Judgeless: The David Rastovich Pro Spotlight

It was a double circle.

David Rastovich was eleven when he wore out Bunyip Dreaming, sitting in front of the TV, contorting a maroon carpet into the gnarliest, squarest pipeline rolls, his mighty Lego man on a stick finger-surfing impossible tubes to the sights and soundtracks of Mr. Jack McCoy.

Here he was now at Teahupo‘o, on the one hand dropping out of the sky, no-dick-in-a squat clean, on a 6’10″ Chris Garrett, taking in a big lesson on perspective as folding pits that he once thought the sole domain of carpets came in at him with astonishing speed, thinking he was just learning its mannerisms, but in reality to all before him applying the best turns and weaves of the year, coming clean through the death traps.

On the other there hand, there was “Mister Bunyip”–the man who started him off, stuffed in the impact zone and willing him deeper and deeper. David Rastovich was calm enough to detach himself and marvel at how the wave visibly affected the world’s best surfers close by–whether it was going to make them money and they were hustling, whether it was going to give them pure stoke and they were smiling, whether it was there to kill them and they were shaking.

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He’s not on tour, doesn’t like contests, doesn’t tread on ants. Many surfers don’t know who he is. That’s for the moment. Come 2004, a lot will change. The release of Jack McCoy’s potentially greatest film will set thousands of kids on a path, flying in the face of mass surfing. Blue Horizon will paint balance-counterbalance, culture-counterculture in the lives of Andy Irons and David Rastovich.

Rasta, as he’s better known in Australia, will be the most intriguing surfer on the planet if not the most influential. His easy, beautiful way will be enough to pacify punks, a far more important impact in the long run than stars of surfing’s “track and field,” selling video games, or winning man-on-man events. Rastasurfing just might turn wild youth into children of the sun.

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* * *

“At first so strange to feel so friendly,

to say good morning and really mean it,

to feel these changes happening in me,

but not to notice till I feel it.”

–The Mamas and The Papas, Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon

It’s not surprising, given his philosophy, that Rasta veers as naturally from competition as he does from meat. Testosterone drips off animal combat the way aggression feeds off meat. It’s a history of man that Rasta sees little sense in.

He recalls a Friday-to-Monday deep cleansing in the hills above Byron Bay: “In daily meditations I can feel blissful positive energies bubbling up. It makes me want to dive in further and understand what’s going on and just let it happen. I have a space to sleep in, the men in one, the women in another. People are there from lots of walks of life. There’s no talking, not even eye contact allowed, no reading, no writing, no food except fruit and vegetable juice. I find it unbelievable, my energy levels surge at the end of Saturday, coming through the discomfort of ridding toxins. I sleep light and short. On Sunday I’m up at five a.m. meditating, completely euphoric. It’s the widest and clearest perspective I’ve experienced. I want to apply it to constant consciousness, every instant falling into the next without any distractions or feelings pulling me out of the moment.”

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* * *

Word spreads about great surfing. I heard aut Rasta at Teahupo‘o from several sources, not the least being Jack McCoy. From the sounds of it, he stood out on the big days surrounding the Billabong Pro Tahiti. Some months later, I invited Jack, Rasta, and friends along on a trip to somewhere fresh.

* * *

Mid evening in Santiago, Chile–cold, noisy. We’re at a gas station on the outskirts of the huge city. Jack McCoy, Rasta and girlfriend Hannah are in a 4WD. I’m in a Hi Lux with my Sydney surf buddy Dale Egan. Everything is vibed up for the night drive to a stashed-away camp I’ve got with friends–Luminojos. It’s not going too far to say Chile is loaded. Rasta notices a small begging dog outside the store, back leg withered, ringed by telltrap rabbit-trapping scar. The sight is fretful enough to ponder dognapping … but it seems to know the game and isn’t dead yet.

Midnight in Santiago–colder, silent. We’re not exactly on track, having driven in the wrong direction and back to the gas station. My fault. Thirty hours in planes does wonders for common sense. Stopping for a room is too soft. Three-hundred miles to go to the dawn patrol; I go a step farther and call “best surf of the trip” for the coming day. Jack lays a look of 30 years in the business on me. Better be right.

Yet Rasta is wide-eyed and smiling as we plan a next move. He says, “I love this stuff–finding direction in a new land. It heightens the senses.” I believe him. It’s a wonderful boost under the bag of exhaustion. Thirty seconds later, he adds, “And I think the dog has brought us back.” We find it deeply asleep in a warm nook, far the greater master of its domain than us. It’s a small-though-momentous point, a lesson to hold in thought over a perilously long next five hours. He is 23 years old and already adept at drawing positives from every corner.

It’s 5:00 a.m., offshore, thumping. In the tall pines above the surf, we’re unpacking, wired in the darkness. Moonlit foam lines are strong, and the sounds below aren’t of small waves cracking. Luminojos overlooks private points one, two, three. After the rains the sand is stacked, according to meteorologist and man of the house Max Mills. I’ve never seen the points fire, instead choosing others. Gut feeling with the tide low incoming is “first light, best chance.” As a yogi of sorts, Rasta is fresh and set to go any time of day. Jack is adrenalized, firing on reserves but needing hours not minutes to gear up. Dale is in confusion, sorting planesick/carsick bone shakes from jolts of excitement. Photog Sherman awakens to the racket and emerges from the house.

Rasta whispers something in the breaking light, “Don’t want to speak too soon, but it looks like Ulu out there.” He vanishes down a winding cliff track engulfed by the greatest moment in surfing–anticipation. I follow distant yelps down through tall timber and onto loamy meadow, across the stream of quartz and gold specks, and up the driftwood-laden soft sand. He could be forgiven for breaking one of Jack’s golden rules and has left Shermy in the dust, too; the sight is nutso.

Heaving, running, warping, wedging, folding envelopes. And thick. The water is vividly frosty, the duck dive slams us into the sand, the push through the lip pulls our necks back. Power and solitude. The wow factor is unbeatable. This is surf travel and so wonderfully not as the corporate world has made it. I can’t see what Rasta gets up to on his waves. These are the thick tossing types that hold the surfer better inside the barrel than on the face, a little like Mundaka. I manage to easily make the best high-speed tube I’ve had in a year … Rasta must be way gone on several.

The rushing tide kills the consistency, as figured. The quick and the dead at dawn. Dale paddles out as we head in. He’s seen healthier mornings, for sure, so at the thought of cold water and further sickness, he’s wearing two fullsuits, booties, hood and helmet, and two sets of disposable latex surgical gloves … think about it this last bit. Two hours later he hasn’t been sighted. He eventually turns up in shock back at the car, a shadow of his former self, shaking like an abandoned dog. I can’t even coax him into the house. It’ll take him five days to fully recover.

He tries to explain. I know what’s coming, but not the twist. On a thick first drop constricted in total body corset carrying double the weight, he can’t get to his feet let alone feel them and gets pitched head first–his every sense screaming at the force of the sudden icy rush. Far worse, as he instantly discovers, his makeshift gloves are anvils ballooned with gallons of water. He’s anchored to the bottom arse end up for two waves, doing just about as good a job as anyone ever could to drown by misadventure. Getting to shore is only half the task. Tidal surges send him into an alcove, and he has to climb cliffs and break new tracks to get home.

* * *

Luminojos is built high up, partly for view, but mostly for tidal wave. It faces the largest expanse of ocean on Earth, and the most unstable. At the poles of such a surfing experience the foil to bone-numbing water is the solar bath. A perfect thaw is as good as a perfect ride, or a cure for near drowning. Rasta is in the living room drenched in the all-day sun, his mind cracking more and more open. Hannah is drawing pagan dreamscapes alongside. It’s not hard to see another foil here. His girlfriend strikes an expansive free-sculpting space of her own.

“We’ve just come through a trip that needed a cleansing at the end, and it happened,” Rasta pauses for thought, sucking in the sun, then continues. “Contrasts and the sharing of them are so important, aren’t they? Going through the long drive and the energy-testing experience, and then coming across something so enlivening to a whole range of feelings. The night and the dawn was a ball of fun, no negativity, just a prolonged challenge with tinges of exhilaration, adrenally charged until the moment of touching the water–soothing and blissful. The peak experience was the moment from sand to water, the first few strokes, something coming up close.”

* * *

New Zealand-born in 1979, Rasta and his family lived on a self-sustaining farm near Piha in Auckland. They moved … or moreover fled to Australia in 1985. His father’s considerable police riot squad duties had been compromised by a situation, its physical effects staying with him. Living at the Isle of Capri on the Gold Coast, he chased levels set by older kids and recalls the frustration at being deemed too young to be awarded the safe-swimming badge to sew on his togs. But he mostly remembers feeling different to other kids growing up in city surrounds.

“It happened around the age of six, when we moved. It was a big change. If the first seven years are what contribute greatly to recurring patterns, then those years are right now having a bearing. It’s about spaciousness, dirt between your feet–clear contact between body and the surface of the earth, and the growing of your own energy source. Growing of food–the energy cycles. That’s what I can remember as a reference point. My future is in a little bit of the past. I want to go back to that way of living, undo worthless patterns along the way, reconstruct a calmer life wherever I am.”

He moved to Burleigh at age fifteen with his mother and two sisters. He rose as a star grom on both sides of beach life, graduating to Click and the dead at dawn. Dale paddles out as we head in. He’s seen healthier mornings, for sure, so at the thought of cold water and further sickness, he’s wearing two fullsuits, booties, hood and helmet, and two sets of disposable latex surgical gloves … think about it this last bit. Two hours later he hasn’t been sighted. He eventually turns up in shock back at the car, a shadow of his former self, shaking like an abandoned dog. I can’t even coax him into the house. It’ll take him five days to fully recover.

He tries to explain. I know what’s coming, but not the twist. On a thick first drop constricted in total body corset carrying double the weight, he can’t get to his feet let alone feel them and gets pitched head first–his every sense screaming at the force of the sudden icy rush. Far worse, as he instantly discovers, his makeshift gloves are anvils ballooned with gallons of water. He’s anchored to the bottom arse end up for two waves, doing just about as good a job as anyone ever could to drown by misadventure. Getting to shore is only half the task. Tidal surges send him into an alcove, and he has to climb cliffs and break new tracks to get home.

* * *

Luminojos is built high up, partly for view, but mostly for tidal wave. It faces the largest expanse of ocean on Earth, and the most unstable. At the poles of such a surfing experience the foil to bone-numbing water is the solar bath. A perfect thaw is as good as a perfect ride, or a cure for near drowning. Rasta is in the living room drenched in the all-day sun, his mind cracking more and more open. Hannah is drawing pagan dreamscapes alongside. It’s not hard to see another foil here. His girlfriend strikes an expansive free-sculpting space of her own.

“We’ve just come through a trip that needed a cleansing at the end, and it happened,” Rasta pauses for thought, sucking in the sun, then continues. “Contrasts and the sharing of them are so important, aren’t they? Going through the long drive and the energy-testing experience, and then coming across something so enlivening to a whole range of feelings. The night and the dawn was a ball of fun, no negativity, just a prolonged challenge with tinges of exhilaration, adrenally charged until the moment of touching the water–soothing and blissful. The peak experience was the moment from sand to water, the first few strokes, something coming up close.”

* * *

New Zealand-born in 1979, Rasta and his family lived on a self-sustaining farm near Piha in Auckland. They moved … or moreover fled to Australia in 1985. His father’s considerable police riot squad duties had been compromised by a situation, its physical effects staying with him. Living at the Isle of Capri on the Gold Coast, he chased levels set by older kids and recalls the frustration at being deemed too young to be awarded the safe-swimming badge to sew on his togs. But he mostly remembers feeling different to other kids growing up in city surrounds.

“It happened around the age of six, when we moved. It was a big change. If the first seven years are what contribute greatly to recurring patterns, then those years are right now having a bearing. It’s about spaciousness, dirt between your feet–clear contact between body and the surface of the earth, and the growing of your own energy source. Growing of food–the energy cycles. That’s what I can remember as a reference point. My future is in a little bit of the past. I want to go back to that way of living, undo worthless patterns along the way, reconstruct a calmer life wherever I am.”

He moved to Burleigh at age fifteen with his mother and two sisters. He rose as a star grom on both sides of beach life, graduating to Club, State, and National Cadet Champion, before winning the 1995 Under-16 World Grommet Title in Bali, also becoming a golden product of Queensland’s Surf Lifesaving Association, colloquially known as the clubby wankers. He trained with swimmers like Grant Hackett, now easily the fastest still-water swimmer over the mile in history. He paddled boards, swam, rescued, did the Ironman, winning five Queensland Cadet titles on the one day.

He quit the clubbies straight after, causing consternation to seemingly everyone except his father who, after teaching him visualization techniques at age fourteen and seeing the results, encouraged him to go the most enjoyable route. His grounding was to pay off in 2000, when he entered the Molokai Race for fun and won the Open Men’s division (with Leon Hay).

Positive influences came from Munga Barry who’d shralp Burleigh whenever home from the pro tour; Brendan Margieson, traveling the Billabong Junior Series with him from age fourteen, watching gobsmacked at Margo’s expression sessions; but mostly from mates at the beach two hours or more before dawn as part of a small tight tribe–building a fire and sharing stories, waiting for the sun, wondering if the first waves in early light would match those they rode on dark the night before.

He took up yoga at age sixteen. For the past seven years, his hasn’t been a fumbling growth into adulthood, but rather a sourcing of energy and power from deliberate implosions, not ego explosions, meditation and filtration rather than aggression and toxic overload, overcoming battles of everyday life from within rather than projecting them externally. By the time he met Dirk Van Straalen, shaping guru to 25 years of Burleigh surfers and beyond, he was getting there.

“I think I’d connected to the part of me that wasn’t going to change. Without the grounding, I’d have been easily steered and manipulated, not necessarily by other people but by ego and its infinitely unsatisfactory desires. From talk at The Point and seeing single-fin gems occasionally turn up with old guys, I got to know about “Dick Van.” Word was that he had a universal perspective. It fascinated me, given the smallish visions of Gold Coast surfers. If there was a chord we struck, it was that we were pretty judgeless of everything in life.”

Jack selected the central subject of Blue Horizon three years after the young and destined contest surfer had taken fish equipment to new levels unseen since Curren. He cast aside standard equipment and began riding a 4’10″ Van Straalen at Burleigh, finding by sudden increment the unexplored parallel surfing universe. Aboard the pocket thruster he devolved his tube technique from entry point to exit strategy much the way Tom Curren cast his 7’10″ aside, stole Frankie Oberholzer’s 5’6″ Fireball fish from the deck of the Indies Trader and paddled way outside Fishbowls to take small-board surfing in maxing tube surf to the wildest realm ever.

Rasta crossed a bridge built on performance and fame. On the one side lay competition and its inherent f–king over of one’s fellow man. On the other, free expression and adaptations of surfboard theory. In the middle, Billabong. It made the passage from one side of the surfing world to the other possible without leaving Burleigh Heads. Billabong Founder Gordon Merchant was benefactor, condoning the alternative mindset. Dirk Van Straalen was his design and lifestyle mentor, a rare man in surfing to have never sold his soul in pursuit of a buck. Both rose to prominence in the same late 60s transplanted design-laden Burleigh environment. Largely through word of mouth, “Rastasurfing” earned as much respect amongst the knowing Australian public as had fellow Point surfers Mick Fanning, Dean Morrison, and Joel Parkinson.

Of his Blue Horizon travels, Rasta goes hard travel yards at the drop of a swell chart, whether up the coast or bolting overseas. “Jack’s energy and ability to manifest visions, it’s unwavering, super clear,” Rasta sighs.

* * *

The Chilean quiver included a composite aluminum Van Straalen 5’4″. Rasta’s surfing is well along Curren’s style, quiver and speed lines, only with the advantage of a futurist design partner that T.C. has lacked over the past ten years. Rasta applied some of the futurism to a point twenty minutes from the house as well as any surfer could. The “turn and weaves” through the ten tubes he easily made towards the end of one particular day were like straight melds of Curren and Slater. Not that there was any real scope for co