Passing on His Passion
Rob Kelly is a professional surfer, polar bear plunge expert, and new dad to son Kash. (He also happens to be a Binky Bro fan--which is acceptable!) We were lucky enough to chat with Rob about his love of his sport and why it’s important to him to help pass that passion on to his toddler son.
Kash wears the Tahoe in Evergreen
So you grew up in Pennsylvania, which is not exactly the surf capital of the world, right?
Yeah definitely not. But I got lucky enough to spend the summers in Hawaii with my uncle who taught me to surf out in front of Waikiki.
Sounds amazing. So were your parents surfers as well?
Actually no. But once they saw how much I loved it, they became super supportive. They found out that you could surf in Jersey Shore, so we started going there more. Later they ended up buying a home in Ocean City so we could surf every weekend. Eventually we moved there and just never went back.
Wow - so at that point was everyone into surfing or was the move mostly to support your career?
I would say it was about supporting my brother and I in something we loved. I’d always seen surfing as something that could be a career but for my parents, especially at that point, it was more just to make us happy.
Did they ever get into surfing?
Yeah, it was awesome to watch them get into it in their fifties. My Dad has become a pretty avid surfer and goes almost every day, even in the winter.
Rob’s wife Shannon with Kash, wearing the Tahoe in Gray
Oh I love that. So at what point did you start competing?
I think I was 12 or 13. One day we happened to show up at the beach when there was a competition and my mom found the director and begged him for a spot. She was persistent enough they agreed to put me in, even though it was halfway over.
And how did you do?
Oh I was dead last. Haha but that kind of inspired us to learn more about the competition series. We started entering events and really competing. Pretty quickly it started to click for me. After a couple seasons I climbed the ranks enough to catch some local attention, then when I was 16 the Billabong tour came to town and I got a sponsorship.
Your mom sounds pretty great. On that note, let’s talk parenting. You have a new son, right?
Yep, a 7 month old boy named Kash.
Can you tell us a bit about how becoming a parent has changed you?
Mostly I think my motivation has changed. Before, I wanted to surf every free minute I could get because I loved it and wanted to be the best. That drive is still there of course, but now it’s also about wanting to maintain this lifestyle so I can spend more time with my family than I might be able to in a traditional 9-5 job.
Really it motivated me to look at my career and think, what do I want long term? I’ve been fortunate to work with American Wave Machine, which is a company that makes artificial waves for places like BSR in Texas, and I still work with Billabong. I’ve never felt like I had a real job because every aspect of surfing is so fun to me, but now I really appreciate that added flexibility benefit. I’m super lucky to have that.
Is it important to you to pass down your passion to Kash?
Definitely. I can’t wait to get him into the water. I mean it doesn’t need to be anything serious, he doesn’t have to go pro. But the dream is for me to eventually be able to take Kash with me when I travel to surf so we can make those memories together, even if it’s not in a competitive or professional nature.
Do you have any tips for parents looking to get young kids into the water?
Comfort is number one. Kids need to be warm, feel safe, and be with someone they know and trust like their mom or dad so that the first few experiences are relaxed and fun. We’ll probably start with Kash in the AWM wave pool out in Jersey to give him the best chance of enjoying it early on.
As far as starting to actually teach a kid to surf, the best way is to lay them flat on a surfboard boogie board style, and just ride on there with them until they’re old enough to start standing up. Again it’s really about making sure they’re comfortable and having fun early on so that surfing feels like a positive thing they want to come back to.
Can we talk about your daily ice baths real quick? What’s that about?
Haha. Well I’ve always been a cold water surfer, since that’s what was available to me. But during the pandemic when no one could travel or compete, I got even more into it. I started a YouTube series with some other east coast surfers where we’d explore new surf spots that were really off the map.
Then after having a kid, things changed again. It was harder to pick up and go fly somewhere to chase a wave or spend three hours a day at the gym, but I still wanted a way to challenge myself physically and mentally.
I made a New Year’s Resolution to and it’s just kind of continued from there. I would post videos to keep myself accountable, and it surprised me how many people would respond saying it inspired them to stick to their resolutions, whether they were surfers or not.
Love that. Any last thoughts you want to share about parenthood or surfing?
I mean I’m learning as I go, but my goal is to have the same kind of energy my parents had. Looking back now I can see how even my Mom fighting to get me in that first competition, it was a small thing but it fully changed the course of my life.
If Kash doesn’t want to surf or chooses something I’m not experienced in, I want to use my parents’ example and throw myself into whatever he’s passionate about. I mean, we lived in Pennsylvania and our passion was surfing. It wasn’t as easy as driving five minutes to the local baseball field, but they made it happen. I look at the sacrifices they made to support us and just want to make sure I do the same thing for Kash.
Thanks for your time Rob. BinkyBro wishes you, and Kash, an epic winter.