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Golden boy

by Dr Christopher Chapman, 1 March 2010

Dr Christopher Chapman examines Scott Redford's photographic portrait of Australian surfer David 'Rasta' Rastovich.

David Rastovich, 2010
David Rastovich, 2010

‘I’d say a hell of a lot of my life incorporates what I experience in surfing. In terms of lessons and attitude and relationships to people and everything.’ David Rastovich was alluding to the lessons that can be learned when facing a wave, allowing yourself to become comfortable, calm and present with your situation.

David ‘Rasta’ Rastovich, professional surfer and conservation activist, was born in rural New Zealand in 1979. At the age of five he moved with his parents to the Gold Coast, where in time he began to compete in junior surf lifesaving and surfing events. He has won numerous titles in Iron Man, paddling and surfing events, including a world junior surfing title.

Rastovich developed a sense of environmental awareness as a young man. In 2004, outside the International Whaling Commission meeting in Italy, he established the conservation group Surfers for Sanctuaries with marine conservationist Howie Cooke. Later this group evolved into Surfers for Cetaceans, focusing on the protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises. More recently he has supported the activities of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

In November 2009 Rasta and fellow campaigners Chris Del Moro, Will Connor, Howie Cooke and Hilton Dawe kayaked 800km from Byron Bay to Bondi, tracing the path of migrating humpback whales. The anti-whaling and environmental awareness campaign was dubbed Transparentsea. The team documented coastal pollution, environmental issues, and the effects of commercial fishing on ocean habitats. With the Surfrider Foundation and Tangaroa Blue Ocean Care Society, the Transparentsea team initiated beach cleanups along the way, recording the rubbish for the National Marine Debris Database. ‘We visited beaches that did not have a single human footprint,’ Rastovich said, ‘yet they’re covered with plastic and other forms of garbage that damage ecosystems and enter the food chain where it stays forever.’

Artist Scott Redford also grew up on the Gold Coast. His recent work is known for its bright Pop Art style, often drawing upon images and motifs from music, advertising and magazine culture. In 2008 the National Portrait Gallery commissioned Redford to create an eye-popping portrait of young Australian motorcycling world champion Casey Stoner.

Redford has often drawn upon the iconography of Australia’s surf culture. He has collaborated with expert surfboard designers to create surfboard sculptures, and has used surfboard production techniques to create vibrantly-coloured glossy paintings. In 1999 Redford made a surfboard cross as a sculpture and it was exhibited at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He recalled that he had always envisaged using the cross in a photograph.

Redford’s photographic portrait of David Rastovich draws upon classic images of Jesus carrying the cross. ‘In a way Rasta is carrying the cross of regionalism and surfer outsider-ism,’ Redford recalled, ‘but he’s unconcerned and laughing all the way.’ The portrait is a keenly described and sun-filled celebration of the vitality and promise of the young Rastovich.