I made Bobby Martinez laugh. It wasn’t that hard, and I didn’t feel like I was being particularly clever. It went like this: Bobby Martinez and I are driving down the street. Not because we’re friends, but because I’m here to interview him. We’re not in a dropped Mercedes. We’re not in a six-four Impala. We’re in a Detroit-stock Ford F-150 with two dogs in the bed. A Rotty named Oso. A black Lab named Rio. Both of their tags carry the last name Martinez. The Ford is his, not mine. The windows are rolled down. It’s gray outside. Bobby is drinking coffee.
I turn to Bobby and say, “You know, every time anybody writes anything about you, they write about you being a cholo, or a gangster, or coming from the hood. They always write about driving around with you on your turf.”
“You know, people talk about it being the ghetto. Things happen here, sure. There’s an east side and a west side. But trust me, I’ve been a lot of places around the world – this isn’t a ghetto.”
I’m nervous saying it. Maybe it’s inappropriate. But then he’s laughing. And pretty hard.
“Yeah, man, I trip out on that. I don’t get it. I mean, look at this place.”
We’re in Santa Barbara, CA. Yeah, that Santa Barbara, CA. From the looks of things, it’s a nice place. Granted, we’re in the working-class part of town. It’s not Montecito. It’s not Goleta. But it’s not bad, either. Rows upon rows of small, single-story, ranch-style houses and beach cottages, cut and angled into grid-straight streets. Square front yards bordered by tidy fences. Lawns kept in order. Fords and Chevys and Toyotas parked in the driveways.
“You know, people talk about it being the ghetto,” Bobby says as he eases around a turn, throwing a wave—not a gang sign—out the window to a friend on the corner. “But this isn’t ghetto. Things happen here, sure. There’s an east side and a west side. But trust me, I’ve been a lot of places around the world—this isn’t a ghetto.”
He’s right. Bobby’s own street seems the picture of quaint Santa Barbara. Small houses, well maintained. His is a peach two-bedroom with a chain-link fence and a three-step stoop with two pairs of sandals sitting next to the wood-and-glass door. No shoes in the house. Inside, it’s clean and tidy and made of hardwood. Nothing particularly ghetto about it.
The neighborhood, according to Bobby, is 100 percent Mexican, just like him. And yes, it’s seperated into east and west sides by State Street running down the middle. And yes, there are gangs, and yes, three days ago, somebody was killed nearby, and yes, Bobby’s own family members have been stabbed, and yes, Bobby knows people involved in all of that.
But Bobby Martinez is a surfer. And the neighborhood is mostly peaceable. And he doesn’t run into any problems, even if he knows people involved. Regardless, because of his neighborhood and his proximity to these issues, Bobby Martinez has for years had the gangster hat hung on him by the makers of the surf world’s often limited worldview.
“Maybe it’s because I’m Mexican and I’ve got tattoos and I listen to hip-hop,” he says, stating the obvious. “I don’t know. I just trip out on it.”
But truth be told, and to hear him tell it, Bobby doesn’t pay it much mind. His opinion of what we call “the surf world”—that is, the surf “industry” and magazines like this one, and clothing companies and all the assorted hullabaloo that comes with those things—is not particularly high.
“When I get out of the surf thing,” he says, “I know that there is maybe a handful of people that I’ll still talk to. As for the rest of it, as for the people like [Bobby here inserts by name, with a certain amount of disdain, a list of well-known surf-industry careerists] of the world, I couldn’t really care less about them.”
But he doesn’t mean it maliciously. He means that he was raised here, in this neighborhood, a place where loyalty counts for something. He means that three years ago, he couldn’t make the world tour no matter how hard he tried. He wasn’t particularly thrilled with his sponsor. He says he could have gotten another one, but was fairly distrustful of the industry as a whole. He didn’t have a whole lot of friends in the industry. His phone wasn’t ringing.