Dave Rastovich - The Professional Freesurfer

1 Feb 2008 0 Share

By Tim Baker

The following chapter on Rasta is from Tim Baker's critically acclaimed book “High Surf”. It is published by Harper Collins, 2007, and available from all good book stores. Or at www.bytimbaker.com

It is late, at a throbbing surf industry party in New York City - surf label Billabong having just opened their opulent new flagship store in Times Square.

This might once have raised eyebrows - surf city coming to the Big Apple - but the surf industry’s tireless march to world domination knows no borders.An air of eager debauchery prevails, fuelled by free drinks and beautiful young people looking for advantageous pairings, or just career advancing shmooze opportunities.

It’s all water off a duck’s back for Dave Rastovich - Billabong’s freewheeling gypsy team rider. Dave, who’s happily married and barely drinks, has other things on his mind. He’s decided he is going to sit on the traffic island in the middle of Time’s Square and meditate to wile away a couple of hours, with a video camera running to record the event. Condensed into a few seconds in time lapse, this unlikely spectacle will form a scene in his new surf/music movie in progress, “Life Like Liquid”. A young surf magazine writer, torn away from an imminent romantic conquest, is recruited to turn the camera on and watch over it, while Dave drifts off to other levels of consciousness.

All goes smoothly - the traffic circling and whizzing by, the neon signs blinking on and off and people bustling by as Dave sits through it all, cross-legged, hands folded in his lap, like a slim Caucasian buddha - until a cop stops to ask what’s going on. Dave doesn’t stir and the young surf writer does his best to explain their lofty

David Rastovich

David Rastovich

artistic intent. Satisfied the pair of young surfers pose no threat to homeland security, the cop moves on.

Dave Rastovich may just have the best job in the world. Simply, he is paid, very handsomely, to surf. Not in contests. Not judged and rated for his performance. Not forced to follow some dizzying contest schedule, and perform in a coloured singlet for a faceless panel of judges, his success or failure dictated by fickle competitive fortunes. Just ... to surf.

It’s hard to imagine one of the world’s great athletes in almost any other field - an elite tennis player or golfer or swimmer - turning their backs on organised competition and still being well-supported to practice their art. Would anyone sponsor Tiger Woods to simply go walkabout and play golf on his own as a form of creative self-expression? Would any of us pay attention if Leyton Hewitt quit competitive tennis to tour some of the world’s finest tennis courts and whack a ball around with some of his buddies as performance art? Yet that’s basically what Dave has done.

Double grab forehand launch.

Double grab forehand launch.

After a stellar junior career, in surfing and surf life saving, including a world junior title, Dave made a decision in his late teens that competition was not for him. He’d won numerous state and national junior life saving titles in ironman and paddling events, a swag of junior boardriding titles. And in his first few outings as a wildcard in the top level World Championship Tour he’d shown enough form to virtually guarantee a long and lucrative competitive career. He very nearly defeated world champion Kelly Slater in his first appearance as a teenage wildcard, at his homebreak of Burleigh Heads. He managed a credible fifth at the Billabong Pro in Mundaka, Spain, against the world’s top rated pro surfers. He sparred successfully with the highly touted “Coolangatta Kids,” Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Dean Morrison, on the Australian pro junior series. The pro surfing world was his oyster.

Yet Dave almost certainly took a sizeable drop in his potential earnings by opting for the far less certain path of the professional free surfer. To their credit, his sponsors Billabong stuck by him and have happily sent him on a tour largely of his own choosing, to the world’s great surf spots for film and photo shoots, and continued to support him as he forges out his own unique career path. Meditation, yoga, experimental surfboards, music and spiritual growth, rather than winning contest heats, have been the focus of Dave’s energies. Surfing seems more a tool to foster self-knowledge, as well as simple fun, rather than grim athleticism and competitive sport.

“Surfing forces me into being present. It’s really simple but it’s really complex,” says Dave. “I could be riding a wave and flying along a wave quite successfully and having a lot of fun and as soon as my mind jumps in and starts dictating something that might happen down the line, I’m just about to do a top turn or something and my focus pulls away from the present situation and I start to think about what I’m going to do at the very end of the wave, hit a close out section or something, most of the time for me, nine times out of 10, I eat shit, fall off.”

Dave’s always up for freshening up his approach with a variety of boards.

Dave’s always up for freshening up his approach with a variety of boards.

This, Dave reckons, is the great lesson surfing has to offer - the need to be fully present in the moment, attuned to constantly shifting circumstances. “When I’m present for anything there’s always something profound and joyful and expansive going on in that moment. Always. It’s just the nature of life. It’s the feeling of actually being alive ... That’s probably the most significant thing surfing does for me in my life.”
As life philosophies go, it certainly seems to be working for Dave. There’s not much he turns his hand to that he isn’t good at. When Dave quit competitive surfing, he turned his attention to paddleboard racing and won the pairs division of the gruelling Molokai Challenge, in Hawaii, the world’s longest paddleboard race over 57 kilometres of open ocean, at his first attempt. Paddleboarding appealed, he said, because it was clean and simple - first across the line - rather than the subjective nature of surf contests.

He’s recently devoted his energies to music and film-making. With no musical training he’s picked up the hung, a kind of steel drum, and numerous other percussion instruments, and gathered a loose collective of fellow surfing musicians - including tube maestro Jim Banks, drummer and Shark Island charger Terepai Richmond, modern bluesman Ash Grunwald, funk/soul brothers Shannon and OJ from Affro-dizzy-act, and reggae/dub crooner Tony Hughes from King Tide.

This eclectic bunch, known as the Band of Frequencies, spent two weeks in a beachfront house in 2005, filming and recording a surf/music DVD and double CD album. Completely improvised, unrehearsed and spontaneous, they ended up with 50 hours of live music recordings and a tonne of footage. Then, without having ever rehearsed or played a live gig, they opened the world-renowned Woodford Folk Festival, toured California, were invited to tour Japan and Brazil, and embarked on their first Australian east coast tour. Their movie, Life Like Liquid, came out in late 2006, along with a double CD soundtrack, to wide acclaim. In a modern surfing world obsessed by surf star celebrity, logo awareness and heated competition, Life Like Liquid tunes surfers back into the essence of the wave-riding experience, drawing parallels between the transcendental peak moments in both surfing and music making. Dave shot much of the footage, including innovative inside-the-tube sequences with a lipstick camera strapped to the side of his head, and taught himself to edit the footage on his Apple Powerbook.

"In surfing, you need wave knowledge and wave sense and all the best surfers in the world have that ability to see things but sense them with all senses at that time. All facilities are at call, and that is just another way of saying they are totally present,” says Dave. “For me that’s translated into a lot of things in my life ... Like, if I have to do some public speaking, I know fuck all about public speaking but I feel like if I’m in that situation I can pull it off, just by being there for it, not sweat it, just be there. And the same thing with this music experience. I have no intellectual musical understanding whatsoever. I have none. I have no idea what’s going on, but that hasn’t stopped me from being able to jam with people and making some really enjoyable music and I accredit that to actually just being present, and just being there and feeling what’s going on and letting stuff happen ... It’s really amazing for me to see that, there’s almost this formula in life. Whatever it is, talking to a friend, talking to 1000 strangers, or shaping a board, playing music, writing, making a movie, all this stuff I’ve just fallen into doing, I have no actual intellectual understanding of them. It just feels like just because I’m there paying full attention to them they’ve worked out in a way that is enjoyable.”

Late and commited pull in at Backdoor.

Late and commited pull in at Backdoor.

At 26, how has Dave learned such lessons at such an early age? “It happened when I was young just with my dad teaching me about meditating, being present just by sitting down and chilling, feeling what it’s like just to have a body and be here. I don’t know, it almost feels like, by learning that or by feeling that more importantly, feeling how it feels to be present and really full of attention to this moment and doing that young seems to have given it power in some way, where it feels like I can translate that into everything I’m doing. I was in the life saving movement and went very very well in that, and then split and joined the surfing thing and started doing well in that, and now I’m going into other areas of life and going really well. I’ve got a wife and I’ve never had a relationship fight in my whole life. Hannah and I have never raised our voices once and we’ve been together six years. Not once, not even, but you didn’t do the dishes again! And it just feels like there’s this formula and I don’t know how or why I’ve cottoned on to it. It’s just kind of been there since I can remember. Just be here. Just do your shit. So I trip out on that, just go, wow, that’s pretty cool.”

Stylish rail grab slalom roundhouse again at Backdoor.

Stylish rail grab slalom roundhouse again at Backdoor.

A recent snowboarding trip to New Zealand gave Dave the opportunity to return to surfing in the state yogis refer to as “the beginner’s mind,” when an entire experience becomes brand new again. Because of the differing biomechanics of snowboarding and surfing, many surfers experience difficulty re-adjusting to surfing.

“I’d only been snowboarding once before and when I did I came back to surfing and I couldn’t surf, because it threw me out. I could barely bottom turn, just an absolute shocker. I could not surf, so I was really keen this time to see if it was still like that because I really enjoyed that feeling. I went out for a surf, and I couldn’t surf again ... I was cracking up, going, wow, this is all time, feeling like I’m a 10-year-old again. I’ll give it one more go. And I managed to stuff my head in a tube and get like a three second tube, and it was just like total bliss in the weirdest way. It felt like having sex or something. It was really strange ... When it went over me and was wrapping me up all around it was like being in the middle of sex or being inside your mother’s belly or something. I felt totally embraced and totally surrounded, like held, and it tripped me out. I instantly went, okay, that’s why I surf again. Because until that point in this surf I was going, what am I doing? Why do I surf? What’s the point to all this? And I was actually puzzling myself, going, this is really interesting. Is this all there is to surfing, just doing tricks and riding waves and stuff? And then that happened and I just went, aaahh. It had been a good two or three weeks since I’d been tubed - that’s a long time for me - and I was just tripping out, going, this is something very different from everything else that we experience in life. This is something totally different. I was in the mountains going through valleys of snow, really beautiful, no one around, back country stuff, and that was great, but it was nowhere near the level of intensity of a three foot, tiny little tube sitting around me like that. I’ve got no idea what’s going on. I’ve got no theories other than it’s indescribable ... There’s something going on when the mind isn’t present in that wave, and the mind isn’t interfering, that you get that incomprehensible feeling, and that is the magic ... and that was never more present to me than the other day. Three seconds - one, two , three, bang - and you’re totally changed. It’s so potent.”

Dave continues to marvel at surfing’s restorative powers - that wave riding can be a strenuous physical activity that actually generates rather then depletes energy.

Full carve 360.

Full carve 360.

“Hannah’s always tripped out on me when we travel. We’ve done a few trips together, one in particular to South America, and we did this 36 hour journey on a plane, a 12 hour drive, six of which were being lost at night, so we drove from sunset to sunrise, just totally lost. We got there at sunrise, absolutely physically wrecked and the waves were pumping and I went straight out for a surf. And she just went, ‘You are fucked up. You are a tripper. You’re a weirdo. I’m going to bed. See you in a day.’ And she just went straight to bed, and she’s a fit healthy person. And there was no second thought in my mind. I’m going surfing. And you go surfing, and I got a couple of little tubes, had some waves, had some fun - totally revived, totally sparked, full of energy. It’s totally unique in that way. If you were a footy player and you’d done that travel you wouldn’t run on to a field and throw a ball around - not taking anything away from football. It’s a totally different experience. But there’s just something else going on there where you can do all that physical activity and expend all that energy but you get something else from the ether. It’s a totally different kind of energy. It’s not that muscular physical energy, it’s like an electrical kind of energy. Like, the end of a day of big surf, you’re body is fucked, you’re so tired, your body can’t handle any more activity, but there’s like this electricity in you, after a day of great surfing with your buddies. You’re just sparking, sharing your experiences, like, ahhhh, a totally different kind of energy.”

Dave enjoys musing on the great cosmic forces at work in the formation of ocean waves - the parallels between the swirling vortexes of molten magma on the sun that produce solar wind, which then travel across the galaxy and influence our atmosphere, creating similar swirling storm systems, which then produce ocean swells, which ultimately create the same kind of spinning vortex energy in the shape of tubing waves. It’s a wild line of thought that could easily do your head in if you let it, but Dave seems to thrive on this kind of stuff.

“I was sitting out the back one day thinking about what was actually going on in the situation where there were these small little waves coming in ... The immensity of the moment really struck me, even though it was only a one foot day of waves. It was like, wow, this is phenomenal ... All the forces that have gone into just being fortunate enough to ride a wave are so huge. It starts off as solar wind or some kind of activity in the sun, and then from out of that comes all these rays of radiation and magnetic rays and whatever kinds of movements of energy, and they might bounce off something else and they go past the moon and the moon pulls them a little bit this way, and then they hit the outer atmosphere of our planet and create some kind of torsion with what’s emanating from our planet and move through the layers of our atmosphere and then that torsion then turns into wind and that wind is spiralling around the same way the spirals in the centre of the sun are moving, the magma or whatever ... And then it hits the water and the water starts spinning and moving in that way and there we are sitting at the end of that visible journey. For me, that was like, wow, what I’m seeing now is the last visible action of this vast journey before it turns into some energy wave, whatever it does, like a wave of oxygen that comes out of a breaking wave.

Dave enjoys musing on the great cosmic forces at work in the formation of ocean waves - the parallels between the swirling vortexes of molten magma on the sun that produce solar wind, which then travel across the galaxy and influence our atmosphere, creating similar swirling storm systems, which then produce ocean swells, which ultimately create the same kind of spinning vortex energy in the shape of tubing waves. It’s a wild line of thought that could easily do your head in if you let it, but Dave seems to thrive on this kind of stuff.

“I was sitting out the back one day thinking about what was actually going on in the situation where there were these small little waves coming in ... The immensity of the moment really struck me, even though it was only a one foot day of waves. It was like, wow, this is phenomenal ... All the forces that have gone into just being fortunate enough to ride a wave are so huge. It starts off as solar wind or some kind of activity in the sun, and then from out of that comes all these rays of radiation and magnetic rays and whatever kinds of movements of energy, and they might bounce off something else and they go past the moon and the moon pulls them a little bit this way, and then they hit the outer atmosphere of our planet and create some kind of torsion with what’s emanating from our planet and move through the layers of our atmosphere and then that torsion then turns into wind and that wind is spiralling around the same way the spirals in the centre of the sun are moving, the magma or whatever ... And then it hits the water and the water starts spinning and moving in that way and there we are sitting at the end of that visible journey. For me, that was like, wow, what I’m seeing now is the last visible action of this vast journey before it turns into some energy wave, whatever it does, like a wave of oxygen that comes out of a breaking wave.

I really don’t know the inner science of it, but it seems that motion is the last physical thing we can see, and here we are sitting there riding it, sitting in amongst it, and it’s also the last physical look at how the entire universe works. That spiral motion, that little vortex thing that goes on and is gone in a couple of seconds, and just feeling that stoke, that energy, come into my body in some way ... And then walking up the beach, I feel like the wave is still with me as I walk up the beach, and then sit down in the house and tell Hannah or tell my buddies about the surf, the way we all do. We all like to tell our stories of, oh, I caught this epic wave, I did this or whatever, but essentially it likes the magic of the wave and its energy is transferring and passing on and maybe that’s the next stage of that movement of waves, going on for ever and ever, and then it moves into us. It can’t stop there, nothing stops or starts, so maybe that’s something that’s going on - that’s how it feels to me a lot of the time.”

Cynics might sneer that Dave is simply an indulged and highly paid pro surfer with plenty of time on his hands to entertain such esoteric lines of thought, spared as he is from the grind of daily work. It’s nothing he hasn’t heard before. Indeed, the pleasantness of his existence is a running gag with family and friends. “I definitely hear those kind of statements,” says Dave. “I always go, hey, well, we’re all given the same dirt, water, light, and oxygen. I didn’t come here with a surfboard in my hand. We all have the same stuff to work with. Everyone owns their own ability to do stuff. I don’t really listen to people when they call me on stuff - oh, you’ve got it so easy. Everyone’s got their abilities. I just laugh at my situation. I think it’s hilarious, it’s just hilarious. I just find it funny. It’s classic, that it’s turned out this way and I can do the things I can do at this point, and I’m just loving it ... I definitely marvel at the situation.”

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