Bobby Martinez's Rebel Cry

Can the enfant terrible's harsh words and crisp moves reform the corporatized surf scene dominated by Orange County's action-sports industry?

When Martinez thought Flanagan went back on a promise to increase his salary in 2008, he walked away from negotiations. He went on to win Teahupoo again in 2009 and finished eighth in the world. O'Neill signed him for 2010. But soon, he was taking on the ASP itself, a worldwide organization based in Australia with regional offices in Huntington Beach.

In late 2009, the ASP set into motion changes to fend off a competing tour and to make surfing more exciting in their minds. Instead of two separate tours, all surfers would fall under a One World Ranking, with the top 34 qualified for the contests that decide the champion. But now, anyone falling out of the 34 would be cut mid-season, not annually.

Martinez believed the changes, which borrowed from professional tennis, were a terrible fit for surfing, a sport far different from tennis' controlled environment. The location schedule for the tour favors certain styles of surfers during the first half of the year, others during the second. He gives an analogy: What if a tennis player who played well on hard courts was disqualified from the U.S. Open in September because he or she failed on the French Open's clay courts in May? And he remembered how his first year felt on the Dream Tour. Everyone deserved a whole year to savor.

Surfing into the future
Associated Press
Surfing into the future
Martinez: Straight outta Santa Barbara
Ted Soqui
Martinez: Straight outta Santa Barbara

He took up his grievance with Brodie Carr, the ASP's CEO, who agreed with him, but nothing came of it. The union, World Professional Surfers, claimed surfers voted for the changes. Martinez found the claim absurd since no official poll was taken. World-title contenders now had to surf the lower qualifying events to stay in the top 34. And with the ASP changing points values for all events, many were confused about which events to surf.

In 2010, Martinez dropped to 20th in the world. Among other reasons, friends say, the traveling hurt his focus. Last year, just before the ASP hit Brazil for the Billabong Rio Pro, Martinez's grandfather died. If he surfed, he'd miss the funeral. "I had to tell him, 'If you don't go to this, you will not have a chance to re-qualify,'" says Lee. Martinez beat Slater, came in fifth and got a tattoo in honor of his grandfather.

But last June, when, Martinez says, he got notification that after Quiksilver's New York contest, the first group of top surfers would hit their mid-season mark and be culled under the new rules, he'd had enough. "Every surfer I talked to didn't know how the point system worked," he says. Martinez, who uses "FUCK" like an English teacher uses a preposition, went on a Twitter rant.

Over the summer, Tim English at Monster Energy says he received a call from the surfer, who was just coming off the tour. "If you don't believe in this tour anymore and you're not happy, then you shouldn't be on tour," English remembers telling him. "He was just, 'Oh, man, you have no idea how good that makes me feel.' I think he was really relieved that he hadn't upset anyone."

Martinez had also reached out to fellow surfer Garcia.

"His heart wasn't in it," says Garcia. "I talked to him for a long time: 'Are you sure this is a decision you want to make? It will be really sad not to see you on tour because I believe you can win.' He was just like, 'Man, I don't know how you did it for so long. . . . I don't feel like I have a voice.'"

He had already pulled out of South Africa, and then Teahupoo. In August, he announced he was retiring. And in September, he told the World Tour what he thought of them on a beach on Long Island.

"Sorry if I offended anyone," he said to English, "but I don't regret it for one minute."

* * *

The online bulletin boards lit up. "A has-been who has sealed his own fate," came the word on Stab.

"Bitter Beaner Bobbie does it again," "frucus" felt free to unload.

If the haters were having a go at Martinez on bulletin boards, industry observers noted the financially lethal aspects of what he had done. But Martinez also drew respect, not only from the teenage demographic that thrived on his fuck-off attitude, but also from observers in the surf world.

"I think the sport needs more Bobby Martinezes," explains Barry K Haun, curator and creative director of the Surfing Heritage Foundation in Costa Mesa. "I'm not saying that everything he says is right, [but] without the Bobbies, you can end up with a very homogenized sport."

If Hawaii's North Shore is surfing's mythic Mecca, Orange County is its Wall Street, a fiercely provincial big-money world in which professional incest is unavoidable. "I ran a company called Black Flys for years off Monrovia [Avenue in Costa Mesa], which is right down the street from Hurley, which is right down the street from Quiksilver, which is right down the street from Billabong, which is right down the street from O'Neill," says Jonathan Paskowitz, president of Lightning Bolt USA. "It's this big, nepotistic group of industry individuals who all hang out together and work together."

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