Surfer Rob Machado goes behind the lens for exhibit

Surfer Rob Machado goes behind the lens for exhibit
Rob Machado, who grew up surfing spots like Seaside Reef and Swamis, standing in front of his new photography exhibit with Bliss 101 owner Helen Zeldes. Photo by Jared Whitlock

SOLANA BEACH — Plenty of cameras have captured Cardiff local Rob Machado’s smooth, flowing turns on waves in Encinitas and around the world. 

It turns out Machado is also comfortable behind the lens.

Machado signed autographs and mingled with fans May 5 at the launch of his debut photography exhibit at Bliss 101, a coastal art gallery and home décor boutique in Encinitas.

As far as formal training, Machado only has a 7th grade photography class under his belt. Instead he gained an intuitive understanding of composition and technique after borrowing cameras on surf trips.

“I traveled with photographers all the time,” Machado said. “I would watch what they were shooting — how they would shoot it. So I asked to use their cameras and slowly developed my own style.”

Eventually, I got my own camera, Machado said.

Rolls of film from surf trips to exotic locales like Bali accumulated over the years, all of which Machado set aside in an increasingly full box — not knowing the interest they would later generate. Word got out about Machado’s photography talent when one of his unique prints sold at an auction. Bliss 101 encouraged Machado to comb through his box of film, which had become something of a treasure trove, and share the best shots. Machado soon rediscovered photographs that spanned about 10 years.

“It was really meaningful looking at the pictures,” Machado said. “I enjoyed going through the rolls of film and picking my favorite shots from that time period.

“I really only shoot film, so I love the surprise of seeing the shots later,” Machado added.

At the event, all proceeds from sales of Machado’s photographs and autographed t-shirts went to the Rob Machado Foundation, which supports recycling and healthy-eating programs at the Cardiff Union School District. Bliss 101 also donated a portion of sales from the event to Machado’s foundation.

The gallery featured pictures from Machado’s globetrotting travels. Among the shots, visitors were drawn to a panoramic photograph of seagulls hovering over a surfer carving a long, left-breaking wave in Chile. Others congregated around a colorful shot of Pipeline in Hawaii, where Machado won the Pipeline Masters, or what many call surfing’s Super Bowl.

But much of the collection, like a black-and-white shot of Swamis from atop the cliff, showcases local spots.

Machado, who grew up surfing in Cardiff and Encinitas, said adventuring around the world has only made him appreciate the “amazing sunsets” of home even more.

“When you have an opportunity to travel around the world, I’ve come to realize this is an amazing place,” Machado said. “North County is beautiful and that’s what inspires me, even if I come home from Tahiti or somewhere that’s incredible.”

Machado doesn’t just shoot waves and surfers. For him, it’s more about the moment than the subject matter. One of his favorite shots focuses on wisps of grass with a blue and orange Cardiff sunset as the backdrop.

“I was walking down a trail and just happened to see it,” Machado said. “The lighting was amazing, so I grabbed my camera.”

Machado said that sunsets and ideal conditions aren’t always necessary to get good shots. To underscore his point, he recalled a memorable moment taking pictures — a rainy, grey day in Costa Rica.

“It doesn’t always have to be a perfect day,” Machado said. “It was simple and drab. Out of that roll of film, I got five or six of my favorite pictures. Two of them are here.”

Andrew Israel, who is visiting North County for the summer, was impressed with Machado’s collection of photographs.

“There’s a lot of nice variety,” Israel said.

“I like how people came together to support one of their own,” Israel added. “It goes to show how tight-knit the surfing community is here.”

Machado’s photography is an ongoing exhibit at Bliss 101.

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