Shaun Tomson and the origin of 'Surfer's Code'

Shaun Tomson
Swellnet Dispatch

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." 

Recently director Justin McMillan teamed up with Mick Fanning and Surfrider Foundation to create this video of Surfer's Code

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.

//SHAUN TOMSON
Homepage photo of Shaun at Rincon by Glenn Dubock

Comments

surfstarved's picture
surfstarved's picture
surfstarved commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 1:37pm

Never turn your back on the ocean, and don't be a c*nt.

Don't let the bastards grind you down

Charlie Brown's picture
Charlie Brown's picture
Charlie Brown commented Wednesday, 26 Feb 2020 at 9:58am

That's pretty much it

Rojosh's picture
Rojosh's picture
Rojosh commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 1:41pm

it’s never to late to quit

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 1:45pm

The last one, every single time.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 1:46pm

Geez , I was expecting lineup policing and instead got that lovely little metaphor for life , love and a holistic map to a worthy surfing devotion.

Thanks Shaun Tompson.

And thanks Surfstarved for the Aussie translation.

radiationrules's picture
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 1:59pm

apart/a part of

stanfrance's picture
stanfrance's picture
stanfrance commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 2:18pm

That last statement means so much, we never should turn our back on the ocean. That includes all that it sustains. There's no better time to engage for the future of our planet.
Surfers are such a connected part of the equation and we should all look to maximise our impact and influence on others to protect the place and experiences we love that bring us sanity, peace and a sense of what life is all about.

Stan France

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 3:07pm

That rings true for 'real' surfers,but there are many who are not and never will be,only in it to look cool cause its the flavor of the moment.

simba

Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous's picture
Ape Anonymous commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 3:43pm

I re-iterate: Mick Fanning for Gold Coast Mayor.

old-dog's picture
old-dog's picture
old-dog commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 5:55pm

In 50 years of surfing I have never once paddled in so I have that one covered, and there is no mention of blatantly dropping in on kooks. Now that everyone surfs, the old code seems a bit less relevant to this old bastard. Cheers brothers?

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 10:34pm

haha. well done Old Dog! That ones been emblazoned in me since i was a grom too...no matter what, always catch a wave in..never ever do the paddle of shame! Cheers.

savanova's picture
savanova's picture
savanova commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 11:00am

Guess you've never had a fuckn big shark do a drive by.

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 11:47am

Guess you're wrong about that smart arse.... But paddling in because i can't catch a wave, nup, never.

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 5:57pm

tbb Salutes Shaun Tomson & Swellnet & Mick for sharing the stoke.

Shaun has been a major influence in my life, no more so than right here & now.
To be honest! Swellnet & Shaun just made tbb cry & now feel more alive than ever.
Special thanks to swellnet crew for their kind support...tbb will surf again!

PS: Thanx also to swellnet for tbb's recent fan mail to Shaun & kind reply... {Legends!}

Crew waves thru- Set of the Day ~~~~^~~~~/(`~~~~/(C`..[Shaun).../(C`..[Mathew)*

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 10:35pm

Yeeeeew! that's the spirit TBB. Sharing the stoke with you

Vunerable's picture
Vunerable's picture
Vunerable commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 6:09pm

Statesman of surfing speaks. Thank you Shawn. A world without waves is unimaginable.The energy, joy ,
sometimes frustration ,healing and wisdom of life spent in the ocean.
Next time the offshore brushed horizon lifts and your in the spot give thanks.

Robin Masters's picture
Robin Masters's picture
Robin Masters commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 6:34pm

I think Shaun said “Surfing will save you” during a deep interview in Busting Down The Door. Good call too.

Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone's picture
Nick Bone commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 7:58pm

The last one so true. Im a natural footer and will never turn my back on the ocean aka go left

I am the bone

jelli's picture
jelli's picture
jelli commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 8:12pm

Surfing saves me every day. It maintains my physical fitness. Sustains my optimism and anticipation. Fulfils my hunter gatherer ancestry. Facilitates my connection to nature. Renews my soul and spirit after emotional loss. Enables my compassion and empathy. Encourages my camaraderie. Dulls my frustration toward political, legal and economic 'gobby speak'. Creates joy and laughter. Helps me keep working post 60. Stimulates my dreaming and imagination. I share it with my best friend and life partner.

JackStance's picture
JackStance's picture
JackStance commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 7:27am

thanks

Breath. Murdoch's empire will one day fail to control our minds.

mr mick's picture
mr mick's picture
mr mick commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 8:39pm

“the only time we are on our own is the brief moment we ride along the wall”..... haha don’t think that applies to surfing Kirra! Overall a good code,makes you think about.......everything in life.

Mr mick

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 10:15pm

Burn baby, burn.

mr mick's picture
mr mick's picture
mr mick commented Sunday, 23 Feb 2020 at 8:52am

“Drop In From The Top”... Pink Floyd

Mr mick

wally's picture
wally's picture
wally commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 9:35pm

I miss blindboy who could tell us about that time Shaun coldly dropped in on him at Off The Wall in the mid-70s.

haggis's picture
haggis's picture
haggis commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 6:12pm

One of them should be. If I’m a pro and Kirra or snapper is on, I’ll burn you.

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 10:13pm

Yes what happened to BB and he was no fan of Shaun.

ringmaster's picture
ringmaster's picture
ringmaster commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 10:08pm

Being cynical is easy I know......

......but those 'commandments' or whatever you want to call em' got lost in the maelstrom years ago.

Until about 15,20 years ago they rang pretty true but as people have said earlier everyone's a 'surfer' now and there's a thousand different variations of what it entails and how you act when you're out there.

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 10:40pm

I took a school group surfing today, and got chatting to one of the groms who had a busted shoulder and had to sit it out. He started telling me about how when he was younger he was primed for boxing, but then the first shoulder injury happened and his trajectory changed. Couldn't train any more, couldn't pursue that thing he loved. He told me that the day finally came, at 14 that he decided that was enough, time to exit this world.....and just by chance, a saviour in the name of surfing, and a solid human to teach him came along. His eyes lit up as he told me this story and THAT moment..that first wave moment, as he retold it, you could tell he was there again. That was a few years ago and he's surfing all the time now, absolutely frothing on it, and we both buzzed out on how good surfing is and what it means to us. Never underestimate the stoke and power that surfing gives us, and like Shaun said, teach someone to surf if you can. You could save their life. And i have a new brother for life from a simple surf convo. Yew!

blackers's picture
blackers's picture
blackers commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 8:44am

That's just ace blue diamond. Thanks for sharing. You never know do you?

bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 11:48am

Cheers Blackers. Nah exactly...to think if surfing didn't come into his life that day. Crazy.

Johan Wohlleben's picture
Johan Wohlleben's picture
Johan Wohlleben commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 10:49pm

Rojosh you don’t get it do you? Just enjoy surfing and realise how much it gives back.

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 11:46pm

wally...do you reckon it might've been this Off the Wall wave.
https://vimeo.com/38863963
Shaun's front foot pivot unlocked the barrel roll secret.
Like landing yer finger on a moving 45 single, round once then back out as smoothly.
Purest surfing move if you get it right (99% easy) ...bloody mess if you blow it (1%).
Stall yer ceiling time waiting for drop-in Pro to claim his barrel...then lei the clown.
That really freaks them out....no longer 10ft tall + a healthy respect for real surfers.

Done 1000's (Really!) but it all comes back to what Shaun is doing in this Barrel.
1977 Point' tbb saw Shaun paddle up the face spin / roll / exit the Barrel...no claim.
At that time...never seen anyone roll a barrel in any fashion...local groms were fans!
tbb has thanked Shaun in person & earlier thru swellnet & again here!
Sure Ok! tbb can't surf at the moment, but stoked that Shaun & swellnet reckon I can!

PS: As a Bodysurfer, tbb is least compliant with Shaun's Surfer ('Paddle') Code.
tbb salutes how the free flowing Surf Spirit code was 'surfed' to the gromz. That's Punk!
The fact that we can all debate this code, only gives it more surf punk cred!

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 10:20pm

Wow I have seen that but it was 40+ years ago. Forgotten how amazing that barrel is. 10 Pointer today no probs.

wally's picture
wally's picture
wally commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 10:40pm

Great bit of film. I well remember the shock of seeing ‘Free Ride’ soon after its release in a Brisbane cinema.
Loooong, slow motion tubes. Amazing!

No one, before Shaun Tomson, had been filmed pumping and varying his line in the tube like Shaun did in that movie, We had only previously seen people set a line and hope they got out. This was revolutionary.

Of course, the above edit is fun trickery to extend the tube. As you probably noticed, we see the same 2 water photographers three and a half times,

troppo dichotomy's picture
troppo dichotomy's picture
troppo dichotomy commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 12:48am

Took me groms for a surf 2days ago at an empty stormy spot.after the surf an elderly lady came down the beach from a fishing shack and gave my kids a container of pop corn.i was so stoked and left thinking what a beautiful life!
Next evening took me 8 and 10year old to a local reef.it was 1-2ft about as good as this c-grade spot gets.i stood on the cliff and watched some adult donkey with below average skills thinking he's king of the reef and in a contest proceed to harass,paddle battle and drop in on little kids!!
Surfers code;never be a bully and never turn your back on the car park!you dont know who's watching what you do?
its a long walk to the shop..............

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 10:21pm

Yeah some people are real dicks. I used to hate that stuff when I was teaching my boy and gave the perpetrators an ear full.

nextswell's picture
nextswell's picture
nextswell commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 8:19pm

Great code to live by. However, fannings narration! I’m sure he’s a great bloke to his friends but doesn’t seem to live by many of these rules when in the ocean. Like many of the cooly kids happy to burn the avg punter.

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 10:26pm

Was a gentleman down in Victoria when I have been in the water with him. The Goldie seems a shit fight at the best of times and those guys are always going to get the best waves. They own that spot and in the old days there would have been a pack who enforced the pecking order, now they just take the waves.

prothero's picture
prothero's picture
prothero commented Saturday, 22 Feb 2020 at 11:49pm

Saw him out the Spot North of Perth about 30 years ago...seemed like a cock head to me at the time...but that's the way some of those talented guys role.

Prothero

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Sunday, 23 Feb 2020 at 9:40pm

I surfed the green mount section of the bank with Mick et al one day in the early 00s when they were next gen, impossibly perfect waves, and they were all cool, even dingo, no burns as long as you had a red hot go at it.
Still reckon Rosscoe Kermode's surfers code is the best one, though.

Jockhobbs's picture
Jockhobbs's picture
Jockhobbs commented Tuesday, 25 Feb 2020 at 8:35am

Code heroes a thing of the past. Very Hemingway I must say.

cleelo's picture
cleelo's picture
cleelo commented Tuesday, 25 Feb 2020 at 11:31am

Still surfing at 65 but due for two hip replacements... we might not be as good as we used to be but please dont burn us ... at our age every wave counts.

PC

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Tuesday, 25 Feb 2020 at 1:40pm

Too true.

Jockhobbs's picture
Jockhobbs's picture
Jockhobbs commented Tuesday, 25 Feb 2020 at 12:27pm

This was an advertorial for a clothing brand. Maybe I’m cynical. Actually, f!ck yes I’m cynical and that is why.

Re: getting dropped in on etc....when you can’t cut it with the line up go elsewhere or ride a longer board. It’s not a popularity contest.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Tuesday, 25 Feb 2020 at 2:29pm

Are you from Snapper or Sydney ?

Jockhobbs's picture
Jockhobbs's picture
Jockhobbs commented Tuesday, 25 Feb 2020 at 4:02pm

Lol. Sydney. That’s the cynical bit.

Ever surfed working Boomerang or Avoca Point...no charity there dats for sure. I dare say Lennox as well.

NDC's picture
NDC's picture
NDC commented Tuesday, 25 Feb 2020 at 12:46pm

Shaun Thompson, Mick Fanning, Clothing Commercial... yeah / nah?

I loved all the comments in this thread where people shared their gratitude for being surfers, being connected to the ocean, the sheer exhilaration of riding waves

I have now surfed longer than I’ve worked, longer than I’ve ben married, longer than I’ve gone to school, longer than I’ve been a dad... the only things I’ve done longer is eat, breathe sleep etc. and be a brother and son

The privalige (sp?) to have been and be a surfer is amongst the mist precious treasures of my time on this blue ball

Eliza Feely's picture
Eliza Feely's picture
Eliza Feely commented Tuesday, 25 Feb 2020 at 1:50pm

Sport of ALL OCEAN LOVERS. 'Sport of Kings' so 80 AD :) Would have been great to have updated - but you know- yawn- same old thing.

Ronson's picture
Ronson's picture
Ronson commented Wednesday, 26 Feb 2020 at 2:55pm

I like the second last one meself

christopher.jones's picture
christopher.jones's picture
christopher.jones commented Thursday, 27 Feb 2020 at 2:11pm

Beautiful imagery!

I've been forced to paddle in a few times - friends waiting - but I always feel ashamed.

At least Medina wasn't narrating. ;)

SI's picture
SI's picture
SI commented Thursday, 27 Feb 2020 at 8:48pm

Surfer’s code? Who is a surfer? Lots of delusions and double standards. If there is a code, it must give way to nature, every wave is different, the ocean’s moods and colours do not sound in codes. Experience and a bit of human decency go a long way, knowing when to go hard, when to go easy, cutting off, giving way; experience tells what is right. Respect your elders guys, if you don’t, you will pull the ground out from underneath yourselves. It’s not a swipe at anyone, but it’s usually good to show some respect and find some friendship along the way. I don’t want to advocate a “code” because some older guys are not very respectable, but many of them are, and a lot of them are a wealth of knowledge of our ocean.

Barrelrider

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Friday, 28 Feb 2020 at 8:11am

Love this shot of ST .....belting it. How old is he in the photo you reckon ?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 28 Feb 2020 at 10:21am

63 or 64 y.o.

Check these shots from a few years ago:

https://www.swellnet.com/news/swellnet-dispatch/2015/09/16/shaun-tomson-carves-pure-line-video-and-photos

And from an interview with Shaun we ran around the same time:

Then there is the equipment. Whatever you were riding recently, it really seemed to work.
Surfing also keeps my mind alive when it comes to designing new boards. At 60 I can't ride what Mick, Jordy, Kelly and the boys ride, I have had to redesign my boards especially for me and that has been a lot of fun over the last few years - how to maximize performance while still being able to catch waves. I have straightened forward rockers, gone back to 70s-style nose beaks to keep volume as you are pushing over the edge, and kept thickness forward to also help catch waves.

Surfing still occupies an important place in my psyche - I still dream about going surfing. How about that?! At 60 I'm still dreaming and thinking about that next wave...

https://www.swellnet.com/news/talking-heads/2015/10/26/surfing-gracefully-1977-world-champion-shaun-tomson

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Friday, 28 Feb 2020 at 11:52am

Fucker still ripping at 60 plus. And still overwhelmed with stoke.

I love it.