The Accidental Activist

Photo: Simon "Swilly" Williams /

Photo: Simon "Swilly" Williams /

July 5, 2017

I first met Dave Rastovich in the early nineties when he was a fresh faced grom riding for Nev Hyman. I was Nev’s production manager at the time and Dave had just come off winning the U16 World Grommet Title in Bali.

It wasn’t until about ten years ago that Dave and I reconnected, and it’s been a melting pot of ideas ever since. What started as hybrid designs with more functional bottom rockers, our collaboration together soon shifted towards a focus on materials and overall sustainability. Nowadays our collaboration goes way beyond just the “surfer-shaper” relationship. My journey with Dave has led me to become an accidental activist.

I was always concerned about the ocean quality given that I spend so much time in it; 44 years and counting. After meeting Dave and Howie Cooke, I started to realize the extent of what was happening to the ocean and its marine life. For example, the brutalization and murder of the dolphins in the cove in Taji, Japan blew my mind and really made me want to contribute in some way.  That’s how I got involved with S4C (Surfers for Cetaceans). I was there not long after Howie and Dave co-founded the non-profit and hatched plans to fight back, and I put my hand up right away to support those guys anyway I could.

Photo: Hilton Dawe

Photo: Hilton Dawe

I’ve had the opportunity to join Dave on the Transparentsea Voyages as well. My first trip was in 2009 from Byron to Bondi where we sailed, camped and surfed down the east coast of Australia while doing beach clean ups.  We monitored the basic health of the beaches and found a lot of plastic washed up on some of the most pristine stretches of the coast.  We picked up all sorts of debris; plastic bottles, bags, drinking straws, fishing tackle…you name it, we found it.

Despite the remoteness of some of the areas we sailed, this scourge always found its way to shore. The most common rubbish we happened on were bottle lids and drinking straws. I haven't used a drinking straw since.

My second Transparentsea Voyage brought me to California in 2011. We sailed from Gaviota to San Diego, helping local organizations such as Surfrider Foundation and the Environmental Action Center, who were already doing great work on behalf of the environment in the states. The best thing I saw while on the trip was the crew that got the Los Angeles Harbor to slow down the container ships, whose shipping lanes overlap with a prime feeding area for migrating blue whales. The slow down decreased the whale strikes and gave these amazing creatures a chance to get out of the way.

My friendship with Dave has opened my eyes to another side of living and surfing. He has bestowed on me a belief that we all need to be treated equally and with respect. In return, I have bestowed upon Dave a commitment to serve as part of the support crew for these adventures and be a helping hand when called upon.

These experiences have opened my eyes to other organizations as well. Do you remember the episode of Whale Wars where the Japanese whaling ships were being harassed in the Southern Ocean by the Sea Shepherd activists? The Sea Shepherd crew had a high-tech carbon fiber pursuit boat named after Ady Gill, a $1 million donor to the Conservation Society. In that episode, the Japanese whaling ship rammed the Ady Gill and sank it.

I had the opportunity to be involved with the Sea Shepherd fundraiser in Brisbane to raise money to replace the boat.  Howie Cooke and I each donated an item for auction and we were betting on whose donation would raise the most coin. Howie had an amazing painting go for $1,500, but I had a black Sea Shepherd board that eventually went for $3,000. Ady Gill was in attendance and embroiled in a friendly bidding war for it, and all for an amazing cause: to prevent the slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean. I’ve been inspired to stay involved with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ever since.

It’s moments like these that really give me hope for humanity. It also makes me realize that despite all of the people that use the ocean every day, only a handful of those put their hand up to defend her.

I think that’s changing though. I’m starting to see a shift in consciousness that’s being expressed through the things we buy and the companies and products we support. For example, we are changing spending habits to support brands like Patagonia, who are not only transparent about how they produce goods with minimal environmental impact, but also the way they ethically source material and have put fair trade policies in place. People who support brands like these are becoming, in their own personal way, activists themselves.

That’s just the beginning. Join your local Surfrider Foundation. Spend a few hours doing beach clean-up. If you can’t do that, grab three pieces of trash every time you walk off the beach.

Think globally, act locally. It’s not hard to do!


- Gary McNeill


Gary McNeill hails from Kirra on the Australian Gold Coast and is well known for his collaborations with long time team rider, Dave Rastovich. Learn more at

If you would like to learn more about the organizations in Gary's story, visit:,, and