Shaun Tomson at Butterfly Beach | Credit: Paul Wellman

“I’m riding a whole new wave, and it’s the best wave I’ve ever ridden,” exclaims Shaun Tomson. “Helping thousands of people is the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s better than being the best surfer in the world.”  

Shaun, who has long been considered one of the best surfers in the world, is exalting about his role as an inspirational speaker. “After I lost my son, Matthew, I went back to graduate school,” he confides of the tragic loss he experienced in 2006. “I wanted to gain a better understanding how to inspire people to find positive goals. My son died from making a bad choice and playing a dangerous game. The biggest problem in America today is making a bad choice. One million Americans died last year from bad choices.”

Shaun has shared his academically tested method to big corporations like Cisco, GM, and Google, and to more than 60,000 students from different economic and cultural backgrounds. “I give them all the same message: a tool on how to find a new path,” he explains. “The tool is called The Code.”     

The Code involves writing 12 lines, and every one of them starts with, “I will.” It’s done in 30 minutes, either by yourself, or with family, an organization, or a sports team. Then it is shared with those who matter.  

Shaun describes the process as incredibly emotional and transformational, and insists that The Code be written by hand. Common statements include “I will honor promises,”  “I will do the right thing,” and “I will change the world.” “In 30 minutes, people look inside their hearts, and are ready to ride their next wave,” he explains. “Wonderful things happen to people.”  

Shaun sees it not only as a mechanism for hope, but for inspiring action. He reiterates humbly that the change doesn’t come from him, but from the people who do The Code themselves. “I just give them the tools,” he says. “It’s all about empowerment to make positive change.” This experience and technique has become the Shaun’s bestselling book, The Code: The Power of I Will, in which he encourages you to find your voice and commit yourself to your goals.  (He also wrote Surfer’s Code: 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life.)

In person, Shaun — who was an integral part of the surfing industry’s “Free Ride” generation and went on to found two successful clothing brands — is a gentle and kind soul. Tall, handsome, and eloquently soft-spoken, he was born in South Africa, and visited Santa Barbara in the 1970s to surf and to get a surfboard from Channel Islands’ Al Merrick.

“I fell in love with the place,” confesses Shaun, who moved here in 1995. “Initially it was the surf,” he admits. “Then it was the community, the lifestyle, and the amazing environment.”   

On Wednesday, June 5, Shaun will share his personal experiences coping with loss and the importance of hope and purpose at “The Light Shines Ahead” luncheon, hosted by Compassionate Care of Carpinteria, a Hospice of Santa Barbara program. “It’s such a noble organization,” he says of Hospice. “They help people navigate terminal life illness and help people grieving. It’s all free. They don’t charge. Their light shines ahead.”

Before we part, I ask him if he still surfs on a daily basis. “I still surf whenever it’s good,” he answers. “I catch a wave everyday, even in my mind.”

Shaun Tomson answers the Proust Questionnaire.

Who do you most admire?

Nelson Mandela walked out of jail after 27 years with an open heart and a spirit of forgiveness. Within four years, he was the first democratically elected president of South Africa and healed a segregated and divided land under one flag. Having one uniting flag is a good lesson for our nation.

What is your motto?

I will always paddle back out.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Ulysses. My mom nearly gave me the name. Thanks mom! Great adventures across the sea in search of love, honor, and victory.

What do you like most about your job?

I tell stories to crowds large and small. I know that each time I talk there is someone in the audience who is suffering and really needs some encouragement and I hope that I can be the one to give a helping hand. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Holding hands with my wife, Carla, and son, Luke, while walking on the sand at Hammonds Beach gazing out across the Pacific to Santa Cruz Island.

What is your greatest fear?

Suffocation — wriggling into a dark, narrow cave that gets tighter and tighter until I’m stuck and then my light goes out!

What is your greatest extravagance?

I won my first surfing contest in Japan in the 1970s and spent all my prize money buying a Rolex GMT Master watch. Prize money was small back then so I invested it wisely.

What is your current state of mind?

Gratitude for another chance at happiness

What is the quality you most like in people?


What is the quality you most dislike in people?


What do you most value in friends?


What is your most marked characteristic?


Which words or phrases do you most overuse?


Which talent would you most like to have?

I would love to be able to play the piano and rock my little house up and down!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Focus. Too many ideas, too little time. A lot more focus on a lot fewer projects!

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Finding a true purpose to help others after losing my son, Mathew, and writing Surfer’s Code.

Where would you most like to live?

My little village of Montecito under the Rainbow Bridge is the perfect place for me

What is your most treasured possession?

Omega Seamaster watch, from my Dad on my 21st birthday.

Who makes you laugh the most?

My son, Luke, has a feverish optimism about life and is a natural born jokestar and jokester.

On what occasion do you lie?

When the truth will cut the other person too deeply to be of any benefit.


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