A trip to the hood goes horribly wrong
Santa Barbara is white. It is beautiful, but it is white. State Street is white. As are the red-roofed, Mission-style shops that line its avenues. All around me, people are white. The sky is overcast. And white. Even Barbara sounds like a grandma's name — a white grandma. Bobby calls me, says to meet him at Sambo's. I wonder if that's the punch to a very elaborate joke. But no, he is serious. I wait on the corner of Cabrillo and State. He arrives in a Prius. It is also white. I'm confused.
I hop in. It is toasty, friendly. Eco-friendly, even. In the passenger is an elegant young woman. Her name is Cleo; she is Bobby's wife. She is also white. In the backseat sits a gorgeous black Lab. The kind a white person would have: well fed, amiable, a coat of shimmering obsidian. It looks over at me and nuzzles its snout into my neck. "Don't mind Rio, bro, he's a good boy," says Bobby. Rio smells like he's just jumped out of a Rocky Mountain stream and dried off in a Downy commercial. Honestly, I was expecting a pit bull. The car is silent, neither a whisper nor a purr. The Prius moves like it's floating on an elevated buffer of pretentiousness. Like it's off to save the day. Although a Prius' factory presets are on NPR, I search the air for Tupac beyond Rio's pant. Nothing.
From the way Bobby Martinez has been portrayed over the last decade, I was expecting a lot of things. I was expecting stop signs with bullet holes. I imagined he'd take me to a corner where a cousin was stabbed. We'd gaze at it solemnly, and he'd shake his head and lament how it could have been him. I imagined gangbangers throwing him gang signs and him throwing back shakas. A chola ridin' shotty in a lifted, tricked-out pickup. Or maybe a lowered one. Or any other exotic stereotype I'd wholeheartedly bought into, or at least a major sponsor's framed him in. It was only a couple of years ago that his signature sunglasses were designed with cliché Mexicana imagery. They were called "The Chino."
"So, change of plans," Bobby says. "You wanna just buy chorizo and go make breakfast at my boy Manny's house?"
Yes, I do. A vision of the barrio flashes before my eyes and I fight a smile. Homies, here we come.
En route, we stop by a convenience store and pick up supplies. Bobby dawns an oversized Oakland Raiders snow jacket and an old drunk stops him on the way in. "Whoa, Raiders, huh?" he slurs. "You guys had a good one last week, eh? Better watch out for them Niners!" Bobby politely engages the guy. They shake hands. We purchase tortillas, eggs, chorizo. Cleo waits with Rio in the Prius.
We escape State Street and its roaming cougars, its pale-faced dog walkers and bundled yuppies. We are off to the 'hood. To Manny's crib. To the other side of the tracks. We arrive — it's about three blocks away.
Over Chorizo and Pugilism
We get to Manny's. A nice little one-story on a quiet street with a view of the gray Pacific. I try to mask my disappointment, but it is difficult. We step in and Manny is still in bed watching football.
"Waaaaaake uuuup, Big Papi!" cries Bobby.
"F–k, what took you so long, you f–king dick?" snaps Manny. Cleo rolls her eyes beneath huge sunglasses.
"Shut up and cook us breakfast, ya bitch," says Bobby.
Manny jumps out of bed and gets to it. Through the crackle and smoke of sizzling chorizo, Bobby and Manny chide each other like brothers. For the 10 minutes it takes to prepare the meal, the two exhaust every combination of the words "idiot" and "bitch." There is a surprising amount. We sit down at the table together and the four of us eat. Manny, Cleo and Bobby talk boxing like Pat Robertson talks Jesus. I feign interest, agree that yes, Margarito is damn good and yes, Pacquiao is slipping. I learn from Manny that Bobby's been boxing for more than 10 years and though he's never competed, apparently he's phenomenal. Bobby brushes off the compliments and switches focus to Manny.
Manny is Bobby's best friend. Manny is also a professor of philosophy at Santa Barbara City College. Manny and Bobby grew up together in the rough part of town and while Bobby chose surfing, Manny got mixed up in crime and was in and out of juvie. Years passed, time was served and today Manny's part of a nonprofit organization trying to save a gym and give at-risk youth constructive outlets. I was expecting a Crip, and got a social activist instead. I ask him about his work and he suddenly becomes animated, his eyes blazing with conviction — a born leader.
I catch glimpses of Bobby and Cleo in the kitchen and he caters to her like his queen. She asks him something and when he doesn't hear, replies, "Yes, my love?" It's been five years and they are still honeymooning.
We say goodbye to the Professor, drive a few more blocks to Bobby and Cleo's new home. And Cleo leaves for a workout, so Bobby and I can get down to the nitty-gritty.
SURFING: OK. We're alone now. Let's talk. I want your honest, real take on things. I want your perspective, because I feel like it's different than how it's actually depicted.
Bobby: Listen. My ideas aren't too good about anything. I just know what I don't want.
S: That's fine. What you don't want somehow tells us what you do. How about this: which surfers are you stoked on today, or what about surfing are you psyched on? Do you even care?
B: Honestly, I don't f–king care. I see where surfing's going and it kinda disappoints me. I hate it. I'm embarrassed to say I'm a part of it. No joke. To see what these kids are surfing like these days, what they think good surfing is.
S: What is good surfing?
B: To me, good surfing happens in good waves. Good surfers surf good waves well. But nowadays everyone is a good surfer in shitty waves, and all these f–king kids can't do a turn to save their lives. They're looking up to guys like Dane, right? But what is so amazing about Dane is that he surfs as f–king good as anybody — in good waves, too. Maybe I'm more old school. I grew up watching Sunny and Curren, and I love that shit. And I like tricks and shit too, but I love watching a good surfer surf a good wave. That never gets old.
S: So according to you, what do the kids think is cool?
B: Tricks. Just tricks. I see the kids nowadays and that's all they do. They can't surf a real wave. And if I were their coach — and I know they have coaches — I would be like, "Man, surf. You got your trick shit down. Let's make you like a Dane. Let's try to make you well-rounded." I don't like this new generation coming out. That's my own opinion. I'm not trying to be a dick — you gotta put that in the interview — I don't want to be this bitter old guy.
S: What about new surf films — do you not like them either?
B: I haven't seen one in a long time. But the kids kind of worship these videos. It's everything to them. But when I watch a video these days, it's one turn – cut. An air – cut. It's never three or four turns.
S: Are you making any videos lately?
B: I'm not making any videos lately, but I'd love to get a nice part in one. But I'd want to do one the way I want to do it. Put the time in to film and do it right.
S: What kind of music would go to it?
B: It wouldn't be rap or anything like that! It'd be like Kings of Leon, something cool like that. No rap, no Tupac, or whatever people have put to my surfing in the past. If it were up to me I'd never do that.
S: How do you feel about the way you've been portrayed the last 10 years?
B: I don't know. I wish people would tell me the reasons why they do the certain things they do. I'm doing my own thing. They can make their own thing with me however they see it. It's just funny to see certain things. Like, my first video, they put the soundtrack to Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" over my surfing, and I was like, "What the f–k is this shit?"
S: Do you just laugh or does it anger you?
B: It makes me laugh. My whole life in surfing they've portrayed me how they wanted and it's always been wrong. Maybe because of the people I hang out with, I'm guilty by association. But I would love to take these people who are writing this shit to somebody who is into gang shit for real, and I'd stand next to them and be like, "Do I look like him? Do I act like him? Do I dress like him?" They have no idea.
S: How do you want to be portrayed?
B: At this point, I don't really care. They can write whatever they want. It ain't gonna phase me anymore. I don't even read magazines. I haven't looked at a surf magazine in years. I don't even know if I have a photo, a little write-up; I don't know any of that shit. My daily life with surfing is going to the beach, surf, look at the computer if there's swell — that's it.
S: What's with the F–k The World brand? What does FTW mean to you?
B: To me, it's a brand that's for change. The guys who are the core of the company, they wanna give back to charities, they wanna fix it. So really, maybe 10 years down the line FTW will be "fix the world" or "for the world." Because right now it's f–ked. A lot of people struggling. They can't feed their families. There is a lot of shit going on. So it's like — that part is f–ked up. And what they wanna do is give back and maybe help these places that are f–ked.
S: What does that have to do with surfing?
B:Not every surfer is a wannabe tennis player. There are people that are like "f–k it" but they love surfing. They may be white, they may be Mexican, they may not be wearing skinny jeans, but they surf. It's for those people.
S: There seems to be a lot of "f–k it" going on in the surf world. Or people that don't try, or at least try to not try. Kids that want to be like Dane. How do you feel about that?
B: Dane has a big influence on kids. He has a big influence on surfing in general. But see, these kids haven't become their own person yet. Kids look up to Justin Bieber and love his haircut, and one day they'll be like, "Damn, that was lame. I ain't doing that shit no more." I think they just need to grow. And that's what's so great about being a kid, is that you can just do what you want and love it. You can love trying to be like Dane right now — you're a kid! They'll grow up and be like, "You know what, I'm not Dane. I'm me." But right now, it's natural. And that's OK. I mean, Dane is the best surfer in the world.
S: What if being a kid involves doing the kind of surfing that you think is stupid?
B: You know what, whatever is going to make someone happy, let them f–king do it. If these kids wanna surf like that, who am I to judge them if I don't like it? Life's too short, that's the honest truth. I've known kids who have died young and older folks who've struggled their whole lives. And that's the point: Have f–king fun.
S: Are you happier now that you're off the tour?
B: Yes. I'm very happy where I am right now. I'm not on the move all the time, traveling to places that I don't really want to surf at. It's back to being where I want to be.
S: What are your plans for the future?
B: I wanna have a family. I wanna have a few kids. That's what I want more than anything at this point. I would also like to work with at-risk youth. Maybe open their minds up to playing other sports, not necessarily surfing. A lot of kids I knew growing up were very narrow-minded. They had only one thing; one direction that they knew was there. I want to help kids broaden their horizons and just be able to enjoy life. Society looks at some kids like "f–k ups," and I know those kids can change.
S: You and your wife look very happy.
B: I'm very in love and very lucky to have her in my life. You know I always trip out when I hear people talk about their wives. It's all about what they do for them. Like, "Oh, you're so good because you make me a better person, or you've done this, or you help me with that." It always comes back to them. I don't see it like that. I just see her for being amazing. That's it. I love her for who she is. It's not even about me.
Cleo returns in her workout clothes, glistening and flushed. That's my cue. We shake hands and I thank Bobby for his graciousness. For breakfast with his wife and homie. He tells me to call him for a surf report any time I come back up (the surf was flat this round). He leads me to my car and I begin to drive away.
His Web rants and marketing were all so ghetto, so raw. I mull over his sponsor's peculiar moniker and wonder if Bobby is saving the world, or f–king it? Bobby drives a Prius. Go figure. I glance in my rearview mirror and see him waiting there on the sidewalk — seeing me off like the Japanese do — until I'm out of sight. Ahead of me, jacaranda blooms fall lightly to the ground. I drive on through the pastel shower and hit the windshield wipers. So this is what purple rain looks like. Santa Barbara is not always so white. —Beau Flemister