Words by Matthew B. Shaw | Portraits by Grant Ellis
Light / Dark
The sun hadn’t yet climbed over the verdant hills of the Rancho Corral de Tierra preserve when Robert Glover pulled into Pillar Point Harbor and proceeded to the dirt lot before cutting the headlights on his truck. His was the first vehicle there.
Glover had spent the previous night on the side of the road, pulling into a nondescript grassy area a few ticks south of Half Moon Bay just before midnight to catch a few hours of shut-eye. Earlier that day, he’d worked the closing shift at Harvest Café, the restaurant he owns in Ventura. He’d wavered all afternoon on whether to abandon a solo mission up the coast, what with navigating COVID-19 restrictions at his understaffed eatery and having a precariously pregnant life-and-business partner at home.
But about 100 yards into the half-mile paddle out, Glover had his first notion that he’d made the right call. One of several rescue personnel offered him a lift and deposited him just a short paddle from the peak. He was the first one out at Maverick’s that morning. As planned.
In the following weeks, a consensus would emerge among the who’s who of big-wave heavies in the lineup on December 8, 2020—Grant Baker, Peter Mel, and Ian Walsh, among others. “Day of the Decade” has been tossed around.
Though not a household name, Glover, too, had a good morning. He caught a handful of waves—including the best of his life to date.
The session served as a kind of capstone for Glover, an undeniably subterranean surfer with a distinctive sangfroid, rounding out a decade since he first moved to California from Florida. He’d spent ten years charging hard on the margins, working within the gray areas of a fastly changing state—a kind of distorted but contemporary California dream realized.
“I always feel like I have to be the first one in the water,” Glover tells me when talking about that Mav’s session, explaining that, as a surfer firmly situated on the outside of the known XXL world, his best opportunity to get waves occurs between first light and first boat. “The thing was, it looked so good when I got out there, I felt like there was a plot to use me as kind of a test dummy.”
Broad-shouldered, fit, and handsome, Glover retains a devious, adolescent chuckle that he deploys often in conjunction with self-deprecating humor. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and he recognizes, given his less than prodigious paideia, the seeming absurdity of him even paddling out into such a heavy lineup.
“Where I grew up, if you said ‘I’m going to surf Maverick’s one day,’ you’d be laughed at. It’s just not something that’s even in the realm of possibilities.”
Indeed, for a kid growing up in Florida in the mid 90s, trading set waves with Twiggy and Kai Lenny might seem as likely as assisting on a Jaromír Jágr slapshot. Given his background, it was just as likely that he’d end up on the ground floor of California’s emerging (and legal) green economy in the early 2010s.
Whether opening a farm-to-table concept with no legitimate experience as a farmer, cook, or restaurateur, chasing big surf from Baja to Fiji to NorCal, or navigating the medical marijuana market, Glover’s calculations of risk-reward propositions are unconventional and often self-contained.
“Rob’s a surfer’s surfer,” says renowned Ventura-based shaper Robert Weiner. “He keeps an unusually low profile. He’s not one that’s trying to attract attention to himself. He just goes out and surfs and then disappears back to the farm or the restaurant. It’s inspiring to see a guy who surfs purely for the joy of it.”
“His parents would always be pissed at me, like, ‘You’re always getting Robert into trouble,’” remembers Tyler Canali, Glover’s longtime friend and occasional big-wave running mate. “I was always like, ‘I wish you could see him in action. He’s an animal.’”
Glover and Canali have been friends since the fourth grade. After moving to California in their early twenties, they lived together for nearly a decade while on a parallel trajectory in the medical marijuana industry and hunting surf from Baja to Bali.
“We were actually like a married couple,” Canali says. “We shared everything, went through a lot together. Rob’s the kind of guy who’ll jump on a hand grenade if it means saving everybody else.”
Though they ran with an older, faster crew, Glover and Canali grew up in the same town I did, a beach-adjacent suburb of Jacksonville called Ponte Vedra. Populated previously by old money and retirees, PV is part of fast-growing, developer-friendly St. Johns County, the kind of place that boomed during the wave of suburban sprawl in the mid 90s.
Glover grew up in an upper-middle-class household, the middle child. His father, an entrepreneur, ran a high-end kitchen cabinet business. On his mother’s side, the family traces generational wealth to Havertys, an upscale Southeast regional furniture supplier based in Atlanta.
It was evident early on that Robert wouldn’t seek to enlist in any of the family enterprises. After all, there’s no surf in Atlanta.
“I would definitely categorize myself as the black sheep of the family,” Glover tells me. “My parents were great parents. I think it’s just the nature of being the middle child: You’re a bit marginalized. At some point I gave up on fighting for attention and just wanted to do everything on my own.”
A preternaturally gifted athlete, Glover stood out among kids his age, owing to gymnastics lessons that he began as a toddler. Once the family arrived in Florida, though, Glover fell hard for surfing, rolling with a crew that included Canali, future pro skateboarder Vincent Sandoval, and future East Coast surf star Ryan Briggs.
“We were a tight little posse,” Canali remembers. “Rob was kind of our protector. We were all, like, 70 pounds, and he was honestly about the size he is today [roughly 6 feet, 200 pounds] at age 12. If anybody talked shit to me, Rob would all of a sudden be kicking their ass.”
The posse would drink. Smoke weed. Sneak out. Typical teenage stuff, though certainly a nuisance to the security manning the gated communities and private clubs around PV. They earned a rep. After run-ins with local authorities, their parents thought it best to separate them. Glover was sent to private school.
“I was a marked kid the day I came in,” Glover says of the transition. “Everyone was coming down on me. The whole thing made me resent authority figures even more, and made me want to get away and be out on my own.”
Surfing remained a constant escape route. Hurricane swells in the fall. ESA and NSSA comps in the spring. Annual summer trips to Costa Rica.
Like many Northeast Florida–bred surfers of a certain age, Glover got his first squeeze of proper juice pulling into those Playa Hermosa closeouts. He liked the taste.
“I learned early on that I was addicted to that feeling,” he says. “Feeling like you’re edging close to death. There’s a rush, a sense of accomplishment. Then, taking the next step up and getting a bigger one.”
He’d continue charging through college. Taking trips out to Hawaii, where his sister, Rawson, was attending grad school, he tested his mettle on the North Shore.
In California, he set his sights on Todos Santos. With no connections to the big-wave scene, he poked around online forums, trying to figure out the proper launch point in Baja. He agreed to pick up a man in San Diego who claimed to have legit intel.
“Once we were almost there, this guy, who turned out to be an older fella, tells me he hasn’t surfed in at least a year,” Glover remembers, laughing at the absurdity.
The guy broke his leash really early in the session and ended up swimming for most of the day. Glover never talked to him again. But he had know-how now. And he would spend the next few years trying to rope his friends into surfing Todos with him. Mostly, though, he’d go it alone.
In the spring of 2009, I was on my way up the coast to San Francisco when I stopped through Los Angeles to hang with Canali and Glover for a few days. We were among at least a dozen North Florida surf kids who’d graduated college around that time, stared down the Great Recession, and figured—with poor employment prospects—we might as well give California a shot.
I’d decided to go back to school for my master’s degree, ducking and covering in academia. Canali and Glover were on another trip altogether. It’s arguable who got the better education.
Canali landed a job at a reputable medical marijuana collective in Venice and tapped his connections to help Glover get his foot in the door. The day I arrived, Glover was down on the Venice boardwalk, rocking a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a nearby dispensary and accosting passersby with good news: “The doctor is in!”
Though California Proposition 215 had legalized marijuana for medical use in the mid 90s, an appellate ruling in 2008 and a Supreme Court decision not to take up the cause to strike down the proposition invigorated a dormant entrepreneurial spirit in the state.
“It seemed completely surreal,” Glover remembers. “Being a kid from Florida and getting in serious trouble for a small amount of marijuana or paraphernalia, it was like marijuana Disney World.”
Glover would work his way up from hawking scripts on the boardwalk to a gig as a hashtender, where he was tasked with “serving people hits of hash out of giant frozen bong tubes all day,” to managing a collective. Between the green and black markets, there was a lot of gray area in those years. Glover, who’d earned a business degree from College of Charleston, saw an opportunity to scratch an entrepreneurial itch.
“You could ask ten people and get ten different answers,” he says about the convoluted and ever-changing rules meant to regulate the budding industry. Glover recalls the next few years fondly. He worked hard and went at surfing harder—mostly at places like Todos Santos and Puerto Escondido, with the occasional Mav’s sojourn sprinkled in.
“I worked for myself, learned how to run a business, made my own schedule,” he says. “I also developed a green thumb and got really interested in plant biology and soil systems, microbiology.”
I saw Glover again around 2012. He’d stopped into a mutual friend’s San Francisco apartment, 9-foot-plus gun in hand, after surfing Mav’s all day. We bar-hopped into the wee hours of the morning. He was cryptic about both the day’s waves and his entrepreneurial pursuits, belying any notion that he was consistently putting his life or freedom on the line in any way.
But, despite treading carefully, there were real risks. With the laws constantly changing, even a legal medical marijuana operation ran the risk of attracting the attention of a misinformed law enforcement officer—or, worse, of someone who knew you had something of value and that the laws wouldn’t protect you if you were removed from it. There were a handful of situations both sketchy and heavy, most of which Glover’s uncomfortable discussing.
“In the end, the laws didn’t progress quickly enough,” he says. “It became too stressful. Plus, my family was never really on board with it.”
By 2015 both Glover and Canali had left the industry. During an extended trip chasing down beachbreak kegs in Puerto Escondido shortly after, Glover says he felt a huge sense of relief. He’d gotten in early. And, when the timing felt right, he was comfortable getting out.
“I remember being out in the water on my 30th birthday and just feeling really light,” he says.
Recently, I stopped into Harvest Café. Inside, the restaurant’s marked by rustic communal tables and exposed concrete walls. The handful of tables outside were all occupied by diners, even in winter.
Glover was behind the register, taking orders and rapping with regulars, while his wife, Ulrika, was visible in Harvest’s open-kitchen concept, managing the staff and running quality control on the presentation of the dishes.
The two met in LA and eventually drove to Vegas for a secret legal union in order to keep Ulrika in the country. Ulrika studied nutrition in college. Robert, though always fairly health-conscious, became evangelical after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the influential takedown of industrial food systems written by popular social-science writer Michael Pollan.
After years cultivating his green thumb, Glover started looking for spaces to lease while simultaneously hunting down a plot of land to grow his own food. After finding a vacant storefront on the corner of East Thompson Boulevard and South Ventura Avenue, Robert and Ulrika got a lead on a half-acre in the unincorporated township of Oak View between Ventura and Ojai. They plopped down a tiny house on wheels and set about planting row crops while tackling an ambitious build-out of their future restaurant space.
“It was kind of ridiculous,” Glover says. “People were like, ‘Why don’t you pick one or the other: a farm or a restaurant?’ I was like, ‘No, that doesn’t work for me.’ I was on a trip to be part of this environmental movement, to be an example.”
From the day it opened, in January 2017, Harvest has been a hit. Glover has also endeared himself to the local surf community, hosting Ventura Boardriders Club meetings, taking the lead on the local Surfrider chapter’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants initiatives, and regularly volunteering with A Walk on Water, a nonprofit that provides surf lessons for kids with special needs.
“That’s a common theme in my personality—like, being curious about something, zero experience, but wanting to give it a shot,” he says, trying to tie together the disparate threads of big-wave surfing and his experiences as an entrepreneur. “Starting a restaurant without any culinary experience to speak of was similar to my introduction to Mav’s: I just drove over there and watched someone paddle out one time and I was like, ‘Okay, that’s how you get out there.’ I’m just going to go for it and figure it out along the way.”
While Harvest may now be a pillar of the local community, few of his diehards know about Glover’s hypogeal thrill-seeking.
“It’d be a pretty awkward thing to bring up while taking somebody’s order,” he says with a laugh. “Like, ‘Enjoy your Avocado Smorgas. Did you hear about my wave the other day?’”
Lately he’s starting to get more inquiries, though, due in large part to the images that popped up on social media after the day at Maverick’s.
After catching only two waves in the first hour or so of his session, Glover was growing frustrated. The tow crews had shown up and he was being extra cautious so as not to disrupt the Mav’s hierarchy as he understood it.
Glover paddled deeper and deeper, eventually lying in wait on the outside peak next to Kai Lenny and Grant Baker. He overheard the big names chatting.
“They were like, ‘Man, this is insane. No one wants the set waves. We can get any wave we want.’ I remember having this feeling like, ‘Hey, I want one too.’”
Baker got his as Glover barely scratched over its top. Then Lenny went. Suddenly Glover was the only one out the back.
“Probably the most excitement was in the morning, when the swell was peaking and the period was highest,” remembers photographer Jimmy Wilson, who was shooting from the channel and caught Glover’s best ride of the day. “People were rushing, and there were some psycho wipeouts. I shot every wave but didn’t know who half the people were.”
Though Glover’s partially obscured by the canopy of a rescue boat, Wilson’s sequence shows him in negotiation with his heelside rail and the sloped, growing wave face, a haggle familiar to any goofyfoot who’s ever tried to tame the Maverick’s bowl.
Glover stuck the drop, but, in trying to edge toward the channel, he dug his rail just as the lip exploded behind him. He’d take another wave on the head before a ski scooped him up and deposited him and his broken board in the channel.
“I remember having this funny moment looking back at the lineup and then looking back at the beach and then looking at my broken board, thinking, ‘I’m so far out. I guess I’ll start swimming in now.’”
An hour later, after climbing up the Pillar Point Harbor jetties and finding his way back to his truck, Glover—the first one out—was the first one in. His session was over by 8 a.m.
[Feature image: As with most big-wave surfers, both name-brand and underground, Glover strikes a balance between his in-the-water exploits and on-land interests.Gunning it at Todos Santos. Photo by Trent Stevens]