Catching Up (and Catching Waves) with Rob Machado

Award-winning surfer Rob Machado grew up just north of San Diego in Cardiff-by-the-Sea.
(Arlene Ibarra)

Local surfer uses his foundation, music ties to promote conservation


There’s no denying the love that former U.S. Open and Pipeline Masters-winning surfer Rob Machado has for the ocean.

Born in Australia and raised just north of San Diego in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Machado has dedicated most of his life to the beach breaks that are never too far from where he calls home.

A committed conservationist, the popular athlete has also made sure that the ocean is an inextricable part of his ventures beyond surfing as an environmentalist, musician, philanthropist and entrepreneur.

And while his reach as a spokesman for sustainability is as wide-ranging as the variety of projects he involves himself in, most of the work is done through his own nonprofit, the Rob Machado Foundation (RMF).

Created in 2004, the idea to attach his name to a bigger cause came from a very simple idea.

“The whole concept was just to provide environmental education for kids,” Machado said recently after surfing one of his favorite North County breaks. “I know that sounds pretty vague, but back then, my daughter’s school didn’t even have a recycling program. The kids weren’t drinking out of the drinking fountains. Gardening programs didn’t exist. We thought, ‘Wow. There are a lot of things we can do here.’ We wanted to help the environment, and we wanted the kids to understand how they were helping.”

(Arlene Ibarra)

The Foundation has gone on to install nearly 40 refillable water stations all over North County coastal schools, as well as a handful of them in Newport Beach and Hawaii, ultimately serving about 20,000 children.

The RMF is also responsible for sponsoring numerous beach cleanups each year, providing recycling bins in “high-need spaces,” and putting new, covered trash cans at local beach communities.

This year, the Rob Machado Foundation teamed up with Pacifico beer’s environmental initiative, Pacifico Preserves. He recently spent a day hanging out in Pacifico’s Airstream, taking in the scene over at Camp Shred in Encinitas.

With Pacifico, Machado continues the inroads he made on water and conservation strategies, issues he counts as some of his proudest accomplishments.

“We first went into Cardiff Elementary,” he said. “Every single kid was coming to school with a single-use plastic water bottle. We wanted to reverse that whole concept and get the kids to go home and talk to their parents about eliminating plastics from the campus. The idea was to inspire, to be the school that other schools looked at and thought, ‘OK, we can do that too.’ And that’s really been one of the coolest things to see happening.”

Earth Day

April 22nd is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and, of course, Machado and his foundation are continued supporters of the event.

This year, the RMF was supposed to partner with the Encinitas Union School District for an Earth Week contest designed to engage both kids and their parents through activities that help to protect the planet.

The weeklong event would have offered day-specific initiatives like “Motorless Monday,” where parents would be asked to turn off their car engines while waiting in the pick-up line, and “Waste-free Wednesday,” which would mean bringing a waste-free lunch and reusable water bottle to school.

(Arlene Ibarra)

A cleanup at Moonlight Beach was also scheduled for Saturday, April 25, but that will likely be postponed.

“It’s great that we have one single day for this in the whole year,” Machado said with an almost audible eye roll. “But these things are not big asks. So we try not to make it overbearing. You don’t want people to have to overthink it. Make it easy, simple. And maybe it becomes something you can do more than once a year. Like, here’s a water bottle. Fill it up every day. Share the vibes.”

Sounds of the Ocean

Music is another foundational pillar of Machado’s philanthropy, permeating both the iconic surfer’s personal and business life in a variety of ways.

Not only is Machado part of local band Sack Lunch, since 2012, he’s raised funds for all of his projects by hosting an annual Foundation Benefit Concert at the Belly Up in Solana Beach.

(Arlene Ibarra)

In addition to enlisting local musical luminaries like longtime friend/collaborator Jon Foreman of Switchfoot, Scott Russo of Unwritten Law and Grammy-winning crooner Jason Mraz to play shows, past guests have included the likes of John Rzeznik from the Goo Goo Dolls, The Offspring, Brett Dennen, Andrew Wessen of Grouplove and Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett.

Last year, he also partnered with local skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, seven-time All-Star MLB pitcher Trevor Hoffman, and R&B singer Miguel in becoming ambassadors for Pechanga Arena GM/Managing Partner Ernie Hahn’s inaugural Wonderfront Festival, which took place at, you guessed it, venues across the San Diego Bay.

Getting Salty

Machado’s wife, Sophie, has run the Salt Culture boutique on South Coast Highway in Encinitas since 2017.

As of last November, the back of the shop has been transformed into the Salty Garage, a yin to the boutique’s yang, a place where you can buy things like surfboards, guitars, and men’s clothing, which also features a ton of photography and memorabilia from Machado’s storied surf career.

With so many days of the year dedicated to travel and events, even in its short existence, the Salty Garage has become a place where Machado finds himself spending more and more time.

“It’s my go-to these days when I’m home,” he said. “But if I’m being honest, Sophie is the one who basically runs it. She’s there day in and day out making sure the place is still standing. Whereas, I get to just slide in and out when I’m free. But that’s been taking up a lot my focus.”

Despite all that Machado does, and regardless of what or where it is, he never stops advocating for the issues that matter to him most. And he’s bolstered by the fact that he can pretty much do it from anywhere.

“With everything going on right now,” he said, “it kind of has us all on standby. And that’s not all bad. I actually get to stay home for a minute. But there’ll always be time to change people’s minds for the good. We’ll always do our part to connect and educate people. And hopefully, that keeps translating into more awareness.”