Watching Rasta surfing the northern NSW points is watching a tightly tuned artform. From the lines that he draws to his equipment, everything is totally refined to squeeze every ounce of joy out of this remarkable stretch of coastline.
Rasta’s Guide To The Galaxy
Collecting the sap of a surfing visionary.
David Rastovich, the Burleigh-raised eternal soul-man has spent his career standing up for what he believes in, and surfing the way he feels. From Taiji Cove to twin-fins, issues of environmental sustainability to intergalactic tube travel, surfers have followed him every step of the way. Today, nestled amongst the raw wilderness of the Byron Bay hinterland, he’s performing arguably his most valuable task yet: Connecting us to our surfing ancestors. He’s unearthing the wisdom of the likes of George Greenough and Bob McTavish, and sharing it with the generations beneath him. We had Ellis Ericson, a Byron native whose experimental design and lifestyle journey has shades of Rasta and Greenough throughout, take the trip to Rasta’s multiple-occupancy (communal) residency to collect the sap of Rasta’s learnings. Rasta speaks his truth, and if George Greenough gave us the Innermost Limits of Pure Fun back in ‘68, Rasta gives us the outermost limits of human existence in 2016. Come bathe in the mind-pool of one of surfing’s true visionaries.
It’s astonishing to think of the things that this man’s achieved in his relatively short time on the planet. He brought a much lacking consciousness to surfing, and pioneered a myriad of other movements. From Burleigh protégé to pro junior sparring partner of Joel Parkinson, to his current place as the godfather of freesurfing, there’s plenty of surfers who’ve got David Rastovich to thank.
Ellis: How can we make surfing a better place?
Rasta: I surfed a spot this morning, three of us out, really courteous and mellow. It was obvious who was in the right spot, so it wasn’t necessary to worry about who’s turn it was. If you were in the perfect position, it was your wave. This method comes undone in a dense crowd because you think, ‘I might never see this person again, so who gives a fuck whether I’m good to them, they’ll never pay it back to me.’ But this morning each surfer was a local, and it worked. Then, this other guy paddles over, straight to the inside. I called him out, and he was completely oblivious to bringing a whole different approach to our set up. But it was neat, we said, ‘Dude, we’re surfing this spot so we don’t have to deal with the weird attitudes at crowded places. Just wait your turn and you’ll probably get given a wave, or you might have to give one.’ And he was sweet. It was a glimpse of how it could function. Yesterday I surfed Broken Head with a hundred people out - ridiculously crowded - and I got burned on a couple, but it was fine. No weird aggression. People were getting tested, but for a lineup that fucking crowded, it was relatively peaceful and pretty cool. E: Is that partly due to people riding different boards and not comparing themselves to each other?
R: It’s groovy to walk into a gallery and see heaps of different pieces of art on the wall. But if you walk into a gallery and there’s one fucking painting on the wall, you’re gonna walk out. For a lot of people, the experience of surfing isn’t competitive, it’s about having a good experience and not being super judgmental. It’s nice to go surf when what you’re doing is so different to other people, because you don’t judge yourself based on others. In a lineup like Snapper, there’s very much one board type and one approach, and there’s a different feeling in the water. It’s not necessarily good or bad, it’s just different. It’s one that I’m not really into.
E: With more people trying different equipment, beginner surfers are riding boards more suited to them and having a better experience in the lineup.
R: Exactly. And isn’t that just the case around here. When you’re surfing one of the points and it’s one foot, and you see someone on a generic Channel Islands thing from Thailand, just fucking humping this little board to get some speed, they really don’t look like they’re having much fun.
E: There’s so much energy going in and nothing back.
R: Yeah. Whereas you see someone who appreciates that the waves are incredibly little, but incredibly long, and grabs a longboard or a flat little fish, and they’re stoked. Because they have open minds and are willing to ride something else. It’s not about being flash and technical, it’s about having a smile on your head. Here on the North Coast, with so many women in the water, it makes men less likely to be idiots. We’re just more chilled, more distracted, ‘cos there’s two of your great loves as a male surfer: Healthy beautiful women, and waves, all in the one happy place. Lineups are healthier when women are in the water.
Our interviewer and interviewee take a stroll on the rainbow bridge. Not many are granted an audience into Rasta’s inner-psyche, and we feel highly fortunate to be able to extract the sap of his wisdom.
E: How has Lauren (Rasta’s girlfriend)’s experience surfing here been?
R: Amazing. She’s been here six years, she’s surfed all kinds of places all over the world, and she loves the points here because you see women like your mum (Ellis’) and Brendan Margieson’s sister out in the water ripping. Then you’ve got the Jenny Boggis’, all the generations down to tiny little grommets. Out at the points in the last few days there was half-a-dozen girls out there in their mid-teens, and they were ripping, having the raddest time and having a pick at a couple of sets, whereas it used to be a total sword fight. I heard a study yesterday that countries that have bad male-female relationships are more likely end up in civil wars, and wars with other countries. In this country in 2015, two women a week were killed by their partners! A week! It’s fucked up, one of the highest domestic abuse levels in the world. It’s this seething underbelly issue in Australia. Any situation where you have men and women, boys and girls surfing alongside each other for leisure is a good deal. For everyone. It’s really cool that men and women are surfing together, and the Byron Shire is fully a hub for that.
E: Tell me about your board design influences.
R: That’s another thing that’s healthy and awesome about this area: You have old cats, 60 and 70 plus, who are complete surf fiends. George (Greenough), Rusty (Miller), Bob (McTavish) all those sort of guys. The neat thing about them is that they’re all design geeks who’ve tried out so many different surfing flavours, and they’re open to sharing them with dorks like us! They can save you from a shit idea that they’ve already unsuccessfully tried 40 years ago, and turn you onto things that work. It’s like that with George especially. I got an unbelievable asymmetrical board off Bob McTavish too last year that was really great on the points. Human history has always been about elders teaching the next generation how to do shit. How to start a fire, how to cook food, how to hunt, how to make a home, how to look after each other. It’s only been the last hundred or so years that those links have been broken.
E: What else can we learn from the elders?
R: George is probably the guy I spend the most time out of the elders, and he has a million pearls of wisdom. Even simple things like having a kick back everyday. He’s like (American accent), ‘Relaxation is an art!’ And look at him, he’s 74, he surfs everyday, he goes out fishing in his boat when there’s no surf, he’s designing boards in the summer months, and he’s just a full on livewire when it comes to design and ideas. He gardens the shit out of his property, he’s got food growing everywhere.
E: He’s nimble as a cat round the factory, too.
R: Yeah, it’s amazing. He’s wielding his whipper snipper around the side of the hill. No shoes, just loose and wild. It’s like, ‘Alright, I think I’ll listen to you.’ He’s living an amazing life still. It’s not like he lived for a little while and then burned out because he partied too hard. He’s actually still doing it, so I really listen to him. He advises a siesta everyday after lunch, and don’t wear shoes, stay grounded, keep your feet in the soil. Simple shit. Don’t take pharmaceuticals or all the shit that’s just surfaced and we don’t know shit about. It’s sick! They have a lot to share.
One of Rasta’s much underrated assets is his sense of humour. Dude’s not all inner chakra and herbal tea. And, he likes getting nude; a man after our own hearts.
E: They’re the grandfathers of surfing.
R: But they’re all edgy cats too. It’s pure creativity with those guys. We feel creative if we get fucken sauced up on some liquor, and trip out for a few days on a bender, like we’re pushing the edge or whatever. But really, it doesn’t compare to the Georges and Bobs of the world, who for decades have not only been creative with things they make, like surfboards, but with their ideas of living, too. Like going, ‘No, fuck it. I’m not gonna wear shoes, ever. Everr!’ I went to the movies with George the other day in town and we were in there, no shoes. Just standing on the carpet. His feet are feral but he’s just like, ‘I just wanna stay grounded.’
E: Which movie did you see?
R: The Moby Dick one.
E: I thought you were gonna say the new Point Break.
R: (Laughter) He’d be up for it! But another thing about the crew around here – there’s real creativity, people really giving something a shot. I think it’s particularly this region that breeds extremist stuff. People have an idea, and give it a real nudge. Some people might prefer to cruise in the middle, but I really like it when I feel the highs and lows, or the edges of things.
E: I know there’s some meridian lines that line up around these parts, so you think people get pulled in?
R: For sure. If you wanna get cosmic, it’s totally there. Humans lived here for 40,000 years before European settlement, and they lived harmoniously. They weren’t torching the joint, or polluting the rivers, or stripping the forests. They were living here healthily. This was a real meeting area; a place to spend time with people and have great times. They gave birth in the lakes here behind the beaches, had great meetings in Byron and moved on. It’s a real dynamic spot. Somewhere near the cape there is a big meeting place, and I think that’s interesting. Even though we’re Europeans, with a fraction of the sensitivity to the natural world that aboriginal culture has, we’ve still mimicked that pattern here in a way, unconsciously. And you see that in surfing here. You’ve got all these pointbreaks, you’ve got these drawn out styles, people are high-lining, going fast down the line, maybe not a super up-down style of surfing, but elongated, because we have these longer waves.
Considering he lives in the vicinity of some of the best righthand points in the world it’s strangely hard to find surf shots of Rasta. Rasta’s mysto tendencies run deep, and he’s not one to call up a photog before heading out for a surf, because he doesn’t own a phone. This is actually France from the latest Real Axe trip. Rasta was going so fast on this sandbank that it looked like his twin fin was going to splinter!
E: What does the future hold for Byron?
R: I’d love to have surfing communes around here. More people are coming to this area, from Sydney or Brisbane, who are stressed out, worked to death, time poor, and on a bad trip in general. Those cities are becoming so fucking expensive and hard to live in, and the more we have that the more we realise how valuable it is to sit among trees and breathe clean air, and to have the time to do it. Look at how many people are moving here from Sydney and other stress hubs. Oscar Wright’s here because of that. We were talking to him this morning and he was like, ’It’s so nice being here. It’s not like I was stressed in Sydney. There’s just a lot of stressed people around.’
E: Is there anything you’d like to say to the people moving up here?
R: Don’t forget why you moved here. That’s something I’ve heard the older cats say. None of us move to this area to live in another four-walled, roofed structure. You come here so you can walk down the beach and see dolphins, and the whales migrating, and sharks and rays, and birds, and walk through the forests. We all love the area for those things. So it’s important for us to remember that. And likewise in the lineups, you come to surf these waves because they’re beautiful, and because there’s a culture that’s open-minded, and because you want to ride without being on the receiving end of anything aggressive.
E: That’s exactly what I was thinking the general mindset was. It’s good to let people know that there’s a lot going on.
R: Why the fuck would you come to Byron to go shopping? You can go to any place on the planet and experience a mall. You just don’t come here for that, so why support it? Don’t go to fucken supermarkets, go to the farmers market, or go to the honesty boxes on all the backroads, or even better, grow your own food. Why would you go stay in some nice hotel when you can just fucken camp on someone’s property and be with people? Don’t sit in a room and watch cable TV, then go to the beach and come back to your little box. But those things are creeping in. More fancy places to stay, where you just go into your little cubicle hotel thing and get the shuttle bus to a spa. Fuck all that. It’s the wild spaces. The creeks and the hills.