The Rob Machado Foundation

Rob Machado Went From Surfing Waves To Making Change As He Finds His Place Helping The Environment One Plastic Bottle (Or Lack Of) At A Time.

Rob took a few seconds, took a breath and let out a little sigh. “Man, don’t you remember being perfectly happy drinking out of hoses, the sink, water fountains, whatever? Didn’t we all? If you were thirsty, you drank. That was the way it was. But fast-forwarding to 2004, that’s just not what people were about. It was single-use plastic water bottles and it was set in stone. That’s when I started the foundation.”

Transitioning from a “going with the flow” lifestyle to consciously living each day by doing the right thing is easier said than done. While resources are available, there’s no single-stream “how-to” guide for changing habits humans are conditioned by. However, more leaders are emerging, especially within the non-profit network, that have made it their mission to track the population toward sustainability. These entities, both locally and globally, are doing the research, work and taking action on sustainability issues, which make the self-education process and ability to “do the right thing” easier. One of those entities changing the sustainable landscape in which we live is the Rob Machado Foundation, and Rob Machado, himself. 

Environmental non-profit organizations typically aren’t a one-stop shop for all the world’s issues; specialized groups tend to be most effective without spreading efforts too thin. Rob Machado realized he could make the biggest waves by solving a problem relevant to his own personal experiences. He drifted through a moment in time where life had slowed down and used it as a spark to initiate the Rob Machado Foundation.

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Who Is Rob Machado?

Rob has a persona and image that people see, but there is a side that many may have missed. Let’s not kid ourselves – at one point, Rob was a savage competitor. He tore through the junior rankings, primarily the NSSA Junior Tour. The National Scholastic Surfing Association was and still is considered a launchpad for becoming a professional. He joined the PSAA, a domestic professional surfing tour for those looking to make a few bucks in the US, and made a run for the big time on the global level. The Professional Surfing Association of America was the perfect initiation for Rob as he took top honors as the 1993 tour champion and earned spot on the elite ASP World Tour of surfing.

The Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) was the highest level a surfer can achieve, the best of the best. So when Machado stormed onto the scene and took the honors for ASP Rookie of the Year, the world took a step back and acknowledged that he was for real. The very next year, he ended up 2nd in the world, narrowly missing out on the #1 spot to Kelly Slater (a surfer universally considered as the greatest surfer of all time).

By the time Rob retired in 2001, he had racked up 12 world tour victories, three US Open Championships, SIMA waterman of the year and Pipeline Masters Championship. The “Pipe Masters” is arguably the most coveted trophy, as the event takes place at the Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu, which demands skill, courage, knowledge and respect. Careers are made and broken at this event, so to win it against the strongest competitors on Earth is certainly a life accomplishment. He is a Surfing Hall of Fame inductee and there is no dispute that from his work ethic, competitiveness and natural abilities, Rob is one of the greatest surfers of all time. But through all of the glory, “life” eventually revealed itself and after more than a decade of living full-speed on tour, everything changed.

“I was rarely home and when I was, it would be to swap out board bags and hit the road for the next round of contests. There was little environmental awareness on my part because I was so busy doing my own thing and the world was moving super fast. Then 9/11 happened. Just like that. Things didn’t slow down…they stopped.” 

Rob finally had a chance to pause and just be. He was home, he surfed his local spot again and reconnected with old friends. More importantly, he created a connection with the local kids who are the future. That’s when he realized he could actually make a difference. His athletic achievements and positive attitude created a bright spotlight and a voice that could be used for good, so he went with it.

“The gift of being able to lead by example in my hometown has always been enough. I don’t need an actual voice to inspire change. Instead, I just do… and people follow my lead.”

It’s true that Rob is a man of few words. When he talks, he means what he says, so when he says he’s going to do something, there’s action. And in 2004 when he said he was creating the Rob Machado Foundation, he officially set his life goals into motion.

Paving The Way For The Rob Machado Foundation

In the 90’s, Rob’s first two children attended the same school he did as a kid–Cardiff Elementary in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, CA. While the early visits to the school started as a walk down memory lane, they quickly turned into a reality check. The school, the teachers and the grounds were all as great as he remembered, but something happened that changed everything. 

“Hey, this is amazing… everything looks the same! The same layout, the same rooms and hey, that’s the same water fountain!” As Rob reminisced, he recalled a student looking at him and said, “Eeewww, that’s gross. Nobody touches that thing!” But when Rob was a kid, he was perfectly happy drinking out of anything that had a water spigot. 

Drinking out of the tap or an old water fountain was just not what people were about. Fast forward to 2004–the fad of single-use plastic water bottles was engrained in our society. It was cheap, convenient and tasted good. It was the easy way out, which was in reality…the worst way out.

Drinking out of the tap or an old water fountain was just not what people were about. Fast forward to 2004–the fad of single-use plastic water bottles was engrained in our society.
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The Solution

There had to be a solution, and Rob, in typical fashion, said, “Let’s make drinking fountains cool again.” Right then and there, the Rob Machado Foundation assembled, discussed and decided to create water stations with clean, delicious, drinkable water and provide all of the students with reusable water bottles. That was just the beginning. 

What makes the Rob Machado Foundation so special? Rob says it was all about being at the forefront of the movement to eliminate single use plastic, especially water bottles. It filled and still fills a void around water, our resource needed to live. The kids believe it, and talk to their parents who then believe it. His goals have since evolved from those early visits to the local schools. Making the transition from unused water fountains and thousands of plastic bottles to a fully sustainable water system created a blueprint for how the Rob Machado Foundation could expand into many directions. Already, it has spread to schools, offices and commercial properties, and figures show 1.5 million plastic water bottles saved (prevented) and 350,000 just at the Paul Ecke YMCA in Encinitas, CA alone.

The Rob Machado Foundation is not focused on just one project; these days there are more collaborations and events than ever. Starting with youth education about gardening, water catchment, recycling and packing your trash (along with the water/reusable bottles/anti-plastic), things have evolved into a bigger picture. Rob has aligned with the band Switchfoot to continue the annual Switchfoot BroAm, a foundation dedicated to giving back to the San Diego community. They provide grants and highlight other non-profit organizations that focus on homeless, at-risk and disadvantaged youth, while promoting programs tied to music, art and surfing. The collaboration between the Rob Machado Foundation and Switchfoot has branched out even further, going above and beyond to support additional non-profit organizations other than their own. It’s teamwork like this that continues to inspire others and provide reason for the community to donate time and/or money whenever possible.

Making the transition from unused water fountains and thousands of plastic bottles to a fully sustainable water system created a blueprint for how the Rob Machado Foundation could expand into many directions.

Looking at the big picture, when asked how the Rob Machado Foundation is impacting the world in a positive way, his response hit the nail on the head and should hold true for many of the other environmental non-profit organizations out there. 

“You can’t do it for everyone, but you can write the script for others to follow.” 

He went on that it can be done in our town, our state, our country, and in the world. He is sharing the script and raising as much as possible to make more clean water stations and provide more reusable water bottles. In 2022 the Rob Machado Foundation launched a reusable water bottle program with the San Diego Unified School District and has donated over 25,000 reusable water bottles to date.

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Bringing It Back Home

As far as sustainability on a personal level, Rob said it really starts at home. 

“I’ve been taking my son to the beach since he could barely walk. He watches me, I watch him, we surf, we swim, we walk… and whenever we do walk, I pick up trash. I never say anything or preach; I just do it. One day not too long ago, we were walking and Jax bent down and picked up a piece of trash and I was like hey what are you doing? And he just shrugged and put it in the trash.” 

Kids watch. Kids don’t need to be preached to or cornered. They just need to be led by example. Less talking and more doing. But with that said, there are kids living with difficult situations and difficult circumstances that don’t always have the privilege of being guided and led, and some are brought to light at an older age. With the youth at different age groups, backgrounds and personality types, how do we go about getting through to them and get them to not just listen to ideas on sustainability, but to act

Rob said that as a dad of three kids, all with a wide age gap and totally different personality types, he understands the catch. But having led this push since 2004 when the Rob Machado Foundation started, he has figured out some ways to solve this. 

“Find the group of kids that are on it. Find those ones that are a step ahead of the game and get them excited to spread the word. Kids are far more likely to pick up on something (especially a suggestion) from a friend or peer than an adult. So have the kids that know and agree on what’s right and have them be spokespeople. Have them push for action.”

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Lessons From Rob

Rob’s current position is sliding back into where things stood pre-pandemic and doing everything the Rob Machado Foundation was tackling on a consistent basis: beach clean-ups, water/plastic projects, recycling implementation, and gardening education. They also collaborate with groups sharing sustainable thoughts and projects, along with philanthropic work for people that have physical, mental or societal roadblocks that can be helped. 

With all the work and effort from the Rob Machado Foundation carrying on, Rob leaves three main calls to action that are achievable at any level of a sustainability journey. 

First, the initial goal that started the whole thing–eliminate single-use plastics, starting with water bottles. With a variety of affordable, reusable bottles (many of which may be at no cost through schools and organizations), there is no reason to continue using what may or may not be recycled, and will many times end up in our ever-growing landfills. Bottles, canteens, hydration packs, old plastic water bottles and any old cup with a lid will work and be a better alternative than going out and buying more plastic water bottles. That goes for everyone.

Talking, discussing, preparing, and brainstorming are great… but there is no action. Make sustainable choices and then act on them.

Second, Rob calls on businesses to step up their game. An office or store is not an excuse to buy plastic water bottles. Have an office? Set up a simple water station, which can be as easy as putting a clean filtration system on the current water system and provide drinking cups/glasses. If there’s a meeting, put out a pitcher of water and people can pour what they want. Gone are the days of putting a case of plastic bottles on the round table and chucking them in the trash. Setting up something sustainable like this in your business environment, whether you know it or not, will get respect.

Lastly, both individuals and businesses alike need to act. Talking, discussing, preparing, and brainstorming are great… but there is no action. Make sustainable choices and then act on them. Whether it’s eating the right foods, buying responsibly made or upcycled clothes, or in Rob’s world ditching single-use plastics. There’s no perfect solution out there and many times we have no earth-friendly options in certain situations, but it starts with one choice at a time. Just make it a sustainable choice as much as possible.

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It's no longer just celebrities in the limelight. More and more, unsuspecting superheroes are surfacing within our local communities like Rob and his Rob Machado Foundation. We need more and we need variety–land, sea, sky…ourselves. New leaders, organizations and role models helping guide those willing to change for the benefit of the environment hold the key to our world’s future. Support the good ones we already have and encourage the ones that are climbing the ranks of self-education and social responsibility.

Key Takeaways
  • Visit the Rob Machado Foundation and learn how to get directly involved with ongoing programs.
  • If you can, do. If you can’t–donate. You don’t need to be on the ground to make a difference, using your dollar to help fund projects can go a long way.
  • Make conscious choices. At the very least, participate in beach cleanups and choose not to be a part of the problem, but a part of the solution. Eliminate single-use plastic today.