Sea-Sing the Day
Written By: Alexa Erickson
Photos Provided By: BB Gun Press & Michael Williams
The Expert: Rob Machado, Professional Surfer
Favorite Local Surf Break: Swami’s Reef
In the modern day world of professional surfing, with its cutthroat mentality fueled by an increase in hype, prize money and competition, it can be easy to lose track of the laid back vibe that often encompasses the sport. Enter legendary surfer Rob Machado. Like a throwback to the ’70s with his chill- vibe mentality, a sea of golden-streaked locks and a constant smile teetering on the edge of laughter, he is more like a buddha than a bro. He is humble at heart—speaking slowly, softly and soulfully about his passion and love for surfing.
Having won many of the sport’s most reputable competitions, with 12 World Championship Tour victories under his belt, Machado is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest surfers. He was inducted into the Surfer’s Hall of Fame in 2000, re-inducted in 2006, was awarded SIMA Waterman of the Year in 2009, and received a star on the Surfing Walk of Fame in 2011. With a resume like that, one may assume a level of intimidation when conversing with Machado, however, he speaks with a candor that oozes ease. He doesn’t seem to be worried about where he was or where he is going, but rather focused on his in-the-moment goals.
And despite his calmness, he seems to be in constant motion. From dropping into the world’s best waves to his other passions including music, photography, video, surfboard shaping and his philanthropic endeavors like The Rob Machado Foundation, which seeks to raise environmental awareness to local elementary schools in hopes of creating a better earth, Machado is a motivated man.
I had the privilege of sitting down with this world-renowned surfer to learn about his rise to the top, his favorite surf breaks and what inspires him daily.
Q: You were born in Australia but grew up in San Diego County. Whereabouts exactly?
Rob Machado: I grew up in North San Diego in a little town called Cardiff by-the-Sea, and that’s where I still live today!
Q: When did you move from Australia to Cardiff?
RM: I think I was about 4 years old. I was just a little guy; I don’t really remember.
Q: Tell us about your interest in surfing. Did you come from a family of surfers, or was it something you picked up being in that culture in Cardiff-by-the-Sea?
RM: No, it was handed down through my dad. My whole family surfed, except my mom. We were a surfing family; we had beach days and surf days. My dad definitely passed it along to me. He started surfing in the ’50s. I think it probably wasn’t my choice; it was just one of those things. I have experienced the same thing with my kids; I see myself just taking them to the beach, because that’s where I want to go. Eventually, they just end up in the water, and next thing you know, they’re surfing, so I think that was the environment he wanted to be in, so that just rubbed off on me.
Q: What was your first surfing experience like?
RM: It’s funny because my parents used to tell me we would go down to the beach when I was really little—like 3 or 4 years old—that I was scared to death of the water. I wouldn’t even walk on the beach! I’m glad I don’t remember that. I think I really started to get into the ocean when I was about 7 or 8. My friends and I would hang out at the beach and body surf, ride boogie boards…just be down there. Summers were spent down at the beach, and then surfing kind of kicked in around 9 or 10.
Q: Did surfing come naturally to you, or was it something you had to work at to find you had a knack for the sport?
RM: Surfing is one of those things…it’s not an easy sport. It’s not something you just go out and do and get good at really quickly. I mean, obviously learning when you’re young, you don’t really think about it, you just become infatuated. I remember just becoming completely infatuated with surfing and the feeling it gave me, and I wasn’t concerned with how I was progressing or anything. It was like you just didn’t care. You were like, “I don’t care what I’m doing. I’m going surfing again! And I’m going to stay in the water all day!” I do remember little moments of being like, “Woah, I just did a cutback. I just turned! I turned my board, and it actually worked!” Little moments like that were like breakthrough moments. It was a very gradual thing.
Q: Being in a surf culture like that of San Diego, was there a lot of competition amongst your friends to be the best, or was it all fun and games?
RM: It was healthy competition. I had a good group of friends that would all love to surf. We rolled in like a little rat pack. We definitely pushed each other. We all surfed in contests, but it was just fun; we still enjoyed just going. I think the contests were just a way to get a trophy you could put in your room. What was more important was the everyday kind of gathering and going surfing together and just riding waves…having a kind of comradery.
Q: What was your first contest?
RM: It was a YMCA contest at Oceanside Harbor. I think I was 11, and I got second!
Q: At what point did you go from an avid surfer to a professional?
RM: It’s such a gray area nowadays, but I did my first pro contest when I was 14. I was still an amateur. Then I did a few more, and I actually turned professional when I was 18, after I graduated from high school. That was when I started. I signed a contract and was getting paid, and became a legitimate professional surfer.
Q: How would you describe your surfing style in just a few words?
RM: A few words? I have a hard time talking about myself…my vocabulary isn’t big enough for that! I can’t find a word I want to use. Relaxed? (laughs).
Q: Would you agree that you are a “soul surfer”?
RM: Yeah! I like to think of myself as a soul surfer. I’m going to surf the rest of my life, regardless of whether or not I get paid to do it. It’s what I love to do.
Q: What was your first win of your professional career? What did that feel like?
RM: My first win, I was actually not a professional, I was still in high school. I think I was 17, and I won a contest at Sebastian Inlet in Florida. It was a Bud Pro Tour event. I think it was 1990. It was incredible. Before that, I’d finished fourth in an event…I’d finished second in an event…so to finally win a pro contest, it felt really cool.
Q: What’s been your proudest win?
RM: My proudest win probably would be the Pipeline Masters event in 2000.
Q: What professional surfer would you say has been your biggest competition?
RM: I’d have to say Kelly Slater.
Q: You are a surf legend, but who is your personal surf legend—someone who has inspired you the most?
RM: I think Gerry Lopez has inspired me the most. I think his approach to not only wave riding, but his approach to competition—his approach to life in general—it kind of suits me, and I feel like I have very similar qualities and a similar thought process. I try to get inspired every day—from the little 8-year-old kid down at my local surf spot that’s out there just surfing his brains out, just trying to learn something new every day, to the 45-year-old guy that just got off work who’s just going surfing to rinse off the day. They’re devoting time and energy to something they love. Surfing is a very unique activity, and there’s inspiration everywhere you look. I surfed the other day with my friend who’s paralyzed from the waist down and for him to go surfing is a big ordeal. For him to get down to the beach in his wheelchair, he needs someone to help him carry his board, and once he gets out there, he’s just as stoked as anybody.
Q: What era of surfing has inspired you the most?
RM: The ’70’s are pretty inspirational for me. I think surfboards were changing so radically at that time, and I think more importantly than anything, style was everything. That kind of got lost just recently.
Q: Has surfing evolved in a positively progressive manner?
RM: I think it’s going in a positive direction. It seems like the prize money is growing; the progression of the sport is being pushed. I mean, that’s how it seems, anyway. I’m not really in that circle anymore. I’m not closely involved in it, but from the outside it looks like it’s doing great.
Q: As a seasoned surfer, I’m sure you’ve had some “Woah, that was a close one!” moments. Tell us about a time you were “scared for your life, ” per say.
RM: Surfing in Hawaii, it feels like that a lot. Multiple times I’ve been scared. It’s more about how you manage that fear and how you filter it through your body, rather than letting it take control of you; and that was something I had to learn, because as soon as fear turns into panic, then it’s a downward spiral…immediately. You have to try and maintain and understand your fear and deal with it. You have to confront it, and survive. It took me years to figure that out. I think if you ask anyone, they’ll agree that there’s an element of fear in all surfers—from guys like Shane Dorian who ride 80-foot waves all over the world, to that 8-year-old kid at the local surf spot—it’s all relative, really. Shane has just become accustomed to dealing with fear in realms that very few have. Some people have that, and some people don’t. I’m somewhere in the middle, probably. I’m definitely not out there with Shane trying to hunt down 80-foot waves, but I’ve been in some situations, probably with Shane actually, where I’ve feared for my life.
Q: Favorite place to surf in SoCal?
RM: Probably Swami’s. It’s where I learned how to surf. My parents lived a quarter mile up the road, so that was like the go-to spot. I spent a lot of time in the water there, from when I discovered surfing until I got my license, and I could go surf somewhere else. I still go back and surf there. I love it.
Q: Favorite place to surf in the world?
RM: Probably Indonesia. There are so many waves in Indonesia that are incredibly good, and I was fortunate enough to live there for a good chunk of time and experience the waves there. I caught some of the best waves of my life. There’re so many islands, and there’re so many different opportunities and lots of swell. The conditions there are amazing. It kind of sets it up to be a cool place.
Q: Is there anywhere in the world that you haven’t been that you are dying to go to? A break you must surf before you die?
RM: Namibia. It’s on the West Coast of Africa, and it’s maybe one of the best waves in the world, from what I see. So I’d like to go there someday.
Q: Tell us about the Rob Machado Foundation.
RM: You can go to our website, www.robmachadofoundation.org, and you can learn a lot there. Our goal is to provide environmental education for kids through different projects, being recycling programs and grow-your-own-food programs. Just in the past year, we’ve been putting water refill stations into schools—that one we’re really pushing hard for this year.
Q: Tell us about the Switchfoot Bro-Am.
RM: Yeah! I actually grew up on the same street as Jon and Tim Foreman from Switchfoot, so we’ve known each other since we were little kids. I’m a little older than those guys, but it’s been cool to watch them become a band and turn into full rock stars. And it’s really cool how they come back to their hometown and put on that event—the Bro-Am—every year. Just a couple years ago we kind of joined forces. I added a junior part of the event where we have an event for kids under 16, and Jon and Tim do the adult part of the event. It always turns into a full concert on the beach. It’s just a really cool community event to give back to the local community.
Q: Any other passion projects coming up that you would like to let LOCALE readers know about?
RM: I’m continuing work with the foundation. I’m looking forward to installing a lot of water fountains this year hopefully into schools. That’s one of the things that bugs me the most—kids going to school just trying to get educated and a lot of these schools are selling kids bottled water and single-use plastic water bottles. It seems kind of crazy. I’m trying to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in schools, and get some cool refill stations, and continue growing all the programs, really.