Rob Machado On: Shaping His Own Boards, Pro Surfing & Flow
COASTALWATCH | 2017 FOUR SEASONS SURFING CHAMPIONS TROPHY
Interview by Hugh Wyllie
In the year 2000, Rob Machado was ranked 3rd in the world. He stopped competing full time and shaped his first surfboard by hand. He also went without riding a shortboard for two years. Instead, he rode paulownia wood alaias, he rode single fins, mid-lengths, logs and twin fins. He would ride EPS and epoxy boards with parabolic stringers and surfboard ideas would spark from his curls like a tesla coil.
Now at 43 years old, Machado seems more energised than ever, fully aware that expanding his quiver has also expanded his surfing. It’s a different approach to his WCT days. He’s less concerned with high performance criteria and more involved with the communion of rider and wave that inspires Rob to make surfboards. For now, he designs two models per year for Firewire but the question remains, what’s it like to ride a Rob Machado surfboard?
CW: Why did you decide to start making surfboards?
RM: It’s been a natural progression. Ever since riding for Channel Islands through the ‘90s, I’ve always been interested. I used to ask Al (Merrick) a million different questions about my boards because I wanted to know what every little tweak does to a board and to your surfing.
Do you remember the first board you ever shaped?
Oh yeah, it was a single fin.
How did it go?
(Laughs) It was terrible, but it was also the funnest thing in the world.
How long did it take you to find your groove in surfboard design?
It’s a constant learning curve. Working with the Firewire team, guys like Jon Pyzel and Daniel Thomson and seeing what those guys bring to the shaping bay gets me so excited. It pushes you for sure. I’m really happy with the range now, because we have it fine tuned to exactly what I’m looking for.
What can you tell us about that singley you rode to win the Single Fin Division Four Seasons Maldives Event?
When I made this board, I wanted something that would draw longer lines but still have plenty of response and release in a bowlie wave like Sultans. What I came up with was this 5’6’’ squash. It’s basically, a modern interpretation on a ‘70s single fin. I started with a traditional outline and ran hard edges to the nose. Then added feeder panels either side of the bottom contour that taper out with a slight vee through the tail.
What was your biggest challenge in shaping for the Maldives event?
Volume. Finding the right placement and balance to the foil is super important, because even though we are riding a variety of shapes, the judges want to see high performance surfing.
Like with my single fin, I’ve got it down to 25 litres, which may sound low, but it has just the right amount under the chest. When you put this placement into a Firewire core, you get a much lighter, and more sensitive feel underfoot. That’s what I was looking for in my contest quiver.
What else have you got in this quiver?
I brought over a 5’5’’ variation on my twin fin model called ‘The Midus’. Mark Richards has always been a huge inspiration for me. You could say I referenced late ‘70s twinnies with a winged swallow tail.
The wings are actually bevelled out to the deck too, which I’m really digging at the moment, because it’s gives you way more bite. The bottom contour is single deep concave, with concaved panels either side that actually fall into little vees behind the fins. This one is 24.9 litres, so again low volume, super fast and fits real tight in the pocket.
I’m also riding my new shortboard model, which will be out early next year. It’s a 5’6’’ rounded square called ‘The Daily’. I scaled down the length, and volume to 24 litres and incorporated shallow feeder panels into the bottom. The outline stays true to shortboard design – nice and knifey – with a low entry rocker and lift out of the tail. I’ve been loving this board in down the line reefs.
I noticed Ross Williams was riding one of your singleys too! What can you tell us about his board?
I made Ross a 6’0 single fin swallow with a slightly different contour to mine. We went for a classic outline with a little more knife to the nose, nothing too eggy, then pinned it out through the tail. His one does have concave feeder panels on the bottom, but they are nowhere near as pronounced, with a more typical vee through the tail. He’s been ripping on that thing, and I’m stoked to get the feedback. He said it’s a lot more nimble than he expected.
It must be fun shaping boards for your buddies and stoking them out?
Totally, that’s the whole reason I got into it. It’s the best feeling to see someone having a great time on something that you had a hand in creating. It stokes me out for sure.
What’s the most rewarding thing about making a surfboard for you?
Being able to put my own flavour into design. You know? There are shapes that are proven to work, but it’s never absolute. There is always room to mix things up and try something new. It's so much fun to walk in the shaping bay with new ideas and imagine how those ideas will feel on the wave!
Are there particular surfers who inspired you to return to traditional shapes?
If we’re talking about performance, I look to guys like Buttons. What he was able to achieve on a single fin was unbelievable! Even to this day his surfing is crazy radical.
How does this style of surfing influence your approach to design?
First of all, style was everything for me. I grew up watching Tom Curren, Occy, Tom Carroll, Shaun Thomson, Bugs. And then when I started looking even further back, to Phil Edwards and Dora, and those guys – I realised there’s a whole other realm of style. When you look back at that era of surfers there was no contest who the best surfers were. Everything was gauged on who had the best style – that was it. That was surfing, and to me it still is. And it’s at the forefront of my mind when I think about surfboards.
Do you think surfing on tour affected your own style back in the day?
It was tough. I remember there was a point in time where I sat in an ASP meeting and they made an announcement that they were removing style out of the criteria. I was so baffled by that. I don’t know what the criteria are now but I hope the word style is in there. It’s a travesty if it isn’t.
Did you take the decision personally?
I was personally upset, whether other guys were or not, I can’t say. I think for our generation – guys like Ross and Kelly and Shane – style was always super important to us. That was a big part of our surfing. It wasn’t necessarily about the manoeuvres you were doing. Of course that was great too, but it was the time in between moves that was just as important.
Has much changed since the ASP days?
I still sometimes feel that style gets overlooked nowadays. Which is a shame, because that’s the part that stands out the most to me. Watching professional surfing, that’s what I’m immediately drawn to, that’s what I want to see. I saw some beautiful surfing happen at J-Bay last month, but then there’s also guys riding to a formula to get through the heat. That’s the way it goes.
Do you think competition holds back a surfer’s imagination?
If we’re talking about surfboards, totally. When you think about it, when you’re on tour, you’re looking for these tiny increments of improvement, because you’re competing at such a high level, and to get better, there’s only these really small differences. So, if there’s anything out of whack, like if your board feels heavy – to you – you’re already mentally off it, and onto something else. Your health, your diet, your boards, you’re looking for an improvement anywhere you can find it. It’s gnarly.
I’m not in any way bagging on the tour, or what people are doing, because it’s so intense and those guys are so committed to improving their skills. It’s radical!
Was this your experience as a WCT surfer?
Yes. Taj and I were talking about it the other day, saying “we were so spoilt!” Because when you’re a pro surfer on tour, sometimes you get ten boards and you might pick one up and say, “Oh it feels tail heavy,” and you throw it on the pile. Looking back at that now I think “God I was such a dick!” That’s just not cool, you know.
I guess the awareness is only apparent in hindsight?
Exactly. There wasn’t a whole lot of room to go out and try other things. And there wasn’t a lot of people riding different boards either. Even back then in the ‘90s it was still like you were either a longboarder or a shortboarder.
In terms of equipment, who was pushing the boundaries back then?
In the ‘90s everyone was riding needles. But Tom Curren was definitely pushing the envelope, on the Tommy Peterson Fireball fish and longer boards like the vee bottom from Maurice Cole. But then again, he wasn’t competing full time. He went on The Search, because he could! They wanted him to do that. It was like “dude, ride whatever you want.” And that’s really cool. For sure that inspired a lot of people.
Would you have jumped at the opportunity?
I would have loved to. I just don’t think the industry was ready at that point. Everyone was really concerned with ratings and numbers and points. And with the sponsors at that time you would receive bonuses based on your rating, so you had to focus on that.
The other thing we focussed on was Taylor Steele movies. That was our freedom. Taylor was pushing us to do the most radical non-contest surfing, but we weren’t riding different boards, he was just pushing us to be as rad as possible. After I finished competing, I didn’t ride a normal thruster for two years.
Knowing what you know now, is there any advice that you would give to your younger self?
That’s a tough one… I probably would have told myself to spend more time expanding my quiver, and opening up to other types of surfboards, because I felt like after I stopped doing the tour and started riding different types of equipment that my surfing actually improved, a lot! I learned how to ride a single fin. I learned how to ride a twin fin. Then I went back to my thruster and I had a whole new appreciation for it. All of a sudden I thought “Wow, I get it now!” But if you grow up riding a thruster your whole life, that’s all you’ll ever know. There’s so much more to learn.
I did dabble in it through the ‘90s. I remember ordering a twin fin from MR, I had a single fin from Bob Cooper. This groovy resin tinted little 5’10’’. But it was hard to commit because like I said you’re so focussed on your thruster surfing, and producing a certain level of performance that you don’t want to mess with it. You don’t want to screw it up. You just want to keep that progression happening. And fine tuning and tweaking.
What about now? Who’s getting you pumped on style again?
love watching guys surf on longboards because that’s all they care about. The things they do on logs, and how they do them, and on fishes and guys that are riding mid-lengths.They are doing this beautiful surfing, drawing these amazing lines – sure they’re not doing ten foot airs and all those crazy radical manoeuvres but in their own right what they’re doing is just as impressive to me as seeing someone do a big alley oop. I love going on trips with guys like Thomas Campbell and his crew of people. Like the Alex Knost’s, CJ Nelson, Joel Tudor, Ryan Burch.
How good is Burch!
Me and Ryan actually grew up surfing together, I mean I’m 20 years older than him, but I watched this skinny little kid evolve, and it’s so frickin’ cool! He is one of my favourite surfers.
And much like yourself, he’s making his own boards, and has a lot more creative direction over what he’s doing on the wave because from start to finish he has total control over his craft…
He’s so immersed in what he’s doing, and there’s something crazy about that because when you build your own stuff, you immediately ride it and you think “ok cool, that’s rad, or that’s bad, but how can I make it better? I want to get a different feeling.” And you go straight into it with that approach. It’s something special which is unique to surfing.
Rob Machado ended up with second place overall at the 2017 Four Seasons Maldives Champions Trophy after defending champ Taj Burrow defeated him in the final. You can catch up on the three rounds including; Single Fin, Twin Fin & Thruster rounds.
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