183: Shaun Tomson/The Light Shines Ahead

Shaun Tomson, Santa Barbara, April 2022. Photo: Tozer

Let’s get straight to it – I’ve got one of surfing’s all-time great legends on the show this week. Along with peers like Ian Cairns, Rabbit and MR, 1977 World Champion Shaun Tomson helped to redefine surfing over the course of one of THE most influential careers of them all. He changed the game in ways we all continue to benefit from today.

Then there are his off-the-water contributions, which are as progressive and game-changing as his surfing. He was one of surfing’s earliest activists, working with organisations such as Surfrider, and organising a campaign to improve water quality at Rincon, among other firsts. He’s also an entrepreneur, starting Instinct and sponsoring other legends such as Tom Carroll and Barton Lynch on the way to their own world crowns. And, as if that isn’t enough, he’s also a creative filmmaker and cultural custodian, notably through the film Bustin’ Down The Door, which documented the mid-70s Hawaiian scene Shaun was himself such a key part of.

Photo: Owen

And yet, despite these incredible heights, Shaun’s life has also been marked by rare tragedy. The death of his beloved son Mathew in 1995 left him understandably bereft and seeking a new purpose in life. He found it with his The Surfer’s Code, a deceptively simple self-development tool which uses surfing as a metaphor for life’s struggles, and which Shaun has subsequently used to help thousands of individuals and business find their own purpose.

Taken as a whole, Shaun’s story is remarkable on many levels, and in this conversation we spoke about this career in the context of the biggest themes of all – life, death, grief, recovery; and how surfing has the power to shape your life in ways it can take a lifetime to understand.

I’m very grateful to Shaun for taking the time to share his story with such openness and generosity. Hope you enjoy this episode. Listen below:

Connect with Shaun

Show Notes

  • WB Yeats ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’
  • Storytelling and the power of words 
  • Courage and desire 
  • The Surfers Code
  • 12 lines 
  • Finding purpose 
  • The word cloud 
  • Creating a feeling of hope 
  • Surfing as a metaphor 
  • The impact of tube riding 
  • Early years and education
  • Shane Warne and Matthew Hayden
  • Connectivity 
  • Losing Matthew
  • ‘..I will always paddle back out..’
  • Going back to university 
  • Emotional contagion 
  • Kind or unkind
  • Sunrise 
  • Competition and changing 
  • The stoke is still there 
  • Film work 
  • Bustin’ Down the Door
  • ‘..Being tolerant of your differences but celebrating the things you agree on..’
  • Bound by one ocean 
  • The Surfer and the Sage 

Names Mentioned

  • Chris Cote
  • William Butler Yeats 
  • Ulysses 
  • Homer 
  • Odysseus 
  • Kelly Slater 
  • JohnJohn Florence 
  • Gabriel Madina 
  • Jamie O’Brien 
  • Filipe Toledo
  • Mihály Csíkszentmihályi 
  • Hermann Hesse
  • Albert Camus
  • Peter Drucker
  • Maynard Smith 
  • Simon Anderson 
  • Shane Warn 
  • Matthew Hayden
  • Mathew Tomson
  • Jeremy Gosch 
  • Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew
  • Ian Cairns 
  • Mark Thomson 
  • Peter Townend 
  • Mark Richards
  • Iggy Pop
  • David Bowie
  • Noah BenShea
  • Carissa Moore 

Places Mentioned

  • South Africa 
  • Pipeline 
  • Rincon
  • Puerto Rico 
  • Hawaii
  • San Diego  
  • Las Vegas 
  • United States of America 
  • Durban 
  • Sydney 
  • Sunrise 
  • Jeffreys Bay
  • The Arlington Theatre 
  • Bells 

Companies, Brands, Organisations Mentioned

  • Gilead Sciences 
  • Gunston 500
  • Mission Cloud
  • Sydney Morning Herald 
  • Yale 
  • Harvard 
  • Facebook
  • Twitter 
  • Instagram 
  • Patagonia 
  • Solitude 
  • Instinct 
  • Santa Barbara Film Festival