JUNTA: THE BRIAN TOTH INTERVIEW

posted by / Magazine / April 6, 2004

Jorge Machuca. Edwin Santos. Alberto Licha. Waldo Oliver. Rafael Llompart. Juan Ashton. Pablo Diaz. William “Chino” Sue-A-Quan. Otto Flores. Carlos Cabrero. There you have it: 40 years of PR surfing culture wrapped up in just 10 names, despite a legacy that reaches back to1968 when the World Games would introduce competitive surfing to Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico to the world. Today, however, there are now just as many names pushing simultaneously as the previous four decades combined. And with the collective force of family, shapers, coaches and pros pushing them forward, the rest of the surfing world is starting to notice this tiny island’s huge potential.

Case in point: Brian Toth. This time NSSA East Coast champ and Nationals finalist has posted big results at home and abroad, including making the trials the 2003 Rip Curl Cup at Sunset Beach. At only 18 years old, he’s not only a big name in Puerto Rico, he’s one of the most recognized surfers to spring from the Atlantic since the Hobgoods. And he’s just getting started.

We interviewed Brian on the road from Aguadilla to San Juan where he was off on yet another adventure to places like Australia, Indo and Florida, but first stop was Hawaii to kick off his first season on the WQS.

SURFING MAGAZINE: How old were you when you first went to Hawaii?
BRIAN TOTH: I think the first time I went over I was maybe 15, or 14 really. Tommy O’Brien, Aron Gieger, a couple of Florida guys and I went over and rented a house at {{{Rocky}}} Point. It was right next to the beach access. It was madness.

Was it hard for you breaking into the whole hierarchy and getting waves at Pipe?
Yeah, it was a little sketchy and stuff. I was freaking out. It was my first time in Hawaii and it’s huge waves — monster waves. Pipe’s challenging, but everyone sits in one big group, so you just stay away from the group and it’s fine. Just wait your turn. And make sure you do go when you get a chance because the waiting’s so long. [laughs]

What do you credit your ability to getting on it so fast. Is it from surfing all the breaks around here?
Uh, it’s just good to know bigger waves. You have to have knowledge for small waves and big waves. And you don’t wanna be on the beach just going, “Wow.” You want to be out there in the water. Even if you’re not catching waves, you’re in the channel watching, getting an idea of how it breaks, experimenting. Seeing how deep you can go and how deep you can’ t go. I don’t know, I like getting worked. It’s good to get worked. Because it just gets your body stronger and stuff so you can take more on the head. It was sort of sketchy when I first went out there and at Sunset and stuff; I didn’t know how it was really going to be. But since I’ve been going for a while I’ve been getting more and more pumped every trip.

Your mom was talking about the time split your chin . . .
Aw, that was nothing really. I was paddling a bit too late and freefell from top to bottom and ate crap. Nose-dived. Maybe if I had leaned back I would’ve made it. I came up and didn’t really know it was that bad. I thought I’d just like hit the reef and that’s it. And I came up spitting blood and started freaking out a little. I was more in shock than feeling pain.

Was that one of your heavier wipeouts or have you bit it worse here?
Around here my wipeouts have been walking around and stuff; walking into walls and splitting my head open [laughs].

Well, obviously you’ve got this place wired, it’s your home. How was it coming up at in PR? How old were you when you started surfing at Jobos?
Jobos? Four. Surfing the sandbar. The best peak ever. [laughs] We all started surfing the sandbar. And we’d go out on huge days. I remember freakin’ out-of-control Jobos, nobody’d be out. Just Me, Josie [Graves] D [Dylan Graves], Wes [Toth] would be out there, either bodyboarding or surfing. It was good. It was crazy. I don’t know, we were crazy when we were little groms. We almost drowned a couple times out bodysurfing at this one place. We were out swimming and the sea started sucking out. First I swam out to go save Wes and Dylan, then Josie had to come and save all of us. [laughs] We were pissers when we were groms. We had no parental supervision, basically, which was a good thing. Our parents didn’t freak out on us. They let us experience on our own how it is in the water. They helped us out with the knowledge and stuff — like they’d always take us out on huge days at Wilderness — but they also let us find out for ourselves.

So they gave you the tools to work with …
Yeah, I’d say Lewis [Graves], my dad, all the old guys pushed all of us. We’d all look up to them because they’d all be the ones out at Wilderness charging fricken huge waves. I think we had a good environment growing up, cool, nice mellow, but also a little bit of attitude. I think that helped. I like how I grew up.

Obviously PR has a reputation for heavy localism. Did you have to deal with that at all?
Yeah, we faced it a couple of times. We faced it with locals from San Juan and also from people from outside. I remember when we were groms we’d start arguing with the guys, way older and way bigger than us, just yelling at ‘em [laughs], “Like what the f–k are you doing!??”

Like guys from here or visitors or . . .
Guys from around San Juan or people from the States. I think localism was way worse a couple years back. It’s sort of mellowing out, but there’s still a lot of locals out there that’ll turn around and snap. I’ve gotten in arguments every once in a while, but not that bad. You can’t be intimidated about it; you just have to face it. Otherwise people think they can take advantage of you again and again and you won’t do anything. It’s just like everywhere else — there’s that localism in California, in Hawaii, Australia — I just don’t let it bother me that much.

Dylan said growing up he didn’t feel like a gringo at all.
Yeah, I don’t feel like a gringo around here at all either. It feels like I have a lot of family and friends. I mean, there’s people at Jobos for sure said that they hated gringos and Americans or whatever. But I’ve just been here all my life and it feels really at home. I’m just glad to have a lot of friendship around and my house and stuff, and my mom, because there was a time back then when there was a lot of people that hated Americans. It’s sort of cooling down now, but there’s still some.

Carlos [Cabrero] actually credits your crew with changing the vibe. He says you saw the infighting between local surfers and didn’t want any part of it. In fact, he says he feels younger surfing with you…
[laughs] Whoa, Carlos is still a kid. That guy is never gonna grow up and that’s sick. He loves hanging out with us and we love hanging out with him. Like, out in California and stuff, we all just stay a group. We don’t separate. I think Puerto Ricans are just like one big family. That’s what my point of view is. Especially in surfing, everyone’s one big family. I mean, there still is some rivalry. We still give each other shit and stuff. We have our catfights. But then a couple days later we’re just like “F–k, sorry about that.” And it’s all good. We’re just trying to push each other. They were saying you’re the most competitive. They call you “The Bulldog.”
I can say I’m really competitive, yeah. But I don’t like to do it so much, because, I don’t wanna really — I hate competing against my friends. But it’s gonna come sometime. And I think we all still have a competing mind, like when we put that jersey on, there’s no friendship in the water.

Is Wes [Brian's younger brother] as competitive as you are or is he laid back because he’s so young?
I’m bad with Wesley. I’ll vibe him out so hard. But it’s just to push him, you know. I’m not trying to do it on purpose. When I get a jersey on it’s a whole different state of mind. That’s how it is. You can’t be in the water in your jersey like, “Oh, look, butterflies” and stuff. You’ve gotta be super focused about it. I’d say everyone is pretty competitive. Dylan has a lot of it, Gaby [Escudero], Josie, Alejandro [Moreda], everybody actually. When you put that jersey on, it’s like a tuxedo or something, it’s putting on the bulletproof vest on and going FBI on people. I’ve had times when I vibed Wes out too much and he’s come in and told my mom about it [laughs]. He’d come in from the heat and got to my mom, “He was yelling at me and cussing at me!” I’d get in trouble for it. I just want to do good you know. I think everyone wants to do good.

You know, the surf industry is a hard game to play. You’ve got to have a lot of experience and knowledge. You have to do it up and play your cards right. Because if you don’t, you’re not gonna achieve the goals that you have the mind for. And that’s why you have to be hard on yourself. And it’s good to have people be hard on you. I think island of Puerto Rico has been a good push for me too.. Because I have people come up to me and say, “Your parents are American, you’re not really Puerto Rican.” And I’ll be like, “You know what? I don’t really give a shit. In my heart, I think I’m f–kin’ full-on Puerto Rican.” And I think Dylan, Josie and my brother, we all have the same mind.

[Cell phone rings, it's his father: "Hola, Papi!. How you doing? I'm doing an interview, I'll call you from Miami.]

Obviously your mom and dad have been a huge support system, huh?
Yeah, big time. My dad has a hard state of mind, too — actually, neither one of my parents takes shit from anybody — but I remember when I was a kid and he was out in the water and like getting in arguments and stuff, not backing down, not putting his back to people. He’d face it too. So would my mom, and Barbie and Lewis [Graves]. They helped us grow up. Like I was saying, I think the Puerto Rican vibe helps too, it pushes me a lot. I like to represent it.

One of the coolest things is it seems like everyone else is stoked to see you guys represent the island, too.
Yep. I’ve seen a lot of shit too. All the violence, the little gangs. It’s hard times growing up around here, it is. It’s pretty harsh. And nowadays I think everyone splits it equal, everyone watches each other’s backs. And that’s how it is when we all travel around. We all help each other out. If somebody has no place to stay, we help ‘em out.

No shit. Just now, how many people were staying with you at your house?
A lot. I feel bad sometimes when I’m back here. I don’t like to take big groups of people from the States to certain spots. I know people feel the same way when you go to their homes, so I just try to keep it cool

Have the boys ever said anything to you?
Sometimes they say, “Oh, is this crew with you?” And I have no shame; I’ll say if they’re with me or if they’re not. I’ll be like, “They’re all cool, don’t’ worry about it.” But I’ve seen just stupid people that come down and almost kill people because they don’t know how to surf really, and that’s when the locals snap. And there will be people I’ve never seen in my life out at Jobos trying to catch everything. And you’re like, “Who in the hell are you?” And then they try to snap on you. That’s when I’m like, “F–k you, man. You can go back to where you came.”

Would you say that’s the most localized spot?
Jobos, downtown in the pueblo in Aguadilla, Aguada, definitely Arecibo. There’s some nice people but there’s pretty big localism. Aviones is pretty heavy, too. But it’s mellowing down. There’s not so much commotion going on. Still is every once in a while, but that’s good. It keeps less people in the water.

There’s gotta be some place for the local boys to go.
Yeah, and it’s a good crew coming up where I come from. There’s a lot of people who look at us bad, not all the time, but there’s people that I can feel like eyes staring down at me. Like when you guys went out in San Sebastian the other night.
Oh, bro, everyone was staring at us. There were so many people staring us down. But we don’t give a shit. We’re there, we know what’s going on. We’re just having fun. You just don’t’ let it bother you. Do you guys go out and cut loose a lot when you’re home?
We try to. We try to as much we can. And now these days, none of us really hang out that much, so we just try to take advantage. We just go rage with each other.

Can you describe each of the guys. Josie seems like a big brother figure. Is that true?
Josie? Yeah. He’s full-on big brother. I don’t know what I’d do without him. He just knows most of the time what to do and he’s a good role model for me and everybody else. And I try to do it for Dylan and Wes, too. Because we’ve known Josie and Dyl since we were growing up, so it feels like they’re my brothers, too. I wish they were with me [on tour]. I seriously with Josie and D and all those guys were with me. If I wanted a crew to go around the world with, I’d wish it was Dylan and Wes and Gaby and Alejandro and Josie.

Is it weird now that you’re all separating and doing your own thing?
It feels really weird. Really weird to think that we never hang out with each other anymore and we don’t know what the f–k’s going on in our lives. But once we get together we try to share so much knowledge. And when we hang out, we’re a crew. We’re a fun crew. I’ll never change that crew. We look out for each other, we ask each other, we talk to each other about personal stuff, and it’s good. Because we can talk to each other about anything and it won’t matter. We’ve never had any problems

How do Gaby and Alejandro fit in? Ale’s obviously pushing it . . .
He’s really improved. And Gaby’s driven too, but they’re both pussywhipped! [laughs] Nah, seriously, I’d say Alejandro is the biggest amper of all. He’s like the surfing library guy. He knows a lot of shit — like what’s going on in the industry — and he’s so hardcore because he doesn’t have anyone helping him along. He’s doing it on his own. I think I’m the one that knows jack shit about everything, you know? [laughs] I don’t know a lot about the industry and stuff. So thank God I have a lot of people helping me out. And I’m glad to know a lot of people who do know a lot and I love to listen to them talk about it. Who’s been the most helpful?
I just really like talking to everyone, just friends I’ll talk to people about … I don’t really like talking that much about surfing. People are asking me how to surf and stuff, I’m like, “I don’t know, you just do it, natural instinct.” But those guys have more knowledge. I think Otto and Chino — I remember reading about all Chino and the Backdoor Shootouts — the whole older generation really affected everything on the younger generation. Hell, if there was no older generation there would never be a younger generation. So I think everybody needs to thank all the geezers [laughs].

It seems like with each generation there’s more success, too. Do you think there’s a WCT surfer in your ranks?
I hope so. I seriously hope so. I think everyone hopes there is.

Is part of what you look forward to is helping the next generation?
Yeah. I’ve seen a lot of groms f–king coming on that I’m really stoked on. I was thinking there was nobody else wanting to surf. Because the Puerto Rico Surfing Federation died, and there wasn’t really any groms in the Boys divisions. And I’ve been seeing more and more groms getting amped and stuff. And I think there’s a new little generation amping. And I’m glad that they’re in the water having fun. And there’s way more girls surfing in the water too. And that’s just what we need. To have their mind set in the water. Because there’s a lot of old guys around that are really good surfers and they took the wrong path and they got screwed. And I think that’s happened to a lot of people down here in Puerto Rico. There’s this hole down here that sucks you in, that party-gnarliness hole that doesn’t let you go any further. You can party some, but you have to limit yourself. Because there’s a lot of surfers who could’ve made it really far but they got messed up in drugs. You just have to have a straight mind. You can’t let the party suck you in.

If you could do one thing for Puerto Rican surfing what would it be?
Just to represent it well. Yeah, to do a good job representing it and showing ‘em that we exist. Put out a good showing. And a good image. And f–king blow up.

Do you think you’ll end up living down here?
You mean in Puerto Rico?!

Yeah.
Well I haven’t moved yet! Matt Walker

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