just got second | in Fiji| , and he has a fifth; Pancho Sullivan has two ninths; Adriano de Souza has a third. There are so many guys who surf so well. I can’t say I’m on the right track, because ought my own gear.

TWS: Have you fought in an amateur match?
Bobby: I signed up, but I never actually got a fight. The most I’ve ever done is spar with kids at other gyms; I’ve never been in a match and weighed in and all that. I was trying to, I really wanted to, and I still would love to eventually. Whenever this surfing thing stops and I can get back into the gym, I’m going to right away. I don’t care if I’m 35 or 40-I’m going to do an amateur match one of these days.

TWS: Do you have a favorite boxer?
Bobby: I like Antonio Barrera. I like Erik Morales, too-I like the wars they’ve been in with each other. I like Zab Judah, Floyd Mayweather, Johnny Tapia. Tapia’s a nut. I’m a fan of anyone who stands in that ring, regardless of whether he’s a world champ or not.

TWS: What attracts you to boxing?
Bobby: It’s an art. Seeing everything a boxer does, and knowing how in-condition his body is. And it’s fun getting hit and hitting back. Plus you know you can fight and not worry about the cops coming.

TWS: You grew up in a rough Mexican neighborhood, but you surfed a lot, which makes you an anomaly among your neighborhood peers even to this day. Why?
Bobby: For one, you have to get an extra couple of bucks to get a wetsuit and a surfboard, and you have to have a car to get a ride to the beach. Not too many Mexicans live by the beach. And a lot of these kids are just having a hard time getting clothes or anything. It’s tough for them, and they don’t know anyone who makes boards; in their culture, a way out might be boxing or soccer-something in their neighborhood that they can do.

TWS: What was your neighborhood like, and has it changed since you were a kid there?
Bobby: It’s the same as far as when you drive through, you’ll see nothing but Mexican folks. The gangs are still there, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. It’s funny, because no one ever saw stuff on the news, and all the kids I was around growing up will tell you the same thing. So much shit would happen there in Bohnett Park, and it would only be us who knew about it.

TWS: Were your friends involved in gangs?
Bobby: All my friends were Mexican and were into gangs, living a different life. But when I was eight, I met Andy Vogel, my first white friend. I remember duck-diving and I popped up underneath him at Leadbetter, and we became best friends. Then I met his brother and all of his friends, so eventually I knew a mixed bunch of people.
If I didn’t surf, I’d go to the Westside Boy’s Club, and when I went to school I’d be around kids who grew up in my area. When I’d go to the beach and surf, I’d be around Andy, his brother, and all of their friends, who didn’t know any of my other friends. So I had two groups of friends-one day I would be with all my white surfer friends, and one day I’d be with all my Mexican non-surfer friends.

TWS: Were you pressured to join a gang?
Bobby: No. I had friends and family in them, but it never occurred to me to get jumped into a gang. If I wanted to, I could have, but they knew I didn’t want to. I was always active, playing sports, doing other stuff.

TWS: So you never had problems with gangsters from Goleta or the Eastside?
Bobby: No, because I never gangbanged. I never went to the other side of town looking for trouble.

TWS: Well, now you’re causing trouble for guys on the WCT.
Bobby: Oh, I don’t know about that | laughs| .

TWS: How do you feel about being the first Mexican on the WCT?
Bobby: It doesn’t cross my mind. Skin color aside, we’re all surfers. I don’t look at it like, “Oh, gee, I’m a Mexican on the tour!”

TWS: Do you feel like you have the Rookie Of The Year award on lock this year?
Bobby: No, not even. Shaun Cansdell just got second | in Fiji| , and he has a fifth; Pancho Sullivan has two ninths; Adriano de Souza has a third. There are so many guys who surf so well. I can’t say I’m on the right track, because it’s a long year and nothing is guaranteed. It’s too early to count anyone out.

TWS: Do you have some tangible goals for this year?
Bobby: Just to do well, you know? My personal goal is something I’m going to keep inside myself, because I don’t feel like I need to let anybody know. The way I look at life is nothing is promised. Something could happen-I could get hit by a car tomorrow and never surf again. Anything is possible. I would love to make it to the next contest. I would love to surf on the WCT for the next couple of years. I know what I’d like to do, but whether it’s going to happen, I have no idea.

TWS: I’d guess it has something to do with a world title. What are your chances of being world champ?
Bobby: Slim to none | laughs| . I’m just trying to feel it out, the whole tour format and everything. I’m there because I’m competitive and I want to be there, but only time will tell how I do.

TWS: What are your strengths?
Bobby: I don’t know what a strength of mine would be.

TWS: Weaknesses?
Bobby: Oh, lots of those | laughs| . There are lots of flaws in my surfing, I’m not perfect.

TWS: What do you want to improve?
Bobby: Everything. I always look at my surfing and see that there’s something that needs improvement. Like I said, I’m not a perfect surfer, and if you’re not perfect, you need a lot of improvement.
use it’s a long year and nothing is guaranteed. It’s too early to count anyone out.

TWS: Do you have some tangible goals for this year?
Bobby: Just to do well, you know? My personal goal is something I’m going to keep inside myself, because I don’t feel like I need to let anybody know. The way I look at life is nothing is promised. Something could happen-I could get hit by a car tomorrow and never surf again. Anything is possible. I would love to make it to the next contest. I would love to surf on the WCT for the next couple of years. I know what I’d like to do, but whether it’s going to happen, I have no idea.

TWS: I’d guess it has something to do with a world title. What are your chances of being world champ?
Bobby: Slim to none | laughs| . I’m just trying to feel it out, the whole tour format and everything. I’m there because I’m competitive and I want to be there, but only time will tell how I do.

TWS: What are your strengths?
Bobby: I don’t know what a strength of mine would be.

TWS: Weaknesses?
Bobby: Oh, lots of those | laughs| . There are lots of flaws in my surfing, I’m not perfect.

TWS: What do you want to improve?
Bobby: Everything. I always look at my surfing and see that there’s something that needs improvement. Like I said, I’m not a perfect surfer, and if you’re not perfect, you need a lot of improvement.