Event Producer, Surf Artist
Roberto 'Chuy' Madrigal and Amy Lagera at a Rob Havassy’s Surf Story II event.
All photos Courtesy of 'Chuy' Madrigal
1. You do not seem to be American, what brought you to the U.S.?
I was born in Colima, the Capital of the same name of the state of Colima, Mexico. It is a sugar clump shaped state, that has incredible waves. Back then, I really did not know anything about surfing.
When my father passed away after a car accident, my aunt came to Colima and took my grandmother with her to Ensenada, located in Northern Baja.
Soon after, my mother sold our Hotel-Restaurant called 'El Casino,' and my dad’s other businesses. With my Aunt Teresa, my sister Guadalupe and I, my mother migrated to the city of Tijuana on the Northern border of Mexico at San Ysidro-San Diego.
We started visiting the United States when I was 7 years old. My mom managed a successful restaurant in Tijuana and ran that for a few years. In March of 1962, we finally immigrated to the U.S., once we obtained our green cards. We moved to Southern California, in Lakewood.
Soon after arriving and settling in the daily life of a kid in middle-class America, I began discovering the things that make California what it is. I would experience year-round warm sunny days, team sports, including baseball, basketball, kickball. I would play in big and uncrowded parks that were beautifully maintained. I would ride bikes on wide freshly paved streets and smooth ample sidewalks.
It was heaven!
2. Chuy, how did you start surfing? How were you hooked?
The big guys in the neighborhood were already avid surfers. They were into being big brothers to smaller kids. As a small kid, I wanted to be and dress just like them. My friends and I began combing our hair across our foreheads, and we started wearing denim pants.
Once we got in Junior High school, we quickly graduated to real Levi’s and wearing brand name tennis shoes like Pursels and Converse.
We came to the realization that we were dressing like surfers. We learned to surf at a great surf spot in Seal Beach, called by various names: The River, The Pee Hole, Ray Bay (after the hundreds of Sting Rays that made it their home).
After having a few days of good waves, we were hooked. We realized that we had discovered the sport of surfing.
However, we were still too young for girls and going to the beach without our parents was out of the question. For us, it was hard to get to the beach.
Hopefully, my best friend Bill had an older sister. She had a best friend whose brother, Dennis, was a big dog surfer. Dennis' friends were all good surfers and bad asses so we were in.
The Yellow Church | Inspired by a much larger yellow church located in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
'Chuy' surfing at Oaxaca, Mexico 2006, at the Rip Curl Pro Search: Somewhere in Mexico.
3. Over the years, you have organized and produced some surf events. How did you become an event producer and what major surf event did you produce?
Since I had started surfing and skating when I was 11 years old, I had numerous great surfers that took me in and became my mentors.
Some of these surfers were already of legendary status, like Chuck Linnen, Tim Dorsey, Rich Chew, Mark Martinson, Mike Doyle and Ton Neurell.
I had great mentors that took me to some good surf spots and sort of protected me from localism dispensed by the various surf tribes along the coast.
Thanks to their leadership, mentoring, and my dedication, I became an avid skater and surfer. I was little ripper. As a teenager, I was a sponsored surfer and well known in the sport.
So my mentors and I began to form or join existing surf clubs and we would organize surf contests between the different clubs. Some of us began to be noticed by the various clubs, surf magazines and best of all: potential sponsors.
We would organize small events, parties and surf competitions, and that was the start of becoming event promoters for many of us. This period gave us some good experience in producing events, organizing competitions, and managing people.
My forte was that I had become a good skater. I had become the fastest downhill skater on the road and among the first guy that was skating faster than 70 MPH. This world record took more than 40 years to break.
Being a well-recognized skater opened doors for me and gave me many opportunities. It was my hard core fearless skating and surfing that got some great promoters to take me under their wing.
One such famous person was Don E. Branker, a great event promoter and television producer who became my mentor in the entertainment industry. I would work with rock concerts producers, including Steve Wolf and Jim Rissmiller.
This gave me the know how to produce a myriad of sporting events, television programming, music concerts and some of the world's best professional surfing events, including:
- the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach,
- the first ASP surfing competition in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico.
- the premiere SUP World Surfing ccompetition called "Punta Sayulita Surf Classic,"
- the RIP Curl Pro - Search Somewhere, in Mexico.
Some of the HB locals hanging out in front of Rocking Figs Surf Shop. Front, Pastor Sumo Sato (RIP), Chuy Madrigal, and Peter Townend. Back JD, Fig, Chad, and others
'Chuy' Madrigal - Team rider for Dick Brewer Surfboards
4. You have lived at a time when localism was part of the surf culture. Can you tell us more about it?
Look, localism didn’t materialize out of thin air or was invented by someone. It was not invented by any surf tribe, or in any country in particular. However, I will give you my point of view and tell you why I believe that localism was a lot of like me and my friends “Back in the old days.”
In surfing, there has always been some type of aggression in the water that can be typified as localism. As the surfing population began to grow and expand in many places, the available number of waves decreased.
This is especially true at consistent surf spots that have good waves. These places have become localism hotbeds. There have been some very ugly incidents, generated by growing crowds and disrespect. Partially for this reason, localism leads to very dangerous situations.
As the crowds got bigger, the once "secret spots" became more protected by surf tribes.
I have been traveling around the world most of my life, and I happened to be at some pretty nasty “local” surf spots.
Usually surfers living in the U.S. were welcomed by the locals in exotic, remote surfing locations. Most of the time, these travelers shared their surf trunks, wax, t-shirts, hats, and shoes.
Some would even leave their surfboards when it was time to go back home. They would also keep the stoke alive for those who were striving to learn how to surf.
This kind of interactions partially helps the growth of surfing around the world. At first, the new surf tribes welcomed these visitors. But as surfing began to expand, so did imperialistic and protective behaviors.
On the one hand, some visiting surf crews begun to claim possession of these once virgin surf spots: a philosophy that is different from the very idea of a surf trip.
On the other hand, host surfers, who got there first, took possession of a surf break, protecting “their” spots, even against other people who were originally locals.
Some California surfers, unfortunately, became major adept in promoting localism and began zealously protecting their spots. Huntington Pier, Newport, Malibu, Santa Cruz, WindanSea, you name it! Numerous places in California became localism centers.
It is likely that mindset spread around the world, especially where the visiting surfers began to disrespect the locals, like in Hawaii or Mexico.
This type of attitude created and spread a bad vibe for everyone, especially for those who were traveling with a strong desire for discovering secret spots.
Somewhere in Mexico | secret surf spots series by 'Chuy' Madrigal
Fishing, a painting by 'Chuy' inspired by surf trips around the world
The only ticket to surf places where localism ruled was to be a recognized by talented surfers. You would need to be a bad ass or had the opportunity to have befriended the local bad asses in times past.
In the 70s and early 80s, you can say that it was not safe to surf the Huntington Beach Pier. If you were not a local, knew nobody, and were not considered an asset to the surf community, you were told to get out of the water. It was a bad place for non-locals. Fights in the water became a common occurrence, and some continued on the beach.
Back then, fights in the water or on the beach were not a reason to be arrested by the local police, nor threatened by the lifeguards.
As we got into the 80s, arrests for fighting became the norm. Surfers started to lighten up and get more peaceful with the crowds and outsiders.
Now things seem to have gotten more mellow. Many of us who were considered to be localism enforcers have gotten older. We are friends with the lifeguards, and being a hard ass in the water is not seen by the other surfers as acceptable anymore.
6. You are an artist, and I enjoy your work. When did you start painting surf-related art ?
I have been drawing and painting since I was five years old and lived in Mexico in my home state of Colima. It wasn’t until I came to the U.S. and started surfing that my surf art interest came to being.
I was a doodling in my classes all the way through High School. I quickly became an avid surf artist once I had started surfing. I got more and more into the dreaming and visualizing of surf dreams, points, reefs and beach breaks. Killer Pads, all with perfect waves with beautiful, views and scenery on the Beach or on cliffs with waterfalls: a surfer’s dream.
This visualization was a blessing for when I began producing events. Such imagination would allow me to conceive and building events. I would draw and read blueprints. Surfing had been a great addition to my repertoire. It has helped me with my story boarding, as well as skateboard equipment and skatepark design.
Painting by Chuy | “Island Tubes”
Painting by Chuy | "A surfer at the Huntington Beach Pier"
7. What does painting bring to you? What is your drive, and what is your inspiration?
Painting brings serenity into my life, enhances my overall creativity, and inspires me. It gives me the drive to finish my projects and create my paintings with much greater detail. It gives me a great satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment.
8. I understand you to speak at least three languages. English, Mexican, and some French. Why would you speak so many languages?
I would love to learn various more. I have had relations with well-educated beautiful ladies from other parts of the world. They were multilingual. One spoke as many as 6 languages.
All of this worked right into facilitating my International Government Relations Consulting Business activities. It is great to be able to communicate, n’est-ce pas?
9. What is the most important thing you have learned over the years working in the surf industry?
Being involved in the Surf Industry has been invaluable in many ways. I can tell you that it is a very competitive zealous arena for the new and old brands.
This is especially true now, as some big corporations invest in historical depth. These corporations would spend a lot of money on surf history. Therefore, they seek to control the history of the industry and the sport.
The industry has become a conglomeration of numerous brands with very deep pockets. They have been eliminating most small old surf shops and small brands.
A tribute by Chuy to his dear friend Pastor Sumo Sato. Painting on a Rocking Fig surfboard. Commemorating Sumo’s religious interpretation of Aloha.