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I arrived at Salt Culture, a boutique owned by Rob Machado’s wife, Sophie, about 30 minutes prior to the actual interview with Machado. Growing up in Huntington Beach, Machado has always been an icon to the residents of Surf City, USA. I remember during the summers at the US Open, my friends and I would watch him compete and we’d storm the shore when he came out of the water to try and snap a picture with him on our flip-phones. His name is engraved on the Surfing Walk of Fame on Main Street and his face on the side of the surf shops lining PCH, but now I was given the chance to meet him.

When Machado arrived, he was exactly what I expected—welcoming, warm and kind, complete with his famous, long, sun-kissed hair. All of my nerves that I previously had began to melt away as we walked inside the boutique. He mentioned how he helped his wife set up the store; a cozy, trendy shop that I could picture myself coming back to. “It’s pretty vibey, huh? I helped create this area,” he said. As we started talking, it felt as though I was talking with a friend, not someone who once held the title of the second highest ranked surfer in the world.

At the start of the shoot, the photographer, Michael Wesley, mentioned to Machado, “I had a good omen on my way over here. A song from September Sessions came on,” a movie Machado starred in in the past. During the shoot, Wesley asked Machado to look directly in the camera. Machado did as asked, however reluctantly. He was humble and jokingly said how awkward he felt in front of the camera.

Once we finished shooting at Salt Culture, we made our way to Swami’s, a local surf spot well known in the surf community. As we made the trek down the steep stairs that led to the beach, people stopped Machado to say hello. Rather than brush them off, he stopped and spoke with them patiently as though they were old friends. At the end of the staircase, Machado quickly changed and hopped in the water without skipping a beat. It would’ve taken me an extra 10 minutes to adjust to the cold water, but it was like second nature to him—this was where he belonged.