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This Famous Surfer is Helping the Home He Knows and Loves

Written By: Chelsea Raineri
Photographed By: Michael Wesley Rob Machado
Assistant Photographer: Diane Marques Rob Machado

The sun begins to peak over a foreign island just south of the equator. The wind’s blowing offshore, the waves are ‘peaky’ and the beach is completely empty. It’s the kind of conditions that surfers around the world dream of, but for Rob Machado, this is his career—a career spanning over 20 years that has brought him to the most exclusive destinations across the globe to surf pristine, flawless waves. And now, Machado has extended his journey to help preserve the beaches he knows and loves back in his hometown of North County, San Diego.

Born in Australia, Machado became an official San Diegan when he was four years old. Growing up in America’s Finest City during the late ‘70s, Machado lived an idyllic childhood. He lit up as he reminisced on the memory, “San Diego is incredible, and to grow up in North County was pretty special…I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world and I always come back here and I’m impressed. It’s not like a place that I want to get out of; I always come home and I’m stoked to be here,” Machado said as he sat up a little straighter.

With a father who loved surfing, Machado recalls never feeling pressured to pick up a board, “We were always just down on the beach so it was kind of a natural fit. I watched my dad surf and that’s the same approach I took with my kids.”

His dad would come back from his surf sessions refreshed and pumped, which intrigued Machado to give the sport a try. He began, as most surfers do, by letting the waves push him, eventually advancing to body boarding to get a feel for the motion of the waves. Until one day, while he was lying on his board, a wave came. He paddled and paddled as hard as he could when, in one swift movement, he hopped up on his board, caught his balance and rode his first wave.

“When I stood up on a wave it just changed my whole perspective about everything, really. I was blown away like, this is what I want to do. It just changed everything for me,” said Machado.

Famously known for his long, shaggy hair and goofy foot stance, Machado started entering contest after contest and collecting trophy after trophy, eventually earning the number two spot in the world in 1995, eight World Tour victories in 2000 and a Pipeline Masters win under his belt that same year. After a successful career in competitive surfing, Machado was offered a unique opportunity—the opportunity of a lifetime. Hurley was going to pay Machado to travel the world as a free surfer. No competitions, no more heats, just Machado, his board and the ocean.

“When I first started surfing, being a free surfer wasn’t really an option—it was kind of unheard of back then and as I went through my competitive career, the whole free surfing side became viable,” Machado explained. “I kind of transitioned into it really easy. I think I’m competitive for sure, but I don’t know if I really thrive off competition; I was very much more into just the whole act of going surfing.”

With a family in San Diego, and a true love for where he lived, Machado couldn’t stay away from home for too long.

“I traveled so much around the world. I’ve been on the road a whole lot and every time I come back home I still felt really connected to this place; I always wanted to have my roots here,” said Machado.

When his daughter was born in 2001, Machado started visiting local elementary schools and found something that didn’t sit right with him—old drinking fountains that the children referred to as “gross” and refused to drink from. The unappealing and most likely unhealthy water led parents to send their kids off to school with plastic, single-use water bottles. So, he took to the high schools and saw students lined up at vending machines to purchase water. “Here are our children, going to school to learn and to get an education and they have to buy water? It just left a bad taste in my mouth,” Machado recalled.

This ignited a fire inside of the easygoing surfer to take action, and in 2004 the Rob Machado Foundation was born. The foundation began putting water filling stations in the majority of schools in the North County area; allowing students to bring their own bottles to eliminate the amount of waste created by them, while simultaneously giving kids access to free, clean water. He’s also started programs in the elementary schools including recycling and garden programs where the students are able to grow produce used in their school lunches.

“We want kids to realize where their food comes from and that they can grow their own food and recycle. So it’s just all positive things that you can carry on through your life that we’re having to relearn,” said Machado.

Going to the beach at Cardiff and seeing trash abandoned by the weekend  tourists catapulted the second aspect in the Rob Machado Foundation—trashcans that effectively keep litter off the beaches and out of the ocean. “After a long weekend, especially in the summer, we’d get down [to the beach] and the trashcans would have trash falling out the sides. The seagulls find food in there and they’re digging and pulling stuff out, the wind’s blowing and the next thing you know, the parking lot is covered in trash,” Machado said somberly.

That’s when Machado came up with the idea to put a protective roof, which he refers to as an “R2D2” lid, on top of the trash can, effectively keeping the trash in and stopping it from spreading to the ocean. The foundation also increased the number of trashcans so beachgoers have easy access to one nearby.

Beach town locals are no strangers to a beach filled with trash after a large event, and Machado was no exception. Fed up, he created The Green Team, a volunteer group made up of people from all over, including volunteers from Chicago and even Mexico, who come out to perform massive beach cleanups for the SWITCHFOOT Bro-Am, where they broke the record and diverted 83 percent of waste from the landfill in 2015. With a focus on keeping concert goers hydrated, the foundation also created a Water Oasis in collaboration with Hurley. Since then, The Green Team has also held local beach cleanups as well.

Coming from a place of influence in the community where he resides as a hometown hero, Machado has created positive change for the city he’s called home his whole life. Spreading awareness of recycling and inspiring others to take action is what Machado hopes his foundation will accomplish. “Doing the right thing is really what it comes down to,” said Machado. And by instilling lifelong lessons in children about taking care of our planet, giving local schools access to clean water and keeping trash from harming marine life, ‘doing the right thing’ is an understatement.

Home Sweet Home: If Machado could only surf one spot for the rest of his life, it would be right in front of his house because he loves living in North County.

Movie Star: Having been in several surf films, Machado names Surf’s Up as his favorite. “It was such a fun project to work on and just going in the studio and working with amazing actors and doing voiceover work was really cool. I’ll remember that forever,” said Machado.

Munchies: Machado’s favorite pre-surf snack is an açaí bowl, and he loves grabbing a bite at Rimmel’s when he’s out of the water.

Memory Lane: His favorite moment in his competitive surfing career was winning the 2000 Pipeline Masters. “It was like this glorious final day. The waves were eight to 12 feet and just really as good as it gets at Pipeline and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky; everything was flawless and it all kind of fell into place,” Machado recalled.

Rob Machado@robmachadofoundation

Photoshoot Locations:

Salt Culture
930 S Coast Hwy 101
Encinitas, CA 92024
760.487.5920

Swami’s Beach
1298 S Coast Hwy 101
Encinitas, CA 92024