Shaun Tomson and the origin of 'Surfer's Code'
By Shaun Tomson
Many years ago, Glen Henning, founder of Surfrider Foundation, a driven environmentalist and one of the surfing world’s most innovative thinkers, asked me to give something unique to a group of grommets that were coming down to watch the Rincon Clean Water Classic, a team surf contest that he had originated.
The goal of the event was to raise awareness of the severe environmental problems facing Rincon, one of the world’s premier surfing breaks, located just south of my adopted hometown of Santa Barbara. My first thought was to give away some great surf gear. At the time my wife Carla and I owned Solitude, a sportswear company that made surf-inspired clothing, so I had a whole warehouse to choose from. Through my long association with the industry I also had access to plenty of free product from all the big surf brands in their glory days - O’Neill, Quiksilver, Ripcurl, Reef, Oakley. Sunglasses, wetsuits, clothing - you name it, I could get it.
Then I thought I should do something a little more creative for the kids than just free stuff…
So, I pulled out a sheet of paper and wrote down the most important lessons I’ve learned about life from my time in the surf: 12 lessons, 105 words, tumbled out of me like a wave breaking along the shore. It was all done in twenty minutes – I had no fixed objective, no targeted number of words, nothing too specific other than getting down what was important and what might be useful to these young people. The lessons fell into their own order one by one. I called it a Surfer’s Code. I tell people that I didn’t develop or create the code. I simply wrote down what was out there all the time in my heart and in the hearts of many surfers, always there but sometimes overlooked.
I handed the cards out to the kids and more kids wanted them, and the parents wanted them too, and eventually it turned into a bit of a groundswell. I started inserting the Surfer’s Code into the pockets of our Solitude board shorts and shirts, and started speaking about the Code at schools, universities, and some of the largest companies across the world. Eventually I wrote a book with a collaborator, Patrick Moser.
While the book was at the printer, I lost our beautiful son Mathew and my life was broken. For a long time I could not go surfing again but eventually I did and my words gave me the comfort I needed. "I will know that there will always be another wave."
So, Surfer’s Code came from a very pure place, a simple act of giving that turned into healing. A simple act of sharing my stoke, sharing the positive, which took me down a very unexpected road.
At its core, Surfer’s Code, like Surfrider Foundation, is about commitment and purpose and hope.
Surfer’s Code is about doing something as opposed to doing nothing – it is a call to action with great hope for the future, for the next wave. Every line of that little card I wrote starts with “I will", two words of absolute commitment.
It is also about responsibility - for self, for others, and for the ocean. While surfing may be perceived as a solitary individualistic pursuit, it is not. Surfing is all about engagement with others and the ocean - the only time we are alone in the surf is that brief moment when we ride across the wall.
My favorite line is, "I will always paddle back out", and those six words have given me great comfort in times of despair.
Hopefully, the Surfers Code might shine a little light ahead for you, just like it has done for me, and its simple words might give you hope and commitment to catch your next wave, whatever that might be.
Homepage photo of Shaun at Rincon by Glenn Dubock