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C O N V E R S AT I O N S W / E X T R A O R D I N A R Y P E O P L E

D AV E “ R A S T A”


S U R F E R / E N V I R O N M E N TA L A C T I V I S T

Photography: Grambeau

Dave Rastovich has a couple things that you don’t. For one, his name lends itself perfectly to the Aussie tradition of shortening. For example, Damien is Dooma or Damo. Occhilupo goes by Occy and, of course, Parkinson is Parko. But how stinking cool is “Rasta!” It’s as if by sheer providence the Aussie natural footer would morph into a souled out freesurfer, musician, and all around purveyor of good vibes. However, lest we not forget that the guy is a natural surfing talent. He can ride pretty much anything and often does, ripping everything from traditional thrusters and quads to funky twinners, alaias, and olos. Sure, his crusade into environmentalism and his marriage to a “mermaid” may have polarized his fan base, but as a surfer, his skills are difficult to deny and his lifestyle is even more difficult not to envy. Rasta was born and raised on a farm in New Zealand where the family grew and ate their own vegetables and fruits and spent ample time outdoors, but the family soon moved to Australia’s Gold Coast where 6-year old David joined a lifeguarding program. There, he found surfing and began competing (Note of interest, among young Rasta’s early competitors and friends was future Olympic swimming champ Grant Hacket). Rasta spent the next 9 years surfing Burleigh where among the point breaks and perfect barrels he developed his signature flow.


Rastovich describes his family upbringing as “normal.” His father spent time in the New Zealand Special Forces before becoming a holistic healer while his mother worked to make enough funds for excursions to Hawaii and outrigger canoe trips. But when his parents split up when he was 15, Rastovich split his time between Burleigh and the Gold Coast. In surfing, he found escape from all concerns, a safe and private bubble, which began to rattle as he became a competitive force locally. Rasta’s contest prowess grew. He competed in the Billabong Junior Series and took top honors at the U-16 World Grommet Champs in Bali. Soon he jumped onto the World Qualifying Series in attempt to make the ASPWorld Championship Tour. The media quickly recognized Rastovitch as a force on the global surf scene, garnering video sections alongside future tour shredders Taj Burrow and Joel Parkinson. However, competitive success would not be his bread and butter. Being a competitor since the age of 5 amid the lifeguard surfing events and morphing into a weekend warrior on the local circuits, Rasta grew more and more disillusioned with the aggressive and commercial aspect of the sport and more intrigued by exotic travel and empty waves. In retrospect, the former amateur champ does, however, recognize the value of competition specifically as a focus for younger kids. So Rasta shed the contest jersey and trophies and instead became synonymous with alternative surfboards, yoga, meditation, and environmental activism. His most well known moment came when he paddled into the bloody gore of slaughtered dolphins to draw attention to unethical and downright evil Japanese fishing practices.

The movement as part of his “Surfers for Cetaceans” became as associated with Rasta’s public person as barrels and cutbacks. Yet cynical Internet comment trolls questioned his integrity. Maybe it was his paddling out with “surfer buddies” like Hayden Panettiere. But if the event was detrimental to Rasta as a surf star, it did garner quite a lot of international media attention, which was precisely the goal. Rasta cites an incident in which a dolphin saved him from a shark attack as the impetus for his involvement in both “Surfers for Cetaceans” and the Sea Shepherd. Rastovich married longtime mermaid model Hannah who starred alongside him in the 2004 film Blue Horizon, a Billabong sponsored flick which highlighted the two sides of pro surfing with a clear juxtaposition Rasta’s mellow trip against the late Andy Irons’ more aggressive approach to riding waves and crushing opponents. He has since divorced and continued his cause with trips and films expressing an environmental message as well as working with his sponsor Billabong to create a line of eco-friendly boardshorts and convinced the surf industry behemoth to invest in several environmental initiatives. Minds in the Water is a feature-length documentary following the quest of Dave Rastovich and his friends to protect dolphins, whales, and the oceans they all share. Through Rasta’s journey an adventure spanning the globe from Australia to the Galapagos, Tonga, California, Alaska and Japan we see one surfer’s quest to activate his community to help protect the ocean and its inhabitants. Following five years in production, the film will have its North American premiere this Thursday at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater. The documentary which features Dave Rastovich and a cast of several thousand dolphins and other surfer was chosen as the opening film for the 2011 Activist Film Festival. Rastovich, along with fellow surfers, filmmakers, and celebrities Hayden Panettiere and Isabel Lucas, will be at the premiere and will lead an audience discussion immediately afterward. Dumbo Feather caught up with Rastovich at his home in Australia en route to LA for the premiere and the upcoming Desert Whale TransparentSea voyage along the Southern California coast. - Steve Barilotti.

Photo courtesy of Electric

Df Rasta

Minds in the Water has been five years in the making. What changes or evolutions have you seen over that time? The clearest example is in talking to surfers, how many of them now know about the coastal dolphin and whale kills in places like Japan and the Faeroe Islands. And also how many people, surfers and non-surfers alike, know about the cetacean capture issue through the film The Cove that we were part of. Through our documentary journey we specifically wanted to inform the global surfing community of those issues. When we started in 2007 almost none of the surfers I spoke to in my travels had any idea about these issues or groups that were trying to stop these direct kills, like Sea Shepherd. To see that change radically over of the film production is really motivating…to feel like we’ve played a part in a collective education of our global surfing community.

What do you hope this film will do? Df Rasta This film was made “fly on the wall” style with a crew of writers and filmmakers

so it was documented as it happened, which may or may not have been what we imagined it would be at the beginning. I hope the film achieves the reality of this kind of work and how it leads to having such amazing friendships and a great sense of community in this global surfing industry. Also, and this is important, how those assets can be purposefully driven toward whatever it is that we feel passionate about. At the end of the day, I hope that when someone watches this film they feel empowered to do something they care about…even if it’s not about the dolphin/ whale issue or coastal issue.

Things that seemed totally hopeless or out of reach can become attainable with the right mindset and people behind you. When we started, I felt like an uneducated simpleton of a surfer but through the process of learning about this issue I just got more and more fired up and found out the way that I could use my skill set to approach this issue and try solve these problems.

Df Rasta

Surfers for Cetaceans has gone from being basically a website run by you and Howie Cooke to being an actual activist group with a core operational crew and several successful actions under your belt. What’s next down the pike? In the course of learning about the direct-kill issue that’s going on, we became aware that they’re only a small percentage of the issues that all ocean animals are facing all around the world. All of the coastlines where surfers live are facing some serious problems, be it water quality, acoustic pollution, marine debris, overfishing…you name it. Over time we’ve naturally broadened our approach to these issues, rather than just focusing only on the direct kills issue. We’re looking at the factors that are contributing to the demise of many species in the world’s oceans and creating ways to discuss these issues and bring them to everybody’s attention. For example, Surfers For Cetaceans has created the TransparentSea sailing campaigns to meet with people face to face and bring awareness to these issues. We’re also still working on the direct kill issues via collaboration with Sea Shepherd. Howie was aboard the Bob Barker [Sea Shepherd patrol ship] for three months in the southern [Antarctic] ocean this year attempting to stop the illegal whaling. In the end, the Japanese whaling fleet was forced to leave early with less than half their quota filled.

Tell us a bit more about TransparentSea campaigns… Df Rasta The TransparentSea campaign we did down in Australia was a 500-mile trip in sailing

kayaks joining the humpback whale migration and highlighting all the threats to those animals when they go down our coast and ultimately onto Antarctic waters. This year we’re employing a similar strategy by coming to California in October and traveling down from Santa Barbara down to Mexico and eventually to the breeding grounds of the grey whales. Or goal is to observe these amazing creatures up close, learn more about them and all the human-related threats to these animals and others that call the California coast home.

What do you feel the response has been from the surf industry? Df Rasta Billabong, my main surfing sponsor, has incorporated a lot of our campaigns and

efforts into some of their clothing line and helping us out with resources and whatnot for our campaigns. And likewise the surfing community on the whole has really been supportive of our work. That’s been a huge boost, especially when you’re going into in to places where there’s a lot of animosity directed toward you, like when we were in Japan or collaborating with Sea Shepherd in the Antarctic where the people you’re dealing with from fisheries or whaling units are very aggressive. It feels good to know that you have the support of perhaps millions of surfers from around the world with you when you’re going into such situations.

Dave Rastovich now lives in New South Wales, a quiet base of operations for his globe-trotting excursions. One such trip found the Aussie natural footer following an historic swell from Tahiti to Mexico to Alaska for an epic magazine and video feature. Whether you dig his scene or not; whether you think he is for real or not, David Rastovich has rewritten the path of the professional surfer and made the most of his talent. Sure, self promotion is one aspect of his journey, but that little offering of soul enables him to travel the world and surf the world’s greatest waves while also helping to bring awareness to environmental issues. If you are suspect of this, ask yourself, what have you done in the past 10 years? The life of Rasta don’t sound too shabby. He looks back, “All the experiences I’ve had, where I’ve gone beyond my body and beyond my brain and been pointing at a momentary awareness. You’re dwelling in the moment, not in the past or in the future.” A little deep, but what do you expect? His name is Rasta.

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