Laconic goofyfooter from Cardiff, California; world-ranked #2 in 1995, and generally regarded as the smoothest-riding surfer of his generation. Machado was born (1973) in Sydney, Australia, the son of an American general contractor/real estate agent father and a British school teacher mother, and began surfing at age nine, five years after his family moved to Cardiff. He put together a string of good results in the U.S. Surfing Championships, placing first in the menehune division in 1986 and third in the juniors division in 1989 and 1990.
In 1992, one year after placing first in the Op Pro Junior and turning professional, Machado began winning events on the Professional Surfing Association of America (PSAA) tour, and was also featured in Momentum, the debut video by San Diego filmmaker Taylor Steele. In 1993, Machado became PSAA champion, finished eighth on the world pro tour, and was named rookie of the year.
As one of the founding New School surfers, the 5'10", 140-pound Machado was almost by definition aggressive and acrobatic in the water. But more so than any of his peers—and perhaps more so than any surfer of the shortboard era except Tom Curren and Gerry Lopez—Machado's riding was based on flow, form, subtlety, and composure. He often arranged his arms and legs into near-balletic positions, and occasionally slouched into a Zen-like motionless stance while racing across the wave face. Early in his career Machado was tentative and ineffective in bigger, harder-breaking surf, but he eventually was able to draw his elegant lines in waves up to 12 or 15 feet. Meanwhile, his cool demeanor and angular features ("Catch his face at a bad angle," surf journalist Ben Marcus wrote in 1994, "and he looks like a Cubist portrait of himself") helped make him a surf-chic trendsetter, featured in more beachwear ads than anyone of the period.
Machado was world-ranked #5 in 1994. The following year, he and defending world champion Kelly Slater met in a championship-deciding semifinal heat at the Pipeline Masters, the last event of the season, traded tuberide after tuberide, and staged what was then universally agreed to be the most exciting match in pro surfing history. Slater won the heat, the contest, and the world title; Machado finished the year ranked second.
He placed 11th in 1996, fourth in 1997, 13th in 1998, 14th in 1999, and third in 2000. The following year he dropped to 46th, after missing part of the season due to a broken wrist, and failed to qualify for the 2002 world tour. By that time he'd won eight world tour events, including the 1994 Marui Pro in Japan, the 1995 and 2001 U.S. Open, and the 2000 Pipeline Masters; he also won the 1995 Billabong Challenge in Western Australia. He added a third U.S. Open title in 2006, and an X-Games gold medal in 2007. Machado placed runner-up to Slater in the Surfer Magazine Readers Poll Awards in 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, and 2001.
Supremely photogenic, Machado has appeared in more than 50 surf videos, including Momentum (1992), What's Next? (1996), Thicker Than Water (1999), Shelter (2001), and The Drifter (2009). Drifting: The Rob Machado Chronicles, a sponsor-funded video documentary, was produced in 1996.
The Rob Machado Surf Classic, a contest and beach fair, was founded in 1997. In 1998, Machado, Slater, and La Jolla surfer Peter King, recording as The Surfers, released Songs From the Pipe, an Epic CD, with Machado on guitar; that same year he performed onstage with Pearl Jam in Queensland, Australia.
Machado was named the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association Waterman of the Year in 2009, and was inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame at Huntington Beach in 2011.