How did you get into surfing?
Growing up in New Zealand I had a very close touch to nature. We ate vegetables and fruits from our own backyard and spent a lot of time outdoors. So I developed an environmental awareness early on in my life. When I was six years old, my family moved from New Zealand to Australia. There I joined the lifeguards and through that training I got into surfing.
Did spending a lot of time on beaches growing up make you more environmentally aware?
Most people are surrounded by people all day, whether surfer or not, be it the boss, colleagues, clients, etc. You’re never alone. But if you paddle out on the ocean, you can enjoy some of the secluded moments, which are so rare to get. In those moments you can feel that there’s awareness for nature deep inside of us. Like the feeling when you kill a spider, that small moment when you realise that it doesn’t feel completely right.
How did you end up getting involved with Surfers for Cetaceans and Sea Shepherds?
I founded Surfers for Cetaceans myself. At first it was only an internet project to inform people but it didn’t really suit my temperament; I’m not really into programming or the web and I’d rather do something creative with my hands, which is how I came to Sea Shepherd. There are so many environmental organisations that do nothing more than demonstrate and try to reach their goals peacefully. Sea Sheperd is the only one willing to take it a step further and try to prevent violations as they happen. Sea Shepherd doesn’t physically harm anyone, but they are more than ready to destroy property if that’s the only way to stop something. This approach totally suits me.
What kind of work do they do?
At the moment Surfers for Cetaceans is involved in a campaign called Visual Petition. The idea is to not only sign a petition, but to give it a face, your face. Ordinary people like you and me take pictures of themselves where they’re holding up an image of a whale. A lot of famous stars support that campaign. As surfers we have more contact with marine life than any other person and we also have a special bond with them.
Does that tie in with your recent campaigns for whales and dolphins?
The last one Surfer for Cetaceans and Sea Shepherd initiated was in Japan. The press has no freedom of opinion over there, so the people can’t read anything about the slaughtering of dolphins in their newspaper. Australia and New Zealand have always had a very strong involvement in that area. Lots of people over there get involved actively and care very much. It was also an Australian surfer who called Surfer for Cetaceans’ attention to the brutal actions of Japanese fishermen. We teamed up with some surfer buddies and stars like Hayden (Panettiere from the TV show ‘Heroes’) and paddled into Taiji Bay. There they usually catch dolphins with huge fishing nets. The whole bay looks like a battlefield and the water is soaked with the blood of the hurt animals. The feeling there is pretty intense if you imagine the harm that is done to the dolphins. Our action has caused quite a stir in the international media; that was totally our goal.
I read about an incident where a dolphin saved you from a shark when you were sitting in the line up – did that convince you to get involved in the protection of dolphins?
Biggest hazards for the ocean are pollution and over fishing. But that’s very difficult to sell, you have to reach people in an emotional way, and that works especially well with the likes of dolphins and whales. That’s why they’ve become the symbolic figures in the fight for preservation of all sea dwellers. These animals are a lot like human beings, that’s why we feel so close to them. Four years ago I was sitting in the water, when all of a sudden I saw a dolphin next to me that was behaving unusually hectic. From the top I saw how the dolphin came flying and hit a shark hard in the side. I myself hadn’t even seen the shark before! The dolphin saved me from a most probable shark attack. Incidentally that happened a couple of days after I had founded Surfers for Cetaceans.
What can ordinary people do to help?
Those who don’t live by the sea can stand up for rivers and lakes in their surroundings. They are the lifeblood of the ocean and supply it with freshwater. Polluting the rivers has negative effects on the ocean as well. Organic and ecological farming is vital as well and you should also mind to eat only fish that hasn’t been caught in nets.
Is it important to you that the company sponsoring you is environmentally aware?
Yes. Eight years ago my long-time sponsor Billabong and I simultaneously took the step to become actively involved with the environment. The industry can contribute their share by focusing on sustainable production methods. The title of the Billabong “Be the change you want in the world” campaign summarises all actions Billabong takes in order to protect the environment. For example, they produce a boardshort out of ten recycled PET bottles.
You once said in an interview that your goal in life is to have balance. Have you achieved that yet?
Regarding inner balance, there is no moment like another. It always feels different. But in general I feel very balanced at the moment. There’s a healthy share between giving and taking in my life.
Rasta is sponsored by Billabong, check out their “Be the change you want to be in the world” campaign.
Interview by Anna Langer
Images courtesy of Billabong