Dave Rastovich Interview

Q & A with the aquatic ambassador on his new documentary premiering this Thursday

Dave Rastovich has brought the plight of cetaceans into focus in the surfing world in recent years. Photo: Grambeau

Minds in the Water is a feature-length documentary following the quest of Dave Rastovich and his friends to protect dolphins, whales, and the oceans they all share. Through Rasta's journey—an adventure spanning the globe from Australia to the Galapagos, Tonga, California, Alaska and Japan—we see one surfer's quest to activate his community to help protect the ocean and its inhabitants. Following five years in production, the film will have its North American premiere this Thursday at Grauman's Egyptian Theater. The documentary—which features Dave Rastovich and a cast of several thousand dolphins and other surfers—was chosen as the opening film for the 2011 Activist Film Festival. Rastovich, along with fellow surfers, filmmakers, and celebrities Hayden Panettiere and Isabel Lucas, will be at the premiere and will lead an audience discussion immediately afterward. SURFER caught up with Rastovich at his home in Australia en route to LA for the premiere and the upcoming Desert Whale TransparentSea voyage along the Southern California coast. — Steve Barilotti

Minds in the Water has been five years in the making. What changes or evolutions have you seen over that time?

The clearest example is in talking to surfers, how many of them now know about the coastal dolphin and whale kills in places like Japan and the Faeroe Islands. And also how many people, surfers and non-surfers alike, know about the cetacean capture issue through the film The Cove that we were part of. Through our documentary journey we specifically wanted to inform the global surfing community of those issues. When we started in 2007 almost none of the surfers I spoke to in my travels had any idea about these issues or groups that were trying to stop these direct kills, like Sea Shepherd. To see that change radically over of the film production is really motivating…to feel like we've played a part in a collective education of our global surfing community.

What do you hope this film will do?

This film was made fly-on-the-wall style with a crew of writers and filmmakers so it was documented as it happened, which may or may not have been what we imagined it would be at the beginning. I hope the film achieves the reality of this kind of work and how it leads to having such amazing friendships and a great sense of community in this global surfing industry. Also, and this is important, how those assets can be purposefully driven toward whatever it is that we feel passionate about. At the end of the day, I hope that when someone watches this film they feel empowered to do something they care about…even if it's not about the dolphin/whale issue or coastal issue. Things that seemed totally hopeless or out of reach can become attainable with the right mindset and people behind you. When we started, I felt like an uneducated simpleton of a surfer but through the process of learning about this issue I just got more and more fired up and found out the way that I could use my skill set to approach this issue and try solve these problems.

Surfers for Cetaceans has gone from being basically a website run by you and Howie Cooke to being an actual activist group with a core operational crew and several successful actions under your belt. What's next down the pike?

In the course of learning about the direct-kill issue that's going on, we became aware that they're only a small percentage of the issues that all ocean animals are facing all around the world. All of the coastlines where surfers live are facing some serious problems, be it water quality, acoustic pollution, marine debris, overfishing…you name it. Over time we've naturally broadened our approach to these issues, rather than just focusing only on the direct-kills issue. We're looking at the factors that are contributing to the demise of many species in the world's oceans and creating ways to discuss these issues and bring them to everybody's attention. For example, Surfers For Cetaceans has created the TransparentSea sailing campaigns to meet with people face to face and bring awareness to these issues. We're also still working on the direct-kill issues via collaboration with Sea Shepherd. Howie was aboard the Bob Barker [Sea Shepherd patrol ship] for three months in the southern [Antarctic] ocean this year attempting to stop the illegal whaling. In the end, the Japanese whaling fleet was forced to leave early with less than half their quota filled.

Tell us a bit more about TransparentSea campaigns…

The TransparentSea campaign we did down in Australia was a 500-mile trip in sailing kayaks joining the humpback whale migration and highlighting all the threats to those animals when they go down our coast and ultimately onto Antarctic waters. This year we're employing a similar strategy by coming to California in October and traveling down from Santa Barbara down to Mexico and eventually to the breeding grounds of the grey whales. Or goal is to observe these amazing creatures up close, learn more about them and all the human-related threats to these animals and others that call the California coast home.

What do you feel the response has been from the surf industry?

Billabong, my main surfing sponsor, has incorporated a lot of our campaigns and efforts into some of their clothing line and helping us out with resources and whatnot for our campaigns. And likewise the surfing community on the whole has really been supportive of our work. That's been a huge boost, especially when you're going into in to places where there's a lot of animosity directed toward you, like when we were in Japan or collaborating with Sea Shepherd in the Antarctic where the people you're dealing with from fisheries or whaling units are very aggressive. It feels good to know that you have the support of perhaps millions of surfers from around the world with you when you're going into such situations.

Click here for printable free tickets to the premiere.