Imaginative, eccentric, genuine, unique, distinctive, master
As I drove home from the time I spent with Bobby Ruiz (also known as) Bobby Tribal for this feature, I thought to myself, “If I was asked to describe Bobby as a person, how would I describe him?” Almost immediately, the term “Renaissance Man” came to mind. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a “Renaissance Man” is a person who is well educated and an expert at a variety of subjects or fields, in short, a very well-rounded person. A part of street cultures since his youth, Bobby Ruiz is considered by many to be a cornerstone of various street cultures, like Lowriding, Graffiti and Streetwear.

A child of the 1970’s, Bobby and his family lived in Los Angeles where he and his brother, Joey, were introduced to the growing Skateboard Culture. Bobby and Joey saved beer cans and bought a Black Knight Skateboard with the proceeds. The skateboard was Bobby and Joey’s entertainment, and also a way to navigate the area where the two boys lived. When Bobby relocated to San Diego at 9-years-old, he began to notice other neighborhood influences around him, namely, Lowriders and Graffiti.

The Ruiz family moved to South San Diego and Bobby and his brother would skateboard around their neighborhood; in the process witnessing car clubs like the Casinos, Latin Lowriders, and Brown Image doing their thing. The car clubs would cruise the neighborhood, park, and wipe down their cars while listening to James Brown, Kool and the Gang, and Santana. Young Bobby was tuning in himself, and he admired the style and artistic slant the car club members had. During the Ruiz boys’ Junior High years, one of their friends had an older sister who drove a 1965 Chevy Impala on 5.20’s and hubcaps. She would pick the boys up from school and they would cruise the legendary Highland Avenue and Chicano Park. This intoxicated Bobby even further into the Lowrider Culture and he vowed to one day become a part of it by owning a custom of his own.

When Bobby was fifteen, his dad helped him keep this promise by helping him buy a 1964 Ford Thunderbird from one of the neighbors, using the earnings he made from working at his dad’s swap meet business. The T-Bird was disassembled in the family’s garage with the help from Bobby’s brother, Joey. The car was painted, chromed and lifted by the time Bobby was eighteen, and it was Bobby who took care of lifting the car, since he had already been working on hydraulics. Some of the kids in the neighborhood would buy “TV Dinners” (brand new cars with rims, tires and hydraulics) and they had no idea how to repair the hydraulics when they broke, so Bobby started climbing into the trunks to repair and install hydraulics.

In 1982, Bobby became one of the first members of Groupe C.C., San Diego. He cruised and attended shows with the club. Groupe San Diego was cruising Highland Avenue, Chicano Park, Mission Bay, and they would also head up to Los Angeles to participate in the RG Canning shows, and other shows like the World of Wheels and Lifestyle Car Club’s Sports Arena shows.

Since building the 1964 Thunderbird, Bobby has built a few more cars. He built a 1959 and a 1961 Chevy Impala that were featured in Lowrider Magazine. Bobby’s latest builds are the 1949 Chevy Fleetline, a 1965 Chevy Truck, and the 1963 Chevy Impala shown in the accompanying photos. These rides were built with the help of some of the best in the business, like Fernando Ramirez, Top Stitch Upholstery, Chico at Candy’s Auto Body San Diego, and Rockford Fosgate. Although he does not attend or compete in car shows regularly, Bobby does display his fleet at select events like the Chicano Park Celebration, San Diego Indoor Car Show, and the Cabrones MC “Cruise For No Cause.” As the saying goes, “Once a Lowrider, always a Lowrider.”

The TRIBAL Years

During the time Bobby was Lowriding, he was also in school and stayed in school because of the discipline instilled by his father. With a strong work ethic and artistic vision, it was only natural for Bobby to start his own business. In 1989, Bobby and his brother, Joey, started Tribal Gear. The brothers took blank tee shirts and began applying their own designs. Joey was designing tattoo graphics and Bobby was designing graphics influenced by his graffiti background. When most of us think of graffiti, we think of the “hip hop” style of graffiti. Bobby’s style is a bit different, though it shares the same roots, as he has mastered the West Coast gangster and neighborhood style of graffiti. This style is based on different types of letter styles like old English and block style lettering. A lot of the early designs that Bobby and Joey completed were Mayan and Aztec in nature?which is why the name Tribal was chosen. The start of the brand was rough, but with the addition of Carl Arellano, Tribal pulled through and has not looked back since.

Over the past 20 years, Bobby and Tribal Gear have worked with some of the best artists from countries like Japan, Germany, and the United States. Because of the reputation of the brand, artists like OG Abel, Mister Cartoon, Jose Lopez, Chaz, and Zodak have contributed their artwork to the brand. Bobby has developed relationships with recording artists like P.O.D., Snoop Dogg, and Korn, as well as others to represent Tribal. While the brand itself is known for their legendary T-shirts, they also make cut and sewn items as well, to make sure their supporters can be outfitted in Tribal from head to toe. With its crossover appeal, it is not uncommon to see people from all walks of life sporting this iconic brand.

Though the brand has become widely successful, the ever-humble Bobby does not take credit alone for the success of Tribal and his career in Lowriding. He thanks his father, his brother Joey, his wife and children, Carl Arellano, Groupe SD, as well as the many shops and individuals that retailed his clothing and worked on his automotive builds.

After repeated successes in Lowriding and business, where does Bobby Tribal go from here? He plans on continuing to develop his personal and professional lives, each playing a part in the other, though he dedicates a lot of time to his kids. Bobby plans on teaching his children the business and bring Tribal to the next level. He would also like to work with and teach students at the college and university level. After speaking with this “Renaissance Man”, one thing is clear; Bobby and Tribal will keep moving ahead, transcending, and evolving, just like the Lowrider Culture.