Thoughts on the passing of my friend Pat Tobin

| posted on July 22, 2010

I met Pat Tobin in 1974 at Rio Nexpa. Totally by fluke, I had come from a shopping trip in Caleta, Michoacan, to the rancho of the friends I’d been staying with, and saw “evidence” of Pat’s presence: 3 huge guns, from 10’ to 11’ range, laying next to the trough where the pigs were eating. I was shocked. I’d been surfing Nexpa virtually alone- for months- since the last crew of Gringos left for the States.

Something about these guns set me on edge: I could tell they were hand-made (funky, truth be told), and had the unusual trademark of “Cerveza Superior” wrappers carefully peeled off the bottles and glassed right on the boards. But beyond that, I sensed in these sticks a sense of their owner: a passion for surfing the post-perfect waves that Nexpa could offer. These boards were worn- really gone through the mill- with stress marks at all the right places, and broken off tail blocks and noses, haphazardly laminated together. I seized up the situation thusly: What I was looking at were the tools of the trade of a surfing Ernest Hemmingway. I wasn’t far off the mark.

“Ahi, en la huerta,” my host Sofia signaled about this “intruder’s” whereabouts. I found Pat in the middle of the coconut grove, along the banks of the river, in worn-out, paint-stained dungarees, staring at a canvas with a paintbrush in one hand and a filterless “Delicado” cigarette in the other. My presence was more of an interruption than a cause for congenial small talk. Pat, as I learned over time, had endured kooks and wannabe surfers for years, and never got too excited about meeting new guys.

All the legendary stories about Pat Tobin are true. I was so lucky to have known him, having corresponded with him for more than 3 decades, despite being half way around the world, either in Europe or the Middle East. I cherish the letters- terse, surf-coded, somewhat obtuse- we had our own language to philosophize about the dilemma of Mickey Dora, the plight of modern man, and the fate of the Aloha spirit. Our exchanges ranged from the sublime, transitioning-oneself-from-the-base-American- materialism to the ethos of life on the French Riviera- and back again to the ‘Bu and Southern California, postulating about which kook characteristics can be most recognizable when wondering whom to drop in on. For decades, it went on like a vibrant, totally hilarious dialog, with just enough irreverence, along with portraits of Pat’s brilliance of character and sarcasm.

Pat was my hero. I learned and appreciated his incredible surfing dance. He didn’t really surf; rather, he soared like an eagle. It didn’t matter- one foot or 20 foot- the approach on a wave was the same: flawless execution, absolute control, and most important, grace and style. Like his artistic roots in Laguna Beach, the incomparable strokes he left on the canvas were somehow transferred to the precision lines he set up on some of the heaviest beachbreaks of Guerrero and Michoacan.

Like any great artist and surfer, Pat wasn’t really of this world. Life resembled nothing of the “real world” for Pat. The only thing that mattered was “the line”- in perfect trim on a clean, tight wave- always completely in the curl- and the deft, eternal stroke on the canvas. Throw in a few-well, lots- of Coronas and Mexican food, and the day was a success.

I had the honor to speak at Pat and Karen’s wedding. It was like appearing next to a titan, humbling. About all I could mention before the huge crowd was my awe and reverence for Pat, along with my friendship, and the knowing that Karen would be the best thing that could ever happen to him.

Perhaps one day, Petacalco, Pat’s homebreak, will get back the sand bottom it lost during those huge swells of years past. And then, in accord with the finest of surfing tradition, a younger generation will talk around the campfire about stories they “heard” about Pat Tobin, one of the most incredible surfers that ever lived.

  • bruce

    My name is Bruce Broderick.In the early 80’s I along with friends & family traveled throughout Mexico.My main goal was surfing & making super 8 movies.I stopped & surfed & made movies of Petacalco & Pat Tobin & his crew,as you all know this was taboo,but I got away with it. Today I have restored this film & cannot believe my eyes as to how good peta was. It if you were to compare it looks like Mavericks on a very good day. Pat Tobin was one of the best surfers I have ever seen surf on his 10 to 12 foot custom surf boards,and I have seen them all surf. Starting with Eric Penny and going to Mavericks surf contest every year I can.What more can I say,I love surfing. Thanks for reading this…

    • Jose

      Bruce upload the movie to youtube for everybody to seeB thanks.

    • J Bailey

      I’m w/ Jose… to see your film = YouTube! Do you have footage of Eric Penny?

    • richard jordan

      what is the youtube title/link? i was living the best years of my life surfing down there late 70’s early 80’s including meeting and surfing with pat. no one lies when they say he was the best surfer they ever saw surf – by a long shot. I would love to step back in time…

  • Kurt

    Great tribute to a real toreador in the water! I surfed Petacalco for two months straight in the Fall of 1974, and saw Pat Tobin, “Patricio,” as he was known in the small Mexican fishing village, pulling into some of the heaviest barrrels, with style, soul arches, etc. I’m talking 15-20+ days, when more surfers sat on the beach and watched, then paddled out! I felt privileged to be invited to Tobin’s small house, or maybe it was Big Arnie’s place. The point is, I and my friend Jim were accepted by these original discovers/pioneers of this heavy wave, because they respected us for being out and charging the place on the biggest days, even though we were undergunned on our 8 foot and 8’4″ pintail guns!

    As to Bruce, you were either never there, or you have your decades confused. The dam finished construction in 1975, and other than an occasional rare day, was over by 1976! I flew into Ixtapa in 1979, and rented a jeep, and took my friend there where we surfed Petty’s for 2 days. There were some occasional good waves, but a lot of walled up shorepound! A shadow of it’s former self! Tobin in company were long gone by 1979, so you couldn’t have filmed them in the 80’s! I’d love to see the film, though. The only footage I’ve seen is a brief sequence in Naughton-Peterson’s “A Far Shore,” surf travel DVD.I have photos from 1979, including some of me getting shacked at the place, because we honored the no photo rules in 1974!

  • cruzalvarez

    hola guebones

  • Albert Quatraro

    Hola ,, I’am writing a book on the The voyage of the Camukla Kevin Moss’s boat that was built in Petacalco in 1979 and then lost in 1982 in Hurricane Alberto in the Gulf of Mexico ,, Pat Tobin and Kevin were best of friends and surfed together for years on the lengendary wave ,,Does someone have a good photo of Pat or Kevenico on a Petacalco wave .??? please e-mail me with any input or photos ,, Thanks ,,Alberto 772-413-1924

  • Albert Quatraro

    Hola ,, I’am writing a book CAMUKLA ,, It,s about one of Pat Tobins best friends Kevin Moss (KEVENCIO ) and his story of a voyage and boat born out of the legendary Petacalco surf Days, The CAMUKLA was lost at sea in Hurricane Alberto,, Gulf of Mexico 1982 , I’am kooking for a good photo of either Kevencio or Pat surfing on a Peta wave or on the beach holding their boards to include in the book ,, Thanks

  • Salty Sister

    I have an ORIGINAL Pat Tobin Ink Block and a brand new Large mens t-shirt FOR SALE…

  • Jay Bloomquist

    anyone who surfed down there has heard the locals speak reverently of Pat Tobin. he must have really been something. i met him at nexpa in 83. i had no idea who he was at that time. we were there alone. there were no surfers or campers except for a one legged local boy who bodyboarded. Pat was painting at the rivermouth and we spoke briefly while i marveled that i was at the scene he was painting. later i met the woman who owned the rancho. the boy was her son i think. she said an artist from Laguna Beach lived on the hill. it took me years to put it all together. i’m still watching for that particular painting. i hope i recognize it. thanks for sharing some insight into this legend, Martin. thanks Surfer Mag!

  • Raúl Roman Campos

    Im from zihuatanejo, im sure you the city. I grew skating and cruising in tha z-wat downtown and can remember the tobin’s surf gallery . I remember him like a very nice guy, i was maybe 12-13 years and i was starting to surf. I loved that place, maybe i went there every day, looking their big paints!