A legendary surfer shares the secret to living life powerfully in his new book “The Code”
Words by Neil Pearlberg • Photos courtesy of Shaun Tomson
The famous beach at Rincon just south of Santa Barbara is composed of aged cobblestones piled loosely at the water’s edge. The ocean has effectively shaped each rock, shell, and coral fragment.
It can be said that one of Rincon’s most recognized surfers has been shaped in a similar manner. He is Shaun Tomson, surfing icon, and a former world champion.
Shaped by the world’s oceans, Tomson has become a man of faith, courage, creativity, and dogged determination.
Listed as one of the 25 most influential surfers of the century by Surfer magazine, he is the author of Surfer’s Code, published in 2006. In this influential book, Tomson shared 12 simple lessons for riding through life from the collective wisdom of the surf community.
Two years later Tomson produced a successful documentary film, Bustin’ Down the Door, bringing to the silver screen the story of a group of young surfers from South Africa and Australia who made the Hawaiian pilgrimage to test their surfing mettle against some of the most powerful waves in the world.
Tomson was one of those surfers, and it was the very beginning of today’s ASP World Championship Tour.
In his new book The Code, Tomson shares in passionate detail his method for dealing with life’s triumphs and tragedies. The words of the book inspire the reader to believe in oneself and to believe in the power that every one of us has to effect change through the power of will.
“Once you do that, you can begin to shape your future and achieve whatever dream that you wish for,” Tomson said in a recent interview.
Tomson, known as “The Prince Valiant of Surfing,” was born in 1955 in Durban, South Africa. A natural surfer, he dominated the amateur scene in his native land. On a trip to Hawaii in 1969, the 14-year-old was mesmerized at Makaha when he witnessed the so-called “Biggest Wave Ever,” ridden by Greg Noll.
As a result, it began to dawn on him that his life’s calling was that of a professional surfer.
Surfing brought him success, to which he parlayed his name and his business acumen−creating two popular apparel brands, Instinct in the 1980’s, and Solitude in the 1990‘s. Whatever he touched seemingly turned to gold.
“Sometimes you only need to say it to yourself to make a dream come true,” Tomson wrote in his new book.
However, Tomson has seen his share of tragedy as well.
Tomson’s beloved father “Chony” Tomson had his Olympic swimming dream destroyed when a Zambezi shark violently attacked him. His entire body was raised out of the water, and as a result of the attack he lost all the muscle in his upper right arm.
Also, in 2006 his fifteen year old son Mathew died in a tragic accident.
“I’ve always made it back up with the help of family and friends,” said Tomson. “Whatever comes over the horizon at me, I draw strength from knowing that my experience in the water supports other aspects of my life that now take priority.”
The Code provides readers with simple strategies for confronting everyday challenges and making positive, life changing decisions. In twelve personal stories, Tomson shares the power of what he calls “I will.”
Such personal promises have carried him to the heights of professional success and helped him navigate the depths of profound grief after the loss of his teenage son.
“All you need to turn hope into action is to write your promises down, and say them out loud, and to make promises to no one but yourself,” said Tomson.
The Code was brought about by inspiration he attained from the students at Anacapa School, a small, independent school in his hometown of Santa Barbara. Tomson asked each of the students to write down their own personal code, their vision of their future, starting every sentence with the words “I will.”
A week later he received their assignments. “They were beautiful, sensitive; full of humor and hope,” said Tomson, who continued, “In essence the kids wrote a series of promises they had made to themselves, and it is the students’ ‘I will’ statements that create the framework for the book.”
“We forget in our daily lives that one little push from someone can help us make positive changes,” he added. “Those childrens’ words inspired and helped me through some tough times, and reminded me that I just need to be myself.”
Forever touched by the younger generation, Tomson shares with the reader one particular chilling moment with his late son Mathew, at the secluded Hammond’s Reef that lies in the shadows of the Santa Ynez Mountains in Montecito, as well as the magical story of the adoption of his son Luke.
“Goals are temporary; my sense of self-worth, and the kind of person I want to be stays with me the rest of my life,” he says. “If there’s a challenge out there to meet, you know which direction I’ll be headed…back out there to catch another wave.”
1. I will never turn my back on the ocean: Passion
2. I will paddle around the impact zone: No short cuts
3. I will take the drop with commitment: Courage, focus and determination
4. I will never fight a rip tide: The danger of pride and egotism
5. I will always paddle back out: Perseverance in the face of challenges
6. I will watch out for other surfers after a big set: Responsibility
7. I will know that there will always be another wave: Optimism
8. I will ride and not paddle into shore: Self-esteem
9. I will pass on my stoke to a non-surfer: Sharing knowledge and giving back
10. I will catch a wave every day, even in my mind: Imagination
11. I will realize that all surfers are joined by one ocean: Empathy
12. I will honor the sport of kings: Honor and integrity