During the early 1970s, Pat Tobin became one of a small group of Laguna Beach painters to follow in the tradition of the town’s renowned Eucalyptus School of the 1920s-40s by dedicating themselves to plein-air impressionist painting. Over following decades, Tobin has traveled Mexico, Hawaii, and California as a surfer and artist, refining his approach while recording romantic panoramas of his life and times.
I had a little gallery in Ixtapa, near Zihuatanejo. A very nice couple came in and bought a painting. They asked me if I knew of somewhere close that wasn’t so touristy to eat, drink, and hang out on the beach for a day.
“Sure, you want to go tomorrow, I’ll take you.”
Next morning, I pick them up at their hotel and we cruise the highway for a while, then turn down a little known dirt road to a ramada that always has oysters, lobster, fish, and cold beer.
Well, we walk up into this place, slide into a few hammocks, order up, and that’s when I looked down the beach to my left…
Boca de la Leña
What? A recent storm had created a perfect sandbar in front of the nearby arroyo. There was a beautiful swell with lefts reeling off like crazy. As good as it gets at a place that never breaks, and I’m with this couple from Chicago or somewhere, looking at something all surfers dream about, and I hadn’t brought my board!
While painting in front of Villa del Sol, one of the few five-star hotels in Mexico situated on Playa la Ropa in Zihuatanejo, I overheard this conversation…
Two middle-aged couples had met as they were partaking in evening cocktails. The two men were becoming acquainted as were their wives. After a bit, one of the ladies leans over and says to her husband, “Darling, did you hear that? These poor dears had to work for their money.”
Right in front of the thatched house on the beach is a fun little right.
After painting all morning, I’d grab my board, walk down there, lay in the sun, and surf the afternoon away. The large family who lived in that house would come out and watch me.
After a few days, I hear this laughing and splashing. Here comes one of the older kids flailing and kicking on a six-foot-long, two-by-eight waterlogged plank. While he sat out there catching his breath, I caught a couple little curls. Then, a good solid 4-foot set came. I took off on the first one and rode it in. When I pulled out, I looked up and the kid was trying to catch the next one. Apart from being scary, it was pretty funny. He was right in the peak and got launched, thrown straight over the falls holding onto that plank for his dear life. He got the royal ax, but came up coughing, laughing, and yelling.
A year later, a sailboat of surfers pulled into the bay, rode some waves and left him a sunburnt, crummy, 6’8″, real surfboard. Now the kid has learned to surf, and does go all by himself while his family jump up and down, hooting every time he catches one.
Although the strong waves of Petacalco attracted many adventurous surfers, the actual dilapidated town and surrounding area left much to be desired. When Bill Mitchell and I decided to try to paint some landscapes, we were pretty scrapped as to where to go. There were knolls of sticker bushes, dried, cracked swamps, and here and there some big trees. On one excursion into this motif-less area, we saw a beautiful reddish tree across from a mudhole, behind some funny looking brush.
Well, we set up and began laying in this somewhat unspectacular scenery with the big red tree behind. Next day, there we were again, painting away, when in the distance, we heard this thump, thump, thump. Next thing we knew, the tree began to lean over, another couple of thumps, and down it goes—ka-wham!
As we walked away with our unfinished canvases, Mitchell defiantly suggested, “Let’s go to the beach and paint a shack.”
Michael Logan and I spent over a month painting northern Baja. Typically, it was gloomy, windy, June weather. We would drive up the valleys to get away from the coastal fog, and up El Descanso we came to a cattle and flower ranch. Mike was attracted to the corral. I walked up a hill and found this motif.
Next morning, we go back to paint. Down by the corral all was calm, but up on the hill the wind was howling. I couldn’t use my easel, so I clamped the canvas onto a barbed-wire fence.
All the way from the highway, you could hear “Alley Cat,” becoming louder and louder, until finally the small ice cream van with its huge speaker came around the bend and stopped, music blaring, and did business with the flower growers and their children.
The wind got so strong that my painting was flapping and jumping around like a mad idiot. I got so frustrated, I just loaded my brushes, turned around, and painted without looking. Let the elements do what they want. I mixed the colors and the brush, wind and canvas did the rest. I never really knew what I was doing. But the ice cream man surrounded by pretty flower picking girls sure knew what he was doing!
Boy, we thought we were cool! Kevencio and I made a hut up the path from this neat left. We went out and cut thin branches to make hanging beds. In our Speedos, we both lay down on them when they were finished, without our petates (woven mats), bragging about whose was more comfortable, rolling upon them in ecstasy.
Two days later, we both broke out with an outrageous rash. Then, our nuts began to swell to the size of softballs! The old couple who lived nearby came over, alarmed by our shrieks. “Dios mio hijos, you cut down some lincha huevo* branches,” the old lady said, then ran back to her hut and immediately ground up some cornmeal that she smeared over our entire bodies. Within a couple of hours, flies swarmed upon us like locusts.
Standing in the 90-degree plus shade of our new house, encased in cornmeal with throbbing huge testicles, we just looked at each other and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
*Translation: Swelling eggs.
I’m sure I’m not the only son who “lied” to his parents under very similar circumstances. Every Sunday when I was young, I had to go to Sunday school. The church where we went was near the beach on St. Anns Street. If there was a good swell running, we’d pile into Rodney Smith’s dad’s (who had been a high-ranking marine) panel wagon and head south.
With his USMC sticker on the bumper, the guard at Camp Pendleton would salute us and, as the rabbits scurried into the bushes, we would pull up and park right on the beach at Church and surf all day.
When I sat down for dinner, my parents would always ask, “How was church?”
“Great,” was my reply.
Was that a sin?
I understand you will think that I’ve lost it, but this really happened…
I was staying with Jan Kasprzycki in up-country Maui in Olinda. Having his studio in the old cannery at Mala, we would drive down the mountain almost every day. He’d go in and work and I’d walk around and paint the wharf, graveyard, and oriental card players underneath the kiawe trees along the beach.
One day, there was a nice south swell, and Jan loaned me his Jeep so I could drive up into the cane fields where I painted this view. Afterward, I went down to get him, and we decided to drive into Lahaina to get some lunch. As we drove over the little bridge, above the Mala alawai, we both looked down to the right and saw, looking up at us from the bushes, a small green bug-eyed leprechaun (or Menehune). We actually had eye contact with this frightened little guy for a couple of seconds. Then, I looked over at Jan, he looked at me, and said, “Let’s forget about lunch, we need a cold one.”
If you don’t believe me, ask Jan.
They said it was the best day in 14 years. The night before in the Lahaina ghetto, we had a major party—it was my birthday. Next morning, equipped with a hangover and an ancient 7’4″ beat-up thruster Tom Mitchell loaned me, we pulled up to Maalaea and it was insane. I went straight over the falls on two waves, cut myself on the reef trying to get to the beach, then was fortunate to watch some great surfing by the Maalaea masters on their finely-tuned stilettos, smoking like the foothills of Haleakala behind them.
Rights and Lefts
Anyone who tried to surf the Ranch in the 1960s, apart from the Santa Barbara Surf Club members, will remember the tireless efforts made to get there.
Biking from Jalama, scrambling through the coves past Gaviota, waiting quietly in the car with the headlights off while someone who knew the combination to one of the many locks set to work, or boating up and tying onto the kelp—that was about it.
Last year, I reconnected with an old friend from Palos Verdes who has a home up above St. Augustine. I called him and he said, “Come visit us, I’ll get you a pass.”
My wife and I drove up, the guard at the south gate gave us our pass, and the next thing I know, we’re cruising the Ranch with a cooler full of beers. Geez, this was heaven!
We met with my friend, Kit Cossart, and he gave us a tour of the whole deal, places I’d never really seen due to always looking over my shoulder to see if Floyd was lurking.
The next morning, we pulled up to Rights and Lefts and parked right there, with no fear. Wow!
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