By Roslyn Hames
For Ross Harrison, surfing is life, art and being. And although the world inside Ross’s shop, Rastas, is a happy one, the world outside the shop window should be discussed and deeply.
What is happiness; a constant and levelling day-to-day happiness? If you are reading this, you probably live in Barwon Heads, and that is a pretty good foundation. For Ross Harrison, surfboard maker and owner of Rastas, it is the state of the world inside the bright, holiday-coloured surrounds of his store. It is also a passion for the ocean, surfing a clean beach and taking a stance towards a responsible existence.
Ross sits cross-legged and still on his so-called ‘no life’ couch at the back of his shop looking through his window to the world, a slice of life in Barwon Heads, while waxing philosophical. Local enters left, pauses centre stage, then exits right. ‘I live my life looking through this window like in Rear Window. I get out only to ride my bike home and to surf. This is it. But because what I do brings great pleasure to people, they bring their worlds into mine. Effectively I am a toy maker. I make objects to play with and I only get to see and hear the pleasure.’ The no-life couch plays host to the travelogues of Rastas boards excursing from Black Rock to Sri Lanka and Norway. Ross is like the florist who only sees surprise, joy and relief with every delivery.
Ross and the beach became one when he was a child. Back in less regulated days when it was safe to turn your back, ‘My mother would wave goodbye to me and my brothers in the morning and not see us until we returned at dusk. We’d spend the entire day at the beach.’ Ross’s father was a keen surf fisherman, so the bond between boy and ocean was set. And surfing has always been.
Ross knows every inch of the custom-made boards he constructs by hand. ‘When I make a board, I put myself into it completely. It is a creative process. A board has to have soul.’ At 13-years-old, Ross made two pairs of boardshorts and tie-dyed t-shirts. He went on to spend many years in the rag trade and a part of the coast’s evolving surf culture before opening his shop in 1991. At the time, he undertook an apprenticeship of sorts making surfboards, following a curiosity. Then he got the bug.
‘My shop is like an old-style surf shop. Years ago surf shops where stocked with boards, with the odd few t-shirts and tide reports thrown in for good measure.’ Ross’s boards have now ended up all over the globe. He is often commissioned to make specialty boards – Chris Isaak owns one. A silver aeroplane-wing board was featured in a few magazines, ‘but I don’t really like to think about that stuff too much,’ he says. ‘I’m only interested in the stories that I hear.’
Self-promotion is quite apart from using the media to add volume to your message. A dirty playground can wipe the merriment off any surfer’s face, as was with 13th Beach fifteen years ago. Ross helped found the ‘Stop the Crap’ environmental group, putting the spotlight on the pollution of 13th from the sewage treatment plant. ‘Our part was to make the issue so public that the water board just had to deal with us. We used extreme action to get attention so that others could go in and negotiate.’ While double-dealing and the like were exposed, the campaign did result in the eventual upgrade of the plant.
‘Exposing what was going on was a difficult decision to make, because I care about this town, but for it to be a tourist destination I felt that I needed to point to the crap in the backyard first.’ Thinking and discussion is a part of life on the no-life couch. ‘Now more then ever, with so much going on around the world, we should be debating all of these issues so much more than we do.’ Visitor enters left, exits right. How are things looking through your window?