In 1995 a black, former professional football player and dreadful actor named OJ Simpson proved anything is possible in America—even getting away with murder. That same year Rob Machado won three of the first seven ASP events. He was on a Parkinsonian roll and well on his way to his first world title at the age of 22. But, that title never materialized. It was snatched from him during the waning moments of the Chiemsee Pipe Masters’ penultimate heat. The epic semifinal when Machado high-fived Slater as he exited the barrel still stands as one of the best world title finishes in ASP history.
Flash forward 14 years later and the anything-is-possible-in-America principle is alive and well. Tuesday, in inconsistent 3-4 foot Trestles, the 36-year-old Californian symbolically put a knife to Joel Parkinson’s neck on a blue-gray California afternoon. Now, if Slater goes on to win the Hurley Pro we may look back to this day, September 15, as the great American heist of a title that was seemingly in the bank.
Before the flowing Manny Ramirez mane, before he became a Drifter and before the million-dollar contracts with Gotcha and Hurley, Robert Edward Machado was just a skinny goofyfoot from Cardiff-by-the-Sea who had a passion for surfing and heaps of talent. He was Mick Fanning in reverse— ultra quick, wiry and sharp as a stiletto.
While Australia basked in Occy-ness, California’s soaked in El Machado. But El Machado never had that innate Slater-esque competitive fire. He was and is a cruising motorbike in a world of rice burners and gaudy European numbers. Now, removed from the tour by several years, the wildcard is riding a steamroller, laughing, sunburst locks blowing in the wind, on his final ASP sendoff into the sunset.
It’s no wonder the Aussies hate this place. Its lazy, seemingly embracing charm is a facade lined with all that is fake and evil in the world. In Orange County pristine coastal headlands that house world-class point breaks are juxtaposed with nuclear power plants while the American industrial military machine sits in the hills firing mortar shells for practice. This nook of Southern California is ground zero for soccer moms and the real estate mortgage meltdown that caused a worldwide recession.
Machado wasn’t the only storyline during round three. Another Californian named Dane Reynolds continued his roll that started two months ago in South Africa. After disposing of Ben Dunn he went on to win the Facebook Expression Session in the afternoon chop slop. Looking at the draw, Reynolds and Slater sit at opposite ends of the heat sheet which could lead to a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming Dream Tour final.
The turn of the day went to Heitor Alves for his coast-to-coast, butter-on-toast, fin-free slider in heat 12. French Fry Jeremy Flores never knew what hit him. The way he’s surfing he may just come out of nowhere and win this whole thing. Slater welcomed wildcard Brett Simpson (No relation to the knife-wielding football player) to the WCT and quickly waved goodbye and closed the door. Slater made several mistakes and a savvier veteran would have pounced on the opportunity. But his 16.83 total was still the highest of the day. This is a little scary in retrospect.
A day after sending Taj Burrow off to Europe with a 33rd, Machado showed the flashes of brilliance that made him the enigma he has become. But flashes don’t get you too far after round four at this level and he was undoubtedly aided by Parkinson’s miscues. Perhaps Parko’s ankle is not completely healed. Perhaps the Australian fell victim to the California buzz saw that stupefies so many of his countrymen. But one thing is for certain—his grip on an almost certain title loosened just enough to make the WCT interesting again. Parko didn’t seem too fazed however. Just after the loss his Twitter page read in true Aussie reveling fashion, “Surfer Poll just got a little more fun now.”
To put the Hurley Pro and its record purse in perspective, Machado was the leading money winner on tour in 1995. He won nearly $70,000 for the entire year. Later this week Hurley will cut the winner a check for $105,000 for one contest. What a difference a decade makes.