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Dave and Uncle Buddha

Albe-falzon

Albe-falzon

A chance meeting twenty-five years ago brought together two of surfing’s most influential figures.

Dave Rastovich was just a kid when he and his dad drove down the coast, searching for a bit of land and a bit of country living. Instead, they stumbled on the Godfather of Country Soul. Revered filmmaker, Albe Falzon showed up one afternoon and took Dave surfing, the pair hitting it off straight away. Even though Dave was only in his teens, they already shared a very Zen view of surfing, seeing it more as a flow of energy than an exercise in hardcore shredding. In the years since, while they’ve become figureheads for respective generations of surfers, they’ve also remained close friends.

For a teenaged Dave Rastovich, walking into Albe’s North Coast treehouse opened his eyes to worlds and realms beyond surfing. Photo by Shorty

WORDS BY DAVE

“The first time I met Albe I was probably 15. We were living on the Gold Coast at the time but my dad was looking to move down the coast. He wanted to get back to the country lifestyle that we had in New Zealand. Anyway, Dad had friends who owned a 500-acre permaculture farm down on the North Coast, so we went down to hang out while we checked out the area for somewhere to live.

“Anyway, long story short, Dad’s friends took off to Sydney on business and they left me in charge of the farm for a couple of days. I was there with dogs, horses, chickens and goats, and all this food growing in a permaculture style. It was like Narnia. There was a big art studio and these classic surfboards everywhere. I was just in heaven.

“The only problem was that it was a fair way from the beach so I was sort of stuck there. Well, it turned out that Albe lived two properties away and was mates with the guy who owned the farm. Albe turned up and asked if I wanted to go surfing, and I was like, you bet. We surfed for the next few days.

“I knew Morning of the Earth like the back of my hand. I’d watched the film a bunch of times and I was fully aware of Albe’s revered position in the surfing culture, but to hang out with him opened my mind to a new way of seeing surfing… and seeing life. He took me under his wing and we hung out and surfed and laid on the rocks like lizards between sessions and just took it really slow.

“He had this aura of surf stoke and open mindedness about him, this really peaceful energy. Albe was a total contrast to a lot of older surfers I saw on the Gold Coast who were a bit jaded because of the crowds, and sort of burnt out from hard, fast living. Albe was a total contrast. Albe and Dick Van Straalen – whose boards I rode – were both these very youthful spirits. Even though their skin was a bit leathery and they were getting on in age, their spirits were super young. They were just energetic and curious and I just found that really inspiring.

"At the time there wasn’t really an alternative path for a young surfer like me. Suddenly there was."

“Watching them surf and froth out over surfing, you could see that a surfing life could last much longer time then a pro surfing life. At that time in pro surfing, you were done by 30. Albe was probably in his 50s at that point but was still just absolutely fiending on surfing. He was just stoked with anything surfing. He loved it that I was riding trippy Dick Van Straalen boards, while everyone else was riding these wafer-thin thrusters.

“It was a pivotal time for me because I was surfing a lot of junior contests and starting to go down that road of having a professional surfing career. At the time there wasn’t really an alternative path for a young surfer like me. Suddenly there was.

“In the years after that, every time I was doing a road trip up or down the coast, I'd stop in at Eungai for a cuppa and a surf with Albe. I got to hear a bunch of his stories, not only from his surfing adventures, but also from the spiritual festivals of the Far East. He’d been up to the Himalayas and had filmed the Kumbh Mela, a massive millions-strong religious gathering in India. And he was always talking about the parallels between surfing and those sorts of spiritual disciplines.

“I never forget this one line he told me. He’d been in Tibet and visited a Buddhist monastery, and over the front door there was a little sign that said, ‘Leave your shoes and your mind at the door.’ And he said, ‘You know, when you go surfing, it's exactly the same. You leave your mind and your shoes on the shore.’ In that moment surfing provides the same thing all these people get from chanting in monasteries. His experiences in that spiritual world felt very parallel to peak moments in his surfing world and for someone like me, who is open to some of that esoteric stuff, hearing him speak like that really validated some of the more spiritual moments of my own surfing. And for Albe, I think hanging with me was refreshing. I was a younger guy and part of the modern surfing culture, but I had deep interest in all of this.

“Any conversation to this day with Albe always comes back to the idea of gratitude. If you have a general atmosphere around you of gratitude to all the things in your life – your health, your surfing, where you are, the people in your life, your job, whatever it is – that type of grateful perspective creates abundance in life and allows good things to keep happening.

“Any time you hang with Albe you come away feeling more grateful about your own life and what you have, rather than being caught up in your own head. I reckon that's probably the most common thing you hear about Albe. I’ve got friends on that stretch of coast who surf with him often and a sister who lives nearby, and it’s pretty much always the same. Time spent with him makes you appreciate surfing and makes you appreciate the life you have.

“He’s been a real source of inspiration and guidance for me ever since I was 15 – the choices he's made over the years to keep things simple, to live that country life, and to pick and choose projects that are really meaningful for him. Not always saying yes to everything and just giving things space. You look at the films he’s done, they’re all really meaningful. He could have done back-to-back films and projects for decades but he's chosen to work selectively in order to maintain a peaceful way of life. In most industries, if you're relevant and you've done something good then you can keep that ball bouncing for years, but it seems like Albe is a master at choosing when to bounce that ball and when to just put it down and go surfing.

“The last time we surfed with Albe wasn’t that long ago. Lauren and I and our little boy, Mino caught up with him and surfed some long, Waikiki-style waves on softboards. We’d catch the waves together and all have a laugh and a high five as we went. I just remember Albe sitting down on his board in lotus position and Mino just yelling out, ‘Uncle Buddha! Uncle Buddha!’”

In time, Dave took his own path through surfing and became a figurehead for a generation wanting to surf on their own terms. Photo by Jarrah Lynch

WORDS BY ALBE

“When John, our neighbour down the road bought the property it was totally rundown. It was 500 acres with a classic derelict farmhouse, fully overgrown, chickens running everywhere. Anyway, in time he turned it into the most beautiful property; cleaned it up, fixed the house, planted it out. Anyway, John was friends with Dave’s dad, and I remember he and Dave came down and camped over there when Dave was about 14 or something. Just a grommet.

“Anyway, they had a soiree one afternoon over at John’s and I was invited over. Everyone was having a good time and getting a little rowdy. I’d never met Dave but guessed he surfed, and I just said to him, ‘You want to go for a surf?’ We bailed and surfed fun, chest-high waves at Scotts Head. I was laughing my head off because we escaped the crew up there. On the way home we dropped back to my place.

“Anyway, Dave’s just this little grommet and he’s looking around at all these boards, books and stuff. Then I see him standing in front of this Eastern invocation I’ve got hanging on the wall and he’s just transfixed, reading it. It’s not the kind of thing you’d expect a grommet to be interested in, but that became our connection.

“Anyway, we stayed in touch and about five years later I get this package delivered. I'm going to pick it up at the post office and it’s a box and it was heavy. I could hardly lift it. I thought, what the fuck is this? And who sent it? It had no return address. I get it back home and open it up and it's a Buddha. A golden antique Buddha, and it was from Dave. I’ve got several Buddhas in the place, but that one was really special.

"That’s why his surfing is so great to watch. He’s totally in harmony with the wave. He’s almost invisible. He is the wave."

“I remember dropping in at Dave’s place for a cup of tea and I had a book with me called Astonishing the Gods. It was by a Nigerian writer named Ben Offree and it was one of my favourites. It was a crossover between the spiritual world and the tangible world of being human, and it's so well written that one page might be a whole chapter. You read that page and you just can't go any further. You just want to stop and think about it. The opening line of that book is, ‘It was better to be invisible. But I didn't realise that at the time.’ As soon as I read that sentence, I was gone. Anyway, I gave Dave that book and he read it and it was transformative for him.

“Over the years we’d catch up from time to time, but it was never planned. He’d drop in at my place on his way down the coast. I’d drop in on his place on my way up the coast. It was sometimes chance encounters. This one time I was surfing Lennox Head. I’m paddling out and here’s this board upside-down and there’s a guy underwater with his legs wrapped around it. I thought, what the fuck’s going on here? I paddled over and the guy has popped up. It was Dave. I totally cracked up. He looked at me, I looked at him. He didn't expect to see me there. I asked, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m listening to the whales!’

“He was laughing his head off with this big smile. We're both a cracking up. I'm on the shore side of him with my back to the mountains, and it’s late afternoon with a big storm brewing. Anyway, Dave’s eyes have popped and he’s just gone, ‘Wow! Check that out!’ There was this vibrant rainbow stretching from the north to the south. The funny thing was, Dave had come up from listening to the whales underwater and suddenly here I am sitting there framed by this rainbow and all this golden light. It blew us out. Just one of those moments that you have with people. You had to laugh.

"Dave’s one of those people who understands the correct use of energy. So often in today’s world we need a tangible result. We have to see something. We have to produce something. We win or we lose. You’re world champion or you’re not. But with Dave it’s different. Dave is on a totally different vibration and it affects people around him without them even realising. There's a power in peace and I think he understands that in its purest and most natural form. On a wave he’s always on that line of least resistance. That’s why his surfing is so great to watch. He’s totally in harmony with the wave. He’s almost invisible. He is the wave"

Bali, 1971. Still frame from Morning of the Earth

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Morning of the Earth, and along with a remastered digital version of the film, Albe has curated a hardcover book celebrating the milestone. You can find the book here.

Image Banner: lbe Falzon’s 1972 film, Morning of the Earth framed surfing as a spiritual act as much as it was physical. Fifty years on, Albe sees the film as more relevant than ever. Photo by Shorty

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