Paddling in protest

Paddling To Protect (2:36)

Pro surfer Dave Rastovich talks about the mission of and inspiration behind his recently completed solo paddle mission from Taranaki to Piha, west of Auckland, New Zealand, and how getting the community involved is paramount to success. (2:36)

Dave "Rasta" Rastovich is professional surfing's predominant activist. The New Zealand-born, Australia-raised surfer may be best known for his contributions to such classic films as "The Present" and "Sipping Jetstreams," yet his passion reaches far beyond his board.

Rasta's been diligently working to preserve marine wildlife through a number of highly publicized sea-based voyages and documentary films. His latest journey was a 217-mile solo paddle up the western coast of New Zealand, from Taranaki to Piha, to raise awareness for the nearly extinct Maui's dolphin and the hazards that seabed mining presents to the region (see the video above, or check out the gallery, for details). We caught up with Rasta after the completion of his daunting mission to find out what challenges he faced and what we can do to support this cause.

XGames.com: How are you feeling after the paddle?
Dave Rastovich:
I'm feeling good. It's been really nice to just have some time to rest and heal up a little bit. Right now we are just tying up some loose ends and trying to make sure that we are sharing everything we learned on our journey with other people.

What initially got you into environmental activism?
I had a few mentors when I was growing up at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast [of Australia], like Dennis Callahan, who was good friends with Rabbit Bartholomew and that whole crew, and Dick Van Straalen, who is a shaping legend and was like my second father.

Dennis was really active in regards to environmental and humanitarian issues on the Gold Coast; he would just rope me into things when I was a kid, like suicide-prevention efforts and SAND events, which stands for Surfers Against Nature's Destruction. It opened my eyes and showed me that life is a lot more fulfilling when the elements of helping others are brought into daily life.

Dick was just the type of guy who was a little more metaphysical and out there, but he had a huge influence on me in regards to just being compassionate to others and not being judgmental.

Did your surfing career impact your action?
Yes. From a surfing perspective, I started traveling and I actually got sick in a few places; I got really sick surfing South Mission Beach in San Diego after a big rain. I got really sick surfing a river mouth in Japan, and in Bali. Those experiences really opened my eyes, especially coming from Australia, where the beaches are really clean.

It really blew me out that there were places in the world where you couldn't surf after it had been raining and that animals were dying because of the water quality. I just figured if we are going to be traveling to these places and we have cameras, photographers and writers, then we might as well get the word out about these issues.

How did you get introduced to the sea-mining issue in New Zealand?
My girlfriend, Lauren, and I went there in February and we attended a surfing event in Ragland that promotes the protection of the Maui's dolphin, which is critically endangered and only lives in that part of the world. They invited us to come check out the event and to ask us if we could lend a hand in some way. While we were there we learned about seabed mining and that they were trying to put through a proposal that would allow for [it] on the entire west coast of the North Island, in the same waters that the Maui's live in.

We wanted to get involved immediately with the groups there that are fighting to stop this. We thought we could make some noise and put pressure on the government to stop these proposals from going through and to protect the Maui's dolphin. We also wanted to help educate the people of New Zealand about the dangers involved with seabed mining.

Would the seabed mining affect the whole ecosystem in that area?
Yes, absolutely. Even the company who has the first proposal in claims in their own reports that wherever they mine, dead zones will be created and no living things will survive. For their business to be profitable, they have to do large-scale mining; for example, one ton of the iron ore that they are trying to extract is worth $100, so imagine how much you need to make millions.

Is the New Zealand government receptive to the people, and if so, how can people get involved?

In New Zealand there was a land-mining operation that got stopped because 20,000 people marched in the streets. At this point the people of New Zealand have the opportunity to respond to the applications before they are processed. What's difficult is that these mining companies can submit them whenever they want, and they will try to do it under the radar because once it's submitted the people have 20 days to oppose it. That was really the whole point of the trip, so everyone knows they have that 20-day window.

Right now we are encouraging people to join the [Kiwis Against Seabed Mining] website, kasm.org.nz; there's a submission link that you can sign up for and KASM will notify everyone once those applications are submitted so they can respond. That's the great thing about this time period: We have the opportunity to say no to these mining operations.