Shaun Tomson: Changing the world one code at a time!

By Yashivan Govender
In a time when the world needs to be inspired, informed, refreshed and pushed. It is very difficult to find people who can bring these characteristics to the fore. As we seek high and low for champions of the planet, we find individuals who represent business, sport, politics, communities and even the environment, all lobbying and rallying for our attention. However it’s the ones that silently stand above the rest that grab our interest without a blink. It’s the ones that seek a purpose in what they do that not only inspire, inform, refresh and push the world but change it as well.

I was fortunate enough to have the privilege of being put in touch with one Shaun Tomson, touted as one of the godfathers of surfing, his influence on the sport is one of the reasons why it went professional. Born on the east coast of South Africa in the warm surfing city of Durban, Shaun has travelled the world with literally nothing more than a surfboard. His sport and travels have led him to building his own company, writing books, filming/starring in/producing documentaries and movies, to even lecturing and most of all becoming a brand of his own. So when I was given the chance to speak to Shaun Tomson, I jumped on it like I did the first time I tried to surf…I was nervous yet enthused! 

I dial California, not knowing what to expect, firstly the time difference was playing on my mind but I am going to generalize and expect a surfer to be up early. Shaun picks up and to my delight he is the coolest “cat” I have ever spoken to on the phone. Before I can even start talking about the object of this call, his book Surfers Code, he proudly announces his newest arrival to his family, his eleventh month old baby. I now add “proud father” to the list of the Shaun Tomson Brand! This leads to my first question about him living in California because his son is now an American with a South African father. Shaun replies about the globalization of business and life, “I have one foot in South Africa and one foot in the States…this is where business and life is at the moment hence I am based here”. In today’s culture we talk about technology and business, allowing us to work literally from the moon, from the way that Shaun has motivated it, he has been doing the global perspective of business and life, years before we even dreamed about the advancements of technologies such as the internet…I now add pioneer to the Brand.
By the time we start to discuss Surfer’s Code, Shaun has reinstated my values on business, life and sport. However his thinking behind Surfers Code takes that reinstatement to another level. “Surfer’s Code was started as a 105 word simple list of lessons that one can use about the experience of Surfing which can be applied to life and everyday situations. It was originally targeted as a youth initiative which I was asked to do and I wrote in twenty minutes. From there it just grew into what it is today.” Shaun presses that each lesson has its own symbolic message but the fact that it can be applied to any situation is its most important aspect. I realize that he has now used a basic understanding of Surfing and allowed people to think differently, he puts this into practice by associating his Tube Riding style (which he is well known for) to conceptualizing business, “When you are in a Tube, its only you in there and you have to follow through and commit, just like business, if you don’t commit…its not going to work”.
I draw back to what inspires him and what motivates a book like Surfer’s Code, from discussing his favourite surf spots, living in Hawaii for “Twenty-one winters!”, representing South Africa, to even a scary story about a shark (which I am still not keen to think or dare write about...), he does the unthinkable and brings up a cliché. For someone who has been anything but a cliché, Shaun states that the magnitude of the Football World Cup hosted in South Africa was so great that even though he was not in the country for the event, he felt strongly a part of the atmosphere thousands of miles away in California. He says “Never have I seen a country galvanized by two totally opposite sports, in 1995 the Rugby World Cup changed South Africa and now football has done the same…it has bridged a huge gap in the country in such a positive manner, it’s unbelievable.”.
I hang up the phone after Shaun discusses the youth of the world, saying “They need to persevere because life is tough and they need to find their passion…”. However I can’t stop thinking about that comment on the link between South Africa and sport, because in my mind I have realized Shaun himself has helped bridge a global gap. He has taken the basic concepts of surfing and allowed them to unify the world by applying them to life’s challenging situations.
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