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06th Nov 2018

Rob Machado: Keeping the Momentum going for our Generation

Will Lavin

They say that first impressions are very important

So imagine how I feel walking in on legendary surf champion Rob Machado stood in the corner of a room in a posh London hotel fighting off a huge curtain that he’s somehow pulled onto himself while the curtain rail rings fall onto the floor one by one.

Laughing out loud he looks at me, awkwardly says hello, and then offers up a Kanye shrug before I suggest that the soundtrack for today’s interview should be Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff”.

The reason for Rob being in town is the release of Momentum Generation, a docu-film that tells the story of a group of surf-mad teenagers who went on to become world champions and in the process changed the face of the sport forever.

Rob, of course, was one of those teenagers.

Featuring Shane Dorian, Taylor Knox, Pat O’Connell, Kalani Robb, Taylor Steele, Benji Weatherley, Ross Williams and probably the world’s most famous surfer, Kelly Slater, Momentum Generation looks at how surf culture was shaped around these gifted individuals. The ups, the downs, family and friendships, innocence and the loss of it, it’s all addressed in the Robert Redford executive produced film.

Yes, that Robert Redford.

“I actually sat in a meeting with him early on, when he first showed interest in the film,” Rob says of the Hollywood icon. “And it was really cool to hear him talk about his experience, going to Hawaii and learning how to surf and just his portrayal of surfing in his mind and what he thought of it. I was kinda just pinching myself, you know?

“I’m sitting in this meeting at this table and just going, ‘Wow, this is so cool. Robert Redford surfs.'”

A film by Michael and Jeff Zimbalist, the same guys who wrote and directed The Two Escobars, Momentum Generation is like The Class of ’92, but for the surf world.

“They really dove into the history,” Rob says of the Zimbalist brothers. “They dug up all of these interviews that we did in the nineties and they pulled little quotes out of them and read them back to us, and we were like, ‘Shit, I said that?’ It was kinda mind boggling.

“They grilled us man, it was like being interrogated for like eight hours straight. And not being surfers, I think a lot of us were very weary going into these interviews, thinking, ‘Shit, what are these guys really gonna ask? They don’t surf. They don’t know about our culture.’ But everybody walked out of there really surprised, like, ‘Wow, these guys really know their shit.'”

Aside from it being a very important film for surf enthusiasts, it’s an important film for Rob too because it gave him a chance to reconnect with his brothers and share their story.

“When we were kids growing up we were so hyper focused on competing,” he begins. “When I met Kelly I was 12-years-old, and along with Shane and Ross and all of those guys we all met each other during those super early teenage years when we were travelling to all of these amateur events. But we all lived in different places so we’d only see each other once or twice a year.

“But once we were like 16, 17, 18, Hawaii became this focal point and Benji’s house in particular became this focal point, and every winter you’d spend two or three months in Hawaii, and we would basically live on the beach at Benji’s house and put ourself in these crazy situations. We’d push each other and we were all really competitive so it was a pretty intense situation. So we felt it was time to reconnect and tell our story.”

Speaking of Kelly Slater, the former world champion is one of the leading names in automated wave technology. Launching his own brand of wave gardens, these surf facilities create continuous ocean-like waves and are becoming a popular trend within the surf community. But what do other pro surfers think of this type of technology, surely real waves are better than robotically-generated ones, right?

“That’s a big topic of discussion at the moment,” Rob informs me. “There’s quite a few wave pools popping up.

“I can’t say whether they’re good or bad yet but I can say that they’re fun. I’ve been able to surf in quite a few of them, it’s a very enjoyable experience.

“Competition-wise, finally there’s a controlled environment. You can now say, ‘We’re going to have a surf contest on Saturday from 12-4,’ and you can guarantee something’s going to happen. Surfing’s never been able to do that, ever.

“But then again I look at it like this too: since it’s not in the ocean and since it’s not as unpredictable, it’s going to turn into a halfpipe situation where guys are going to have their routines down and they’ll have their runs. That’s what’s so cool about surfing in the ocean, it’s so organic and unpredictable, you never know what you’re gonna get.”

For me, even though I grew up in Cornwall I didn’t grow up surfing – I know, what a crime, right? But this summer I slipped into a wetsuit and braved the waters for the very first time whilst attending Boardmasters Festival in Newquay. To say I loved it is an understatement. I caught the surfing bug bad. So much so that I really can’t wait to get back in the water.

“Congratulations man,” says Rob, before proceeding to tell me about the first time he ever got on a board.

“I was just right down in front of my house at my local beach in San Diego,” he begins. “I started bodyboarding before I started surfing so I had this concept of riding waves but I remember standing up on my first wave and it was like everything was amplified that much more. The sound, the movement and everything else that was going on, it was incredible.

“Surfing isn’t easy, that’s what I tell people all of the time. The learning curve is a really long one. So I had been riding waves for a while but I was down close to the water, right? I was riding a bodyboard and then all of a sudden I was able to stand up and it just extenuated everything through the roof. That was it, my bodyboard got put in the shed and I got a surfboard.”

Keeping on the early surf memories, aside from watching a friend of mine and his older brother surfing when we were kids, one of my earliest memories of surfing comes in the shape of the Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves classic Point Break. In my opinion the greatest surf movie of all-time, the Kathryn Bigelow directed flick divides Rob and I.

Point Break is not the greatest surf movie of all-time,” he says with such confidence. “Surf’s Up is the greatest surf movie of all-time, and not just because I’m in it.

“It’s just amazing. It was so well done. I mean, I love Point Break too.”

Pondering on whether it might be a little too late for Rob to get back in my good graces, I realise I could never be mad at a guy with the widest smile in the surf world and who’s nickname is Mr. Smoothy.

So before I leave him to continue wrecking the joint, I have one last question to ask. Which three surfers, any era, any wave, would he most like to share the ocean with?

“I would surf Waikiki with Duke Kahanamoku. I would surf [Banzai] Pipeline with Gerry Lopez, and maybe Jeffreys Bay with Tom Curren.”

Momentum Generation is out now and available to download digitally on iTunes | Amazon