“Live clean, let your works be seen.” The words of reggae legend Peter Tosh succinctly capture the lifestyle of one of surfing’s most inspiring eco-statesmen, David Rastovich. While he prefers staying out of the limelight, his actions towards planetary protection both in and out of the water make Rastovich one of surfing’s most ardent environmental ambassadors.
Raised for six years in New Zealand before moving to Australia where he now resides, the 34-year-old developed an ethos of respect towards the natural world from an early age.
“In New Zealand, we were living on a farm and growing a lot of our own produce—living out in the bush to a degree. I felt like we were living in the wilderness,” said Rastovich. “Then we moved to Australia, and I really became interested in the outdoors and started spending most of my time at the beach.”
There, he took up lifeguarding and surfing. Perfecting his style at Burleigh and other local point breaks, he entered and started winning surf contests as a teen. But the competition wouldn’t last, and Rastovich left the competitive surfing scene to pursue deeper interests. His new path led him to travel, film and involvement in environmental activism.
Those who have documented his evolution refer to ‘Rasta’ as an alternative surfer, pointing to his love of yoga, healthy eating, gardening, permaculture and eco-activism. But for those more attuned to the threats faced by a planet in peril, Rastovich’s day-to-day conduct serve as an example to be emulated by others in any profession.
“I don’t really come in contact with that title very much,” he said, referring to the alternative surfer tag. “Some professional surfers are so busy competing that they may not have time to get involved in activism. I could be considered the flip side of that and some might consider that alternative.”
For LoaLiving Magazine, it was this so-called alternative lifestyle that attracted us to Rasta in the first place. We were lucky enough to catch him between his travels. The following is a quick look into the thoughts and inspirations of this earth surfer.
Australia’s your home base. How’s everything Down Under?
I love it. I’m on the Gold Coast near the south side of Byron Bay, living on this property there. My girlfriend and I are growing produce and more or less replanting the land. We have a big veggie garden with sweet potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes, basil, beans, peas, spinach, kale and okra. Our friend Donny, a local legend, sets up a lot of permaculture gardens in our area. He helped us get it started and get the soil on our land back to a good state. It’s really nice to see everything come back to life. My favorite things to grow are things that we don’t actually grow . . . things that just come out on their own like native Midgen berries, Lillie Pilly berries and Cherry guavas. There’s no input from us at all.
You mentioned permaculture. Do you subscribe to that approach?
Yeah, man. It’s an incredible philosophy and an amazing direction for us all to head. One concept of permaculture is diversity, and it is a crucial element to growing your own food. You see it in our area with mono-cropping and all the problems that come from doing that. And then you see someone’s super diverse little permaculture patch, not even on large acreage, and you can see so much food and so much vibrant life. It’s really obvious in our part of the world. I’ve always been impressed by Bill Mollison, a permaculture guru.
There was an older surfer from our area, Dennis Callahan, who recently passed. As grommets, he really impressed upon us the philosophy of having open eyes and open ears and really having a good look at what was going on around you. And if you can give back to people or places, you should. That was really inspiring for me.
You’ve become pretty involved with Sea Shepherd Society (SSS), an ocean-based advocacy group. Talk to me about your involvement.
Seven or so years ago, I heard of Captain Paul Watson’s work. I couldn’t believe that this guy was so off the radar to other surfers and the surfing community. So I interviewed him and got that interview put into Surfer Magazine as well as some Australian surfing magazines. I wanted to get Sea Shepherd’s message out to the surfing world. I wanted to support their efforts and maybe use some of Captain Paul’s strategies in our own ways. Once that happened, we managed to get some surf companies to get behind SSS to raise funds and awareness. Then, we collaborated on a couple of campaigns that I wanted to spearhead and asked for their people-power and experience. I jumped on one of their boats in the Galapagos Islands a few years ago. Next thing we know, a lot of surfing communities around the world are really aware of what SSS is doing and are really fired up.
Sea Shepherd gets involved in ‘direct action.’ What do you think of that strategy?
Going back to the permaculture philosophy of diversity, having diversity in any movement or organization is essential for it to thrive and succeed. The strength of any movement is in all its diverse elements. Certainly there’s a time where we need a group like SSS on the front lines between a harpoon and a whale or a man with a spear and an innocent fur seal in Canada. The next day you’ll need a group in bureaucratic circles to change legislation and work on that level as well. We all have unique skills and abilities. Using them all is the only way to move forward. If we all start doing the same thing, we’re putting all our eggs in one basket. There is no golden solution to all these societal and environmental problems.
You founded Surfers for Cetaceans. Tell us a little bit about it.
We’re a little group of friends doing what we can. When we’re approached to come lend a hand, we come up with an idea that will make the most impact for that particular area and issue. We’re a flexible crew. Every issue requires a different approach. Years ago we went out to Japan and Taiji and paddled out into the “killing cove” while the Ocean Preservation Society documented the atrocities that were occurring there. That approach wouldn’t work in other places. That’s why we all come up with different strategies, like when we did a paddle campaign in California to bring attention to the issues of that coastline. It was a strategy for that place and time. Sometimes things work, and sometimes they don’t. That’s the nature of the game.
What do you think are the biggest environmental issues of our time?
If I think on that scale I tend to get overwhelmed, so I generally keep focused on where I am and the circles that I move in. That serves me best. If I zoom out too much, it’s too overwhelming. There are opportunities to feel disempowered all around us and it’s important to not go down that path. I’m focused on ocean and coastal issues because that’s where my biggest circle of influence and my biggest circle of friends are. I balance my time between looking after my family and loved ones while zooming out a little bit to work on issues that affect the space that I inhabit and the creatures that I share it with. At the same time, you don’t want to be ignorant of the larger issues and strings that are pulling many of us around…it’s a fine line.
How is the surf industry cleaning up its act?
A good friend told me that these things are like big ships at sea. It takes a long time to turn them around, and they leave a lot in their wakes. The people that I’m involved with, the Billabongs and the Sanuks, have been really supportive of environmental campaigns for a long time. They have people just like you and me who are cogs in this big machine that could be going in a better direction. They keep trying and waiting for that ship to turn. For quite a few years now, there’s been a big push within Billabong to change their practices. And it seems so slow, it can be infuriating. But the changes are there. For example, Billabong’s t-shirts are made with organic cotton fiber, and most of the board shorts are made from recycled plastic bottles. There’s a movement to use less neoprene in wetsuits and reduce overall toxicity. We’re starting to see this in many companies. I think we can look at ourselves as an industry and see some positive changes.
If I told you, it wouldn’t be my favorite surf spot any more. Ummm . . . Malibu! That place needs more people!
I’d have to say a board with two fins. That’s definitely the most consistently used in my quiver. Traditional fish to a bladey little twin fin to a long board. I’m way more suited to a twin fin than a single fin, or three fins, or four fins or whatever.
When you’re not surfing, what are you doing?
I’m at home, planting and replanting stuff on the property. We just moved a 190-year-old home by cutting it in half and moving it elsewhere on the property. There’s always work to be done on that land.
If you could give people advice for how to “live for a better world,” what would you say?
For me, that would be giving that part of ourselves which we love the most, and giving that to other people, places and animals. Our greatest love is our greatest form of activism. So if you love to write music, write music that’s gonna benefit other people and other places and other animals. If you love to make food, then make the most beautiful food that you can possibly imagine that’s gonna enrich people’s lives and enrich environments. Whatever those things are that you love the most are the things you should be giving away.
By Eric Cardenas, LoaTree. Photos by Hilton Dawe. This article first appeared in LoaLiving Magazine, volume 2, Winter 2013.