Thirty years ago, when the world of Pat Tobin swirled around surfing the big waves at Bahia de Petacalco in Mexico, the publisher of Surfer Magazine, Steve Pezman, printed an article on Pat’s favorite spot.
Pat and his surfer friends stormed Pezman’s office, furious that he had revealed “their” special spot in the state of Guerrero, north of Ixtapa.
Localism matters in the world of serious surfing, and Pat and his pals, the first to discover places such as Petacalco, could be ferocious when it came to protecting what they saw as their turf, running off intruders in a number of resourceful, if not always tasteful, ways.
Surfing wasn’t just a sport to Pat. It was his way of life, his poetry, his Zen, his muse. He made his own boards to carry him along powerful, 12- to 20-foot waves. In quieter moments, he took oils to canvas to paint his best friends – the waves, coves and swaying palms of California and Mexico that marked “his” beaches.
A legend among the early big-wave surfers, and popular among collectors of surf art, he was 55 when he died Jan. 28 of liver disease.
Pat was born in Los Angeles, the son of cartoonist and Disney animator Don Tobin, and started drawing as a small boy.
The family moved to Laguna Beach when he was 8, and Pat quickly developed a love of surfing. At 12, he wrote, illustrated and sold for a nickel his own surfer magazine.
After graduating from Laguna Beach High School, he went to San Diego State University on an art scholarship. But the lure of the waves was greater than that of the easel, and he left school to find great point breaks in Mexico.
For the next 30 years he lived between Laguna Beach and Mexico.
South of the border, he conquered huge waves, married (and later divorced) and had a son. He drank beer with friends and perfected his plein-air painting, producing colorful landscapes of his favorite beaches. He would return to Laguna Beach to exhibit and sell his paintings.
But Pat didn’t need a lot of money. Things meant little to him. He slept in a hammock strung between two palm trees and lived the simplest of lives in his beloved Mexico.
Certainly, it isn’t the life for everyone. But it was the only life for Pat.
In Southern California, life felt loud and hectic and hemmed in by the rules and expectations of gentrification. It made Pat uneasy.
In Mexico, he basked in the lack of hustle and bustle and in the kindness and gentleness of the people. Wherever he lived, in Guerrero or remote spots in Michoacán, he was among the first gringos in the small villages. He learned local dialects and blended easily into the laid-back, deadline-free way of life.
Gregarious and generous of spirit, he had many friends in both countries.
Pat was a spiritual surfer who, according to Steve Pezman, “got into the psyche of those powerful, frightening waves and became the master of them. He seemed, in his own, raw way, to coincide with the waves.”
With steady discipline, he worked into the night on his paintings and wrote two limited-edition books, “Aquí No Mas,” (Here No More) and “Tehuantepec Or Bust,” chronicling his endless search for perfect surfing spots. Both were illustrated with his handmade, wood-block prints.
Seven years ago, Laguna Beach art dealer owner Karen McCollum offered to show his works at her studio, Gallery McCollum. Pat came to Laguna to meet with her, and, over time, they fell in love and married, then adopted a little girl, now 3, from Russia.
Recently, his painting occupied Pat more than surfing. He was modest to the end, and it probably didn’t occur to him that he was creating collectors’ items.