Ever-busy Cardiff surfing icon Rob Machado opens hometown shop and museum
Cardiff surfing legend Rob Machado has several projects on his plate this month, including a film premiere, a tequila brand launch and the inaugural Wonderfront music festival in San Diego.
But one new project that’s especially close to his heart is the opening of Rob Machado’s Salty Garage, a small shop on South Coast Highway in Encinitas that’s part man cave, part retail shop, part museum and part community hangout.
The small store — located in a building behind his wife Sophie Machado’s 2-1/2-year-old lifestyle boutique Salt Culture at 930 S. Coast Highway — is a place where Machado said he can share more of his past, present and future with the public.
“I thought it would be nice to bring together a lot of these things from my life and display them together in this cool space,” said Machado, 46, who hosted the grand opening for the Salty Garage earlier this month.
The Salty Garage carries shirts, pants, hoodies, shoes, sunglasses and other items produced by Machado in collaboration with sponsors like Hurley, as well as his own T-shirt brand. There are also gift items like coffee cups, books, music, DVDs and Machado’s personal photography as well as his own brands of surfboard fins and wax.
The shop sells a selection of stock standard surfboards he designed for Firewire Surfboards, and the shop is the only place where customers can buy the custom boards Machado shapes and finishes in the garage studio of his Cardiff home.
But beyond the merchandise, Machado has filled the shop with personal mementos and prized possessions that include his old camera collection, souvenirs he picked up in his global travels, old posters that decorated his bedroom walls as a teen, childhood surfing trophies, Star Wars toys he played with as a boy and a piece of pottery he made in class at San Dieguito High School as a teen.
There are also framed photographs taken in the late ‘80s and early 1990s when he skyrocketed to fame as one of the world’s most iconic surfers. And there’s a pair of old binoculars Machado’s father, Jim, used to watch his son surf at Cardiff’s Seaside Beach as a boy.
Hanging from the shop’s ceiling are three of Machado’s favorite classic surfboards. There are eye-catching boards designed by artists Thomas Campbell and Sage Vaughn and the famous Jimi Hendrix surfboard Machado was photographed riding on the December 1994 cover of Surfing Magazine.
The shop also carries items produced by some of Machado’s artistic friends, like a one-of-a-kind Prisma guitar made by buddy Nick Pourfard, a San Diego luthier who made this particular instrument out of recycled skateboard decks and re-purposed planks from the Coney Island boardwalk.
Sophie Machado, who met her husband in 2010 and married him three years later, said that ever since she opened Salt Culture in March 2017, surfing fans have come into the shop wanting to know more about her husband. The Salty Garage offers fans that opportunity.
The building behind her store was occupied by another business until about a year ago. When it moved out, the Machados decided to lease the space and expand their retail operation.
But over time, Sophie said she found that men weren’t comfortable shopping in the front boutique, where women were moving in and out of the changing room as they tried on bathing suits and other attire. So the couple decided to move their men’s merchandise to the back location and, eventually, make it more of a men’s shop and museum for Rob. It can be accessed directly through a gated walkway on the north side of the main boutique.
“So many people and fans and local friends come here and want to know more about Rob, his lifestyle, his culture and where he grew up,” she said. “This is his space to showcase the things he loves and the products he makes.”
Machado was 3 years old when his California-raised father and British mother moved their family from Australia to Cardiff in 1977. By his mid-teens, Machado was traveling the world as part of a new generation of athletic wave-rippers who transformed the sport of surfing.
Although injuries, apathy and family responsibilities led Machado to leave competitive surfing in the early 2000s, he has maintained a strong foothold in the sport ever since as an industry icon and ambassador. This is thanks in part to his starring role in several famous surfing films, including Taylor Steele’s “Momentum” in 1992 and “Drifter” in 2009 as well as the 2018 retrospective documentary “Momentum Generation” by sibling filmmakers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist.
Over the past two decades, Machado has continued to travel the world surfing, while also playing guitar in bands, designing his own surfboards and running the Rob Machado Foundation, which is dedicated to reducing plastic waste in the ocean. He hosts monthly beach cleanups and is working to reduce the sale of single-use plastic water bottles by installing filtered water dispensers at local schools to encourage the use of reusable water bottles.
“I’m trying to change the way the younger generation consumes water,” he said. “You can change minds when you go into the schools. It really works. Plastic water bottles aren’t cool anymore.”
Machado said he gets a lot of invitations and offers to take part in business opportunities and events, but he tries to be choosy and only pick passion projects.
“I like working with good, creative people,” he said. “When you have friends with amazing projects, you want to be a part of it. I’d be bummed to not be able to be involved.”
Some of these side projects came to fruition this month.
Last week Machado was in New York at the U.S. premiere of the new surf/snowboarding documentary “Fire on the Mountain,” which is set to a soundtrack of songs by The Grateful Dead. It co-stars Machado and is narrated by basketball great and avowed Deadhead Bill Walton of San Diego. Machado and Walton will co-host the film’s West Coast premiere on Feb. 19 at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.
Machado is also serving as a partner/ambassador at the inaugural Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival, a revamp of the long-defunct Street Scene festival that will feature 100 artists on 10 stages along downtown San Diego’s bayfront Nov. 22 through 24. And two weeks ago, Machado celebrated the launch of Solento, tequila brand he co-founded with surf and lifestyle filmmaker, Taylor Steele.
Sophie Machado said her family travels around the world throughout the year, but whenever her husband is in town, he will be curating the merchandise in the Salty Garage and will visit the shop once or twice a week.
He also plans to host a series of “Talk Story” events every four to eight weeks that could include him speaking about his life, fellow surfers traveling through town, artists he admires and outdoor movie screenings. For information on these events, visit salt-culture.com.
— Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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