CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — Once again Patagonia hosted an intimate evening featuring author and world champion surfer Shaun Tomson on May 22. In a new chapter of his best-selling book, “Surfer’s Code,” Tomson, 55, writes about the strength derived from lessons learned during his childhood growing up in apartheid South Africa to competition in the world’s most dangerous waves.
He provided an inspirational account of facing life’s hardest challenge by looking toward the possibilities of each new day.
“Many people have to deal with prejudice in their lives. The institutionalization of prejudice like that in South Africa opens your eyes,” Tomson said. “But it doesn’t mean that every South African was evil.”
The world-class surfer who retired from professional competition in 1990 shared openly with the audience lessons learned from surfing and the application to everyday life. “Surfing has just enriched my life. It’s helped me overcome huge problems and challenges in life,” he said. “It’s taught me about respect, honor, determination and passion.”
According to Tomson there are three different aspects of surfing: lifestyle, sporting and art form. Surfing lends itself to cultivating an appreciation for all three aspects Tomson said.
Unlike today’s fast-paced competition schedule, Tomson had more opportunities to spend months at a time in one location during the contest season.
“The way a pro surfer approaches travel today is a lot different than when I started in 1969,” Tomson said. “Traveling is in my blood. It gave me a much more global view of the world.”
“The traveling I’ve done has helped me to become more tolerant and compassionate of other people, races, religions,” Tomson said in an interview before the book signing.
“Surfing is a very non-discriminatory sport,” he said. “The first time I noticed prejudice was in 1972 when Eddie Aikau was denied entry into his hotel in Durban (Tomson’s hometown).”
Tomson’s father, Ernie, heard about the incident and immediately took his 15-year-old son to pick the famous Hawaiian surfer up.
“He stayed with our family,” Tomson recalled. “He was always grateful and I remember feeling so outraged that this legend would be treated that way.”
The dichotomy of growing up within a society that legitimized institutional prejudice and surfing with people of all races and economic backgrounds had an impact on Tomson. His father’s consistent love of the ocean helped Tomson understand the true value of life. “We need to get disconnected and get connected with each other,” he said.
At 55 years old, the 1977 World Champion still surfs and travels the world.
“In surfing you don’t think in terms of numbers, you think in terms of attitudes,” he said. Tomson was listed as one of the 25 most influential surfers of the century by Surfer magazine and as one of the 16 greatest surfers of all time by Surfing magazine in 2004.
“Every time I go surfing I push myself to my absolute limits. When I kick out of a wave I know I’ve rode it to my best,” he said. “Most traditional athletes cannot perform at that same level and relate to their sport in the same way they did when they were a professional.”