Despite a legacy that reaches back to1968 when the World Games would introduce competitive surfing to Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico to the world, the Caribbean island really hasn’t presented many surf stars to the world. Brian Toth would be one of the outliers. More than a decade ago he announced his name to the surfing world by qualifying as a wildcard for the 2003 Rip Curl Cup at Sunset Beach and in the time since has become one of PR’s most renowned contest and freesurfers.
Tothy’s humility, coupled with his positive attitude, is the reason he has grown into the ideal ambassador for Puerto Rican surfing. But it’s his surfing ability – a rare mix of rail-to-rail power, progressive flair and a healthy appetite for big barrels – that has garnered him attention and respect from Puerto Rico to Hawaii.
Q & A
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!??"
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.
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.
How old were you when you first went to Hawaii?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Who's been the most helpful?
I just really like talking to everyone, just friends I'll talk to people about A,aAÂ€| 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].
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.