Local artist and residents team up to beautify PB Rec Center with surfboard murals
Residents of Pacific Beach are about to get a much splashier look for their recreation center thanks to a collaboration between local artist Rob Tobin and the Pacific Beach Town Council.
The non-descript center, built in the 1950s and regularly used for sports and other community activities, is getting a makeover, with lots of help from residents.
The “Pacific Beach Community Surf Garden” mosaic murals will beautify the north and south wall of the building. The project is the brainchild of Brian Curry, a PBTC director and a local business owner, and Chris Olson, a former member of PBTC.
The garden concept is entirely Tobin’s. The mural will boast large, colorful flowers, with old surfboards being used as the petals on the north wall, and a vibrant sun with surfboard rays on the south wall. Small groups of community volunteers will be formed to assist in actually constructing the pieces.
“My specialty is doing upcycle art, saving stuff from the landfill,” Tobin said. “I thought about surfboards, you see a lot of these old surfboards around, so I assumed they ended up in the trash. I thought we could do something with those and went through a few ideas and I came up with the flower idea, the garden idea.
“Being a mosaic artist too, that’s a nice sturdy, solid finish, the surfboard, so it can last thousands of years or however long out there.”
The idea for the mural project began about five years ago, said Curry, after a discussion about ways to beautify the building. Nothing came out of those discussions until 2019 when Curry, who lives near the rec center, decided that the project deserved another look.
The city wasn’t able to help make renovations to the building, so Curry decided to take it to the community.
“I looked at that wall; I wanted a mural,” he said. “And then through seeing other projects around town, I ended up meeting (with) the artist, Rob Tobin, took him out to the site, and he said, ‘Yes, let’s do something on this wall.’”
Tobin is a well-known artist who works with schools, community groups and other organizations. He specializes in mosaics and in using upcycled materials for this art. He and Curry began making plans for the project in May 2019.
It has taken two years to get city approval, but now that they’ve received the go-ahead from the City of San Diego Public Art Committee, plans are underway for construction of the mural.
Curry said Tobin was a natural fit for this project.
“I’ve known Rob for probably over 15 years,” he said. “I didn’t realize the level of activity he has done in mosaics around town. And most all of that has been community-based. So he’s done them on elementary schools, he’s done a YMCA, he’s done a lot of civic work.
“And he’s local. He lived in Mission Beach for years. We wanted a local artist, representing the local community, doing local art on a local project.”
Tobin estimates that the project will need about 50 to 60 surfboards, which they are seeking through public donations. Some of the flowers will stretch up to 20 feet in diameter, given the rec center’s large size, he said.
Aside from sponsoring the project, the Town Council is handling fundraising, donations and volunteer opportunities.
The project has grown bigger than just the murals, according to Curry.
“What this has evolved into now is a total exterior beautification project. Not just the mural mosaics, but there’s going to be new paint, and hopefully we’ll be able to do some landscaping and really fix up our rec center,” he said.
The hope is that the Community Surf Garden will attract visitors to come and take photos in front of the wall, which will boost tourism.
“The city is so stoked about it because of the unique nature of it,” Curry said. “It will be part of the City of San Diego’s Civic Art Collection.”
The project is now in the planning and fundraising phase, with surfboard donations and financial donations being processed through the Town Council. There are five donor tiers, ranging from $50 to over $5,000. Each donation tier will receive a custom tile that will also be incorporated into the mural.
And while there are still a few more approvals needed before work can actually begin, volunteers can sign up to help construct the project.
“You don’t have to be artistic in any way (to volunteer),” Tobin said. “You can still glue tiles to surfboards. It’s almost like a paint by numbers thing. We just fill in with the tile and grout.”
Most of the work on the project will be done off-site and then installed onto the exterior of the building.
Curry said they are pushing for a fall debut this year. He’s planning for a dedication ceremony to unveil the art upon completion, hopefully in September or October.
Public art projects like this one are important for any community, but particularly in Pacific Beach, he said.
“We’re very active here in PB. There’s a lot of people that really are trying to improve our community,” he said. “I think art is one of those things that can bring a community together regardless of politics, religion, nationality, race — it’s art and it’s all of us. I think that a sense of unity and inclusiveness, unity with diversity, is important.”
Tobin agreed. "(Public art projects) give a lot of civic pride and ownership, especially when we have the community helping us from the start with the surfboard donations and the financial donations. We’ll probably have different groups brought in to work on the surfboard. So it brings a lot of the community out, it brings them together, they have a good time and they have ownership over the project in the end, so they’re proud of it, they take care of it, and it becomes a landmark over there.”
For more information on the project, including how to get involved through donations, fundraising and volunteering, visit pbtowncouncil.org. For more information on Rob Tobin, visit artistrobtobin.com or follow him at @artistrobtobin on Instagram.