Shaun Tomson, 1977 world surfing champion and 12-year local
resident, has enjoyed a successful professional surfing career,
competing in the World Tour from 1975 until 1990 and earning
accolades as one of the finest tube-riders of all time. In addition
to his surfing prowess, the Durban, South Africa, native was, and
continues to be, the consummate professional, bringing a
well-mannered voice to the surfing world. Shaun TomsonHe is currently the owner
of the Montecito-based Solitude Clothing and has recently released
a book, Surfer’s Code: 12 Simple Lessons for Riding through
. A documentary about Tomson’s star-studded surfing career
is slated to come out in spring 2008. I recently spoke with Tomson
about his past successes and current and future endeavors.

You’ve been in the press a lot lately following the
November release of your book. What is your goal and overall
message with this book?
I just want to pass along all the
important lessons I’ve learned from surfing. Whether you’re just
starting out or you’ve been surfing for a long time, you still
learn from the sport, as shown by the simple principles I outline
in my book, including community, humility, brotherhood, sharing,
and in general, the aloha spirit.

Throughout the years, you’ve crossed paths with a lot of
the same surfers. Is there anyone in particular with whom you’ve
developed a special bond?
I certainly have a very special
bond with [Wayne] Rabbit Bartholomew, even though we don’t see each
other that often. Rabbit was the first person to try to make a
career of just going surfing — he made it possible to make a career
out of doing something you love. He had that vision, and a whole
group of us just helped that vision come true, so today, there is
such a thing as the surfing industry and professional surfing.

Wasn’t he kind of a controversial figure back in the
Not really. He was a promoter of his vision, and
back in the ’70s, when everyone was wearing black wetsuits, the
whole notion of being able to make a living from going surfing was
kind of alien.

I’ve read that Bartholomew and others had a rough time
with some of the local guys on the North Shore back then. Is this
something you can relate to?
Well, once you become
successful, it’s tough to maintain a low profile, and sometimes you
end up on the wrong side of the wrong guys, but you keep paddling
out. You’ve got to keep positive and keep pushing to be the

What did you find to be the best approach for dealing
with those guys?
I think you just have to be yourself and
be respectful.

How was the trip to the North Shore for Pipeline Masters
a couple weeks ago?
I had an incredible time in Hawai‘i,
surfing some really challenging waves with some of the best surfers
in the world, and connecting with some of my old friends.

Was there anyone in particular you were really stoked to
Yes. I did in-depth interviews with 50 of the
greatest surfers of all time, from Tom Curren, Tom Carroll, Kelly
Slater, Andy Irons, Mark Richards, and Rabbit Bartholomew, to the
incredible Hawaiian surfers like Jeff Hakman, Buffalo Keaulana,
Rabbit Kekai, Barry Kanaiaupuni, and Clyde Aikau. … I spoke with
them about the meaning of aloha, and it was interesting to hear
their interpretation that aloha is all about sharing. Surfers need
to share waves with one another, and it was wonderful to hear those
guys talk about that. Sharing is at the core of Hawaiian culture,
and it’s an important philosophy to learn from surfing.

What were the interviews for? I’m in the
process of producing a documentary called Bustin’ Down the
. It has its focus on winter 1975, when everything in
surfing changed; it draws its inspiration from an article Rabbit
Bartholomew wrote. The basic premise of the film is that kids have
to “bust down the door” in order to realize their dreams. The film
contrasts what professional surfing was back in 1975 to what it is
today, and what kids have to do to be the best. It’s going to be an
interesting movie.

What made you choose Santa Barbara as a place to settle
Initially, my family and I decided to leave South
Africa because it became economically and socially volatile. We
decided Santa Barbara was the best place to live in the U.S.
because it has wonderful surf, a wonderful environment, and a
slow-growth policy. It seemed like a wonderful environment to bring
a family into.

Do you feel like you’ve had an impact on the local surf
scene in Santa Barbara?
I don’t know. I just try to be
myself and try to have a great time in the water. I try to give
back to the sport as well.

How so? I’ve done book-signing benefits all
over the West Coast and in Hawai‘i, and I think it’s a wonderful
feeling to give something back. As a surfer, there’s a
responsibility to give back, whether it’s to send $25 to Surfrider
or to Heal the Ocean.

Do you think more people are becoming aware of this
I think so. I think our experience as
surfers is very special, and we’re very lucky. We all need to give
something back, whether in terms of actions or financial support. I
think surfers are a lot more environmentally aware than they used
to be.

Isn’t that true for a lot of people, not just
Yes, but surfers are certainly right on the
frontline of things going on in the environment.

What role do you think environmentalism has to play in
surfing today?
That’s an important part of what
Surfer’s Code is about — we do have a responsibility. We
derive quite a bit of pleasure from the ocean. Sometimes the ocean
needs us, and we need to stand up and be counted. Not just paddle
out and paddle in — there’s more to the surfing experience than

Have you looked into using “green” materials in
surfboard construction?
Yes, it certainly is something of
interest to me. With my company Solitude Clothing, we’ve always
been a relatively small company, but have tried to push the
envelope in terms of bringing environmental sensibility to clothing
manufacturers. I had a discussion with Al Merrick about the new
technologies they’re using to make surfboards. I think it’s going
to be great to see a break in the dependence we have on

Since you’ve lived in Santa Barbara, what do you think
has changed the most?
There’s been a bit more trash in and
out of the water, but there hasn’t been wholesale land development
here. People have been, generally, very environmentally aware.

Have you been following any of the coastal development
proposals for the Gaviota Coast?
Yes. Surfrider’s been
very vocal and active at preventing McMansions from going up along
that beautiful stretch of coastline. There have been a lot of
concerned people out there who have been vocal about keeping Santa
Barbara Santa Barbara — keeping it what it is and not losing sight
of what a rare, beautiful town we have. It shouldn’t be compromised
to make some developer rich.

What did you think about the Clark Foam debacle last
I could see it coming. I think surfing manufacturers
were really scared to experiment because of the monopolistic power
that Clark had. Looking back, there’s been zero new technology for
40 years. Without a doubt, this was the single best thing to happen
to the surfing industry in terms of progression, technology, and


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