Friday, July 26, 2013

Shaun Tomson at the O'Neill Surf Outlet

Shaun Tomson is experienced. He's careened along the edge of being out of control riding a single-fin on top of a foam ball at Pipe. He’s competed against the best surfers of his generation and found ways to win. His place in the history of surfing is firmly secured as the reef that creates the break he chose as a proving ground. He’s a former world champion and that can’t be undone. While his accomplishments as a surfer are duly noted, they’re just the beginning of who he is. Tomson generously tells stories about his past not just to relive them but to inspire others to live more fully.
Shaun Tomson sharing the Surfer's Code with an audience in Santa Cruz

Speaking with Tomson before his visit to Santa Cruz promoting his new book The Code it was clear that he has a unique view of our world and a plan for action. One of South Africa’s native sons, Tomson is connected to a lineage of people who have worked to create alliances across cultural divisions. He talks and writes about the inspiration he’s drawn from Nelson Mandela and Ghandi who both have deep roots in his homeland. He’s also candid about his father and his son and the part that they play in his life’s work. His writing is a way of paying homage to his influences and giving something back to the culture that nurtured him. It’s a way of remembering, yes, but it’s also a recipe to renew the spirit, to recharge the will to live.

Pat O'Neill and Shaun Tomson

As a result, The Code is a book about self-empowerment and social consciousness. Tomson cares about young people and he cares about their place in the world world. As he says: “They’re the ones who are going to change things.” He’s seen change firsthand, too, both on a personal and a national level. Born in South Africa during Apartheid, Tomson witnessed the transition to democracy. Attributing the success of this radical cultural shift to the will and spirit of Nelson Mandela, who he considers a hero, Tomson emphasizes the importance of inspiration. 

Hillary Bryant, Mayor of Santa Cruz, was present for the talk
“To imagine that Mandela lived in that tiny cell for 27 years and came out without a trace of bitterness—that’s the reason people follow him.” He also discussed visiting Ghandi’s quarters in Durban. “Seeing his notebooks, and seeing where he started his work really motivated me.”  When I asked him how he came to value their ethos and how he developed his sense of conscience he attributed it to his family and his upbringing. “Growing up in a Jewish household, I was very much aware of the impact the Second World War had on people.”

John Hunter, enjoying the vibe
His father was also a huge influence on Shaun, introducing him to the life aquatic at a very early age. “I learned to swim in the ocean.” His father was a professional swimmer, but he suffered an attack by a shark and the shark’s teeth destroyed his ability to move through the water by his own power. This devastating event could have easily diminished his spirit. Instead, he shifted from being in the water to sharing the experience with others. Organizing contests and finding ways to get young people involved with the ocean, Shaun says: “He was something like a Godfather of the beach.”

Elfin Saffer, listening to Tomson's presentation

Formed in part by this aggregate of influences, Tomson would go on to become a professional surfer and to travel the world in the pursuit of tubes. His desire to create alliances, to work toward a world with greater equality, did not lessen his competitiveness. As Shaun says: “I surfed hard, with full commitment.” His drive to be the best and to prove his worth against the best surfers in the world is part of the dynamic balance that makes up the man. He has that rare combination of self-confidence and humility.

Ward and Ben Coffey, stoked to be in attendance

For those of you familiar with Surfer’s Code, this new book will both add to the kit of tools for finding purchase, for finding a way to obtain leverage, in a world turbulent with energy and change. Charged with the emotional connection Tomson creates by sharing his most painful and proud stories, The Code is a powerful book about making your own way through our times.

Tomson's new book, hot off the press!

Summer Swimwear Sale

O'Neill's Annual Skin Cancer Screening Event