In the movie Swingers, Vince Vaughn introduces his friend Jon Favreau to a waitress and says, “I want you to remember this face, here. This is the guy behind the guy, behind the guy.” Let us introduce Wrightsville Beach’s Rob Brown. Rob’s the guy behind the foam-ball, behind the guy. And sometimes, the guy sleeping behind the skatepark, behind the guy. Whichever one he is, Rob’s always below the radar and works hard as a motherf–ker every year to get to places with big, empty waves. By hook or by crook. From the North Shore to Mainland Mexico to Tahiti to — at the moment — Oregon, Rob describes another path that gets you to the same waves we drool over in the mags. —Beau Flemister
SURFING: When did you first start leaving home?
ROB: It started in high school. I just wanted to surf. I quickly realized it didn’t matter if you were sponsored or getting paid if you wanted to score. You didn’t have to — you could just do it on your own. I think Indonesia started the path that I’ve been on for a long time. I couldn’t find a job, but I wanted to go to Indo, so I put my head down and worked till 2 am every single day, made money and got to Indo.
Where’ve you been lately? Actually, where are you now?
I was in Mainland Mexico for five weeks. I actually went down there without boards, but got some from a friend of mine that passed away. We got a lot of big days to ourselves and after that I caught a flight to Oregon where I am now, just skating.
I heard you sleep in skate parks — is that true?
[laughs] Yeah. That’s true. About five or six years ago, I camped out on the North Shore for the first time. I got kicked off the beach by the cops, and I skate a lot, so I went straight to the park and set up a little tent in the bowl.
And you never got bothered?
Aw, not really, but there are some tweakers out there. Like, one night I woke up to this guy who had a flashlight in my eyes and I thought it was the police, but it was just a tweaker collecting cans. But I think as long as you let people know [when you’re camping] that you’re just there to skate or surf, you don’t really get messed with.
Do you always just camp?
I always travel with my camping gear, just in case, but you can usually meet people that just take you in for a little while. You mostly end up in a house. Mexico’s a bit hot for camping, though. [laughs] Really, the whole reason I started traveling the way I do is because I’ve always worked hard, and although I didn’t have the sponsors, I learned that if you really want to get barreled, you just gotta go out and do it yourself. If that means sleeping in some backyard or some skate park, having crack-heads walk up on you, then that’s how it’s gotta be. A lot of kids think it’s impossible to get all those big tubes they see in the mags, but if you just sit there and wait for sponsors or mom and dad or don’t work, you won’t get it.
So how’ve you made money to fund your trips over the years?
Oh, man, I’ve worked so many random jobs. Anything from installing pools to dishwashing to landscaping to metal work… I’ve learned you can’t be too picky if you wanna just use the jobs to travel. It’s like, the jobs that people really want are the ones that won’t let you leave. So I just swallow my pride and wash dishes. That kind of job you can leave whenever you want to go travel and surf.
Have you ever found a job that you really liked?
Honestly, I like washing dishes. The last time I was doing it, they were telling me they’d like to train me to be a manager and I turned it down. I hate to say it, but the more responsibilities you have, the less you can do what you want to do. I don’t know if my mom would like that one too much, though. [laughs]
When you go to these places are you on a pretty strict budget?
I work hard and if I run out of money, I use my credit card. So sometimes I’m working for a trip after it’s done — but I’ve learned it’s worth it. If you’re really gonna go out and experience something and you get there and you gotta put a little on the tab — it’s worth it.
You usually just travel to surf and/or skate?
Not really, I usually don’t have just one reason in mind. I just think it’s cool to work really hard for something, stay for a couple months, go for hikes or go fishing, and surfing’s just one part of the whole thing. I just like being gone from home, really. The thing is, there’s so many people like me out there. People going and getting barreled for themselves and no one else. You meet a lot of rad human beings out there following a different path than what you see in the mags.
“Outliers” is a column from managing editor, Beau Flemister, about everyday surfers who’ve rearranged their lives in pursuit of scoring around the world.
Click here to watch a few clips of Rob and friends in Mexico. In case you couldn’t have guessed, he’s the scruffy-looking goofyfooter.