The Surf Industry Manufacturer Association's Waterman's Ball at the Laguna Niguel, Calif. Ritz Carlton, is like a wedding -- one where you chat with Rob Machado during cocktail hour and your great aunts are all Orange County cougars. Add to the sandy-feet-on-polished-floors vibe the fact that, when SIMA's Environmentalist of the Year was announced, it wasn't a bespectacled researcher or best-selling author striding to the podium. It was Dave Rastovich.
Possibly Billabong's most high profile freesurfer, Rastovich is a frequent visitor to the TransWorld Surf "Exposure-Meter" top 20 and had major roles in last year's Thomas Campbell film "The Present" and Billabong's "Still Filthy." And while "Rasta" is a passionate advocate for surf-related environmental causes -- most notably whales and dolphins -- his selection as the award winner raised a few eyebrows by people wondering if there weren't more deserving candidates than a guy who gets paid to surf for a living.
Most notable among them was surf writer Lewis Samuels, who suggested that the award was an elaborate marketing ploy by Billabong (whose U.S. president, Paul Naude, is also the head of the SIMA Environmental Fund) to sell eco-friendly products.
In environmentalist circles, that's called "greenwashing" -- deceptive marketing campaigns that make products and brands sound less environmentally damaging than they are by using "green" buzzwords and imagery. Now that environmental awareness is on the rise -- particularly among surfers -- there are entire product lines devoted to establishing a company's environmentalist bona fides.
Dave Rastovich does not hold any degrees. He has yet to write a conclusive thesis on declining marine mammal populations. Is he an example of greenwashing? Does he really have the facts behind the rhetoric? Does he practice what 'Bong preaches? That was what we set out to determine when we visited with him over lunch on the North Shore last month. We wanted to know if you can be high-exposure and low impact at the same time, and conclude if Dave Rastovich is a genuine environmentalist or simply full of so much organic manure.
We scored him between zero and three points in seven categories, creating an impact scale from 21 (single-cell, immobile vegan) to zero (Dick Cheney). Here's how Rasta measured up:
The global business of raising, selling, and shipping livestock contributes an enormous amount of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere and uses a disproportionate amount of resources compared more sustainable practices, and beats the crap out of the land.
Rasta is a strict vegan, (no meat or dairy) mostly consuming organic veggies. He doesn't "eat anything with a mother or a face," as he puts it. He's well versed in the ideas of Bill Mollison, a Tasmanian who founded what's known as "Permaculture."
"Within the vegetable industry, there are certain things that are harmful as well, when they are produced in a monoculture format. I've been to permaculture farms and food forests that just mimic nature, based on the region, the climate, and the soil you have. The waste from one food becoming the fuel for another."
If we all ate like Rasta, the planet would be in better shape. We'd probably feel better too. Score three for Veggie boy.
Apparel buoys the surf industry, which is Rasta's livelihood. What does he wear and what products does he endorse? Rasta harbors no illusions. "At the end of the day, I am lucky enough to be granted a platform to travel and talk about these issues. And that all comes from being sponsored by the surfing industry."
Billabong has been his sponsor since he was 14 years old. He has helped develop the S4C Line, (Surfers for Cetaceans), which are boardshorts made of recycled plastic bottles and t-shirts of 100% organic cotton. "It's an attempt to balance out what we're using. And the actual products are in no way inferior to the others in their performance or feel. And Billabong has the B9 (pronounced Benign) wetsuits, which are made of recycled fishing nets and plastic chairs."
Rasta's other sponsors include Sanuk, who use recycled material in their "not shoes" and ship without any packaging, and Sticky Bumps, who offer a Soy Wax.
The best way to be a more conscious consumer is to not be a consumer -- or simply use less. But this is a huge step for the surf world. In an effort to keep maintain profits while keeping the bigger picture in mind, the surf industry may wind up leading other industries in creating more organic products. Score another few for the poster child.
People who either don't or can't recycle them consume 200 billion water bottles worldwide each year. So they end up in landfills and, increasingly, our oceans.
Rasta estimates he drank three to four bottles of water in 12 days on the North Shore. "It just takes a little bit of foresight to say, 'where I'm going next, I won't be able to get good water,' so I just kind of fill up re-used bottles, bottles that are lying around from my buddies or myself. It's a simple effort of reusing."
Not bad, but not exactly a boycott. He doesn't carry a metal bottle, but we gave him a point for knowing that P.E.T. stands for polyethylene terephthalate.
At this point, unless you are a senator from Oklahoma, it's pretty well established that the use of fossil fuels for transportation contributes mightily to climate change.
Rasta had a hybrid, but he lost that in the break up with his ex-mermaid, and lost his license for one too many speeding tickets. He doesn't have to commute -- at least not in any traditional sense. But while there is always someone to drive him around in his travels, those cars usually burn gasoline. "When I'm home, I'm a bit of a hermit. I don't really drive much. But, at the same time, I drive a stinky car."
Rasta's car is actually a diesel 4WD SUV. While diesel is more fuel-efficient than gasoline, it is not clean by any stretch. Driving less is a good example to set, but it's certainly not carbon-neutral.
Drinking tap water, riding your bike, and buying organic veggies are changes we can all make. But if we want to charge reef breaks, experience foreign cultures, or simply surf in trunks, most of us have to fly. While it may be public transportation, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, air travel accounts for 3.5 percent of all human impact on global warming.
In 2009, Rasta flew from Australia to Hawaii, to California and back to Australia. He did a round trip to Bali. Then it was off to India, Spain, Portugal, and California, to the US East Coast, and back to California where he accepted that Environmentalist of the Year Award, and back to Australia. Then it was a final trip to Hawaii to finish out the year -- kind of far to paddle.
"I don't just jump on a trip and go because I'm bored. If it's something I feel really strongly to do, then I'll go. The trip to Europe was all a campaign with the whaling issue. In America, I was talking about issue of Surfers for Cetaceans."
He notes that airplanes are the technologically dated "old Bunson burners," and faces up to the contradiction that his biggest contribution to greenhouse gasses comes from trying to spread an environmental message. Still, he gets a point for making his travel about more than just catching waves
Foam and fiberglass are both derived from petroleum products. Most performance shortboards are not durable and eventually wind up in landfills.
Rasta has an entire quiver of boards made of foam and glass. He also has boards with stronger foam blown from a byproduct of sugar, instead of the petroleum-derived toluene. He has a 6'10 wooden board by Grain and is a big proponent of the alaia board (both durable and made of natural material.)
"I've had the same quiver on the North Shore for three or four seasons. There's just a little bit more integrity in the design and a little more thought going into them," he claims, "We've got the solutions. We've got the technology, it's just our mindset [that needs] changing, and being more flexible."
Rasta gets 10 to 15 boards a year. That's a lot of plastic. But he gets credit for not simply disposing of his Hawaiian quiver each winter, which isn't uncommon among his pro peers. And he gets a point for ripping on a sugar foam board, which forces the rest of us to pay those materials some attention.
Powering our homes with fossil fuels means releasing carbon dioxide, which composes 76 percent of all greenhouse gasses.
Rasta recently sold his house and built a cabin of salvaged materials. The home is powered by solar. He cooks on a gas stove and occasionally burns wood. Remarkably, he has found a clean way to reuse his own waste.
By composting his own poo, Rasta doesn't have to flush gallons of fresh water every time he "makes his political speech," as he calls it. And while we all can't live in the slice of utopia that is Byron Bay -- a nearly perfect subtropical climate without much need for heat or air conditioning, his home life is so low-impact that we're giving him full points.
THE SCORE: 14 points.
We're going to go out on a limb and suggest that many of his fellow pros would score worse. Granted, there are plenty of scientists and activists in the trenches doing far more significant work for the environment than Rasta. But how many of them have a gorgeous, no-handed backside air? For that matter, how many of the other stars that the surf industry uses to peddle gear know a solar panel from a poster signing?
While some of us might love to see the roll-up-their-sleeves enviro-heroes used in surf industry ad campaigns, those people aren't going to get the attention of the surfing populace like a guy with a buttery cutback on a glorified piece of plywood. SIMA can give their award to an activist or a scientist next year. Rasta's done enough to earn a little recognition.
He might travel dirty, but ideally he's getting more than just photos. If his message ultimately prevents more pollution than it causes, it's worth the trade off. More importantly, he makes the effort in other parts of his life, acknowledges where he falls short, and leads by example instead of preaching. And for that, we declare that Dave Rastovich is not full of compost.