I knew Rob Machado’s name before he did. The kid was just a tummy lump, growing beneath the skin of mother Chris while father Jim ran the family restaurant, the Branding Iron, located on the water of the Sydney, Australia, suburb of Manly Beach.
My friend Joe worked for Jim Machado and rented a flat from the family for ten bucks a week.
Needing help with the rent, I moved in. We had many a breakfast at the Branding Iron, and I saw the Machado family regularly, keeping track on Rob’s progress into the world.
I had moved to New Zealand by the date of Robert Edward’s arrival, on Oct. 16, 1973. I didn’t catch up with the Machado family again for a few more years, after we had all resettled in Encinitas.
I know it’s blasphemous to say of North County’s favorite son, but I never saw anything special in young Rob’s surfing as a kid.
He was timid to the point of being beach bound whenever the waves approached anything near over his head, which was only about 4 feet from the ground.
Rob didn’t really turn the tiny Sauritch Surfboard with his nickname, “Mouse,” sprayed on the deck, but slapped the face of the wave with it, throwing his head around as he approached the sand.
That all began to change for Rob at somewhere near his 14th birthday, when he started taking down some big names in local surf contests.
What followed next was a career only overshadowed by that of his close friend and rival, Kelly Slater.
It’s been a while now, but some of us were gathered in the sand at Seaside Reef one day to watch the new king of surfing, Slater, and crown prince, Machado, paddle out to ride some 4- to 5-foot peaks.
Neither had achieved their 18th birthdays, and Slater blew us away, explosive frontside and backside, getting the job done like nobody before him, but without a great deal of style.
Rob, on the other hand, was the fastest thing in the water, and fluid, with a style synonymous with North County surfers.
That is, perfect. Matching every move that Slater made, Rob pulled them off with flawless precision.
Perhaps I am exhibiting a hometown bias here, but I, along with those others I hung with on the beach that day, considered Rob the better surfer that afternoon, which means he was, arguably, the best surfer in the world at that moment.
While I cannot prove that statement, I nonetheless stand by it.
In time, Machado’s style would lead to a number two spot, and tremendous respect from his many fans and his peers on the pro tour.
Rob Machado had arrived and has never left his rightful position as that of a surfing legend.
I have known Rob for most of his 49 years, but never feel I know him very well.
While polite and friendly to everyone he meets, he is a somewhat private person, letting his brilliant wave riding do most of the talking.
His surfing doesn’t just talk, it still roars, even at 49, when he paddles out for a quick evening surf amid kids who were soiling their diapers when he was winning the Pipeline Masters.
He remains fast, agile, and creative in the lineup. But more important than any turn or cutback is Rob’s role as an attentive father and his activism through his Rob Machado Foundation where the stated goal is to educate youth in making sustainable choices.
Learn more about the Rob Machado and his Foundation by visiting: robmachadofoundation.org.
Check out Chris Ahrens’ latest passion project, GodnGangsters: youtube.com/c/GodNGangsters