Michael Tomson dead at 66

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

Michael Tomson, the pioneering pro surfer and co-founder of Gotcha clothing, passed away in Southern California overnight. Tomson's death followed a long battle with throat cancer. He was 66 years old.

Tomson, at centre, with fellow South Africans and Gotcha-sponsored surfers, Mark Price and a young Pottz

During the formative years of pro surfing, Tomson played a supporting role to cousin Shaun Tomson, particularly when the South Africans and Australians stormed Hawaii's North Shore. However, the roles were later reversed when Gotcha, with Michael Tomson at the helm, broke new ground in the American surf industry.

With brash, bright, and obnoxious marketing campaigns, Gotcha was the US-equivalent of Australia's Quiksilver, albeit in a larger surf market. In hindsight the strategy seems less a business decision and more the personification of commerce; MT appeared in many Gotcha ads and his excesses were an advertisement to lifestyle.

Beginning in 1978, by 1985 Gotcha were making US$120 million in revenue, eventually peaking at $150 million before losing its way due to recession and outside investors taking control.

For a while, Tomson led MCD - More Core Division, or Michael's Core Division - presented as the inversion of Gotcha: dark and brooding, but in time Tomson settled into the more natural role of unconstrained industry elder who'd supply bon mots for anyone who came calling. 

The Gotcha experience led Tomson to coin the phrase "size is the enemy of cool", a tension-laden maxim that every surf company since has had to address - including surf media companies.

Michael is survived by his wife, Kimberly, and his son Oliver.

Comments

PeteH's picture
PeteH's picture
PeteH commented Friday, 9 Oct 2020 at 10:25am

Sad to hear, especially after hearing of EVH's passing this week from the same disease!
RIP.

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Friday, 9 Oct 2020 at 10:34am

Well written Stu,
Extraordinary human
Vale M T.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Friday, 9 Oct 2020 at 10:44am

My cousin died on Friday from throat cancer- he was a brilliant AFL player and played for St. Kilda but quit due to homesickness.

2020, won't you just go away please.

RIP Michael Tomson.

1173

Sando1's picture
Sando1's picture
Sando1 commented Friday, 9 Oct 2020 at 8:25pm

Zen, I’ve enjoyed your comments/posts for years without saying a word (thanks by the way for all the insights, views, opinions etc)
Condolences mate.
There’s better days ahead, we all hope, what more can anyone say. Cheers..

RIP indeed.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Friday, 9 Oct 2020 at 10:51pm

Wow, cheers Sando- that's really cool. Thankyou.

I'm cool, I didn't want to make it about me, just that my cousin passed away a week ago today of throat cancer and two people of note died of the same in the last week or so.

Goof, my cousin was 61.

1173

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Friday, 9 Oct 2020 at 9:05pm

How old was he Zen?

Sorry for your loss mate

Sheepdog's picture
Sheepdog's picture
Sheepdog commented Monday, 12 Oct 2020 at 2:54pm

I'm sorry to hear that Zen. Sincere regards to your family.

Sheepdog

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Monday, 12 Oct 2020 at 5:07pm

All good Sheepy, cheers man, thankyou.

1173

andy-mac's picture
andy-mac's picture
andy-mac commented Friday, 9 Oct 2020 at 10:59am

RIP....
Too young.

Botak

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Friday, 9 Oct 2020 at 3:09pm

66 is young eh.
From what I’ve read though he certainly enjoyed his time on the planet, kept Pablo Escobar in business for decades.

dr-surf's picture
dr-surf's picture
dr-surf commented Friday, 9 Oct 2020 at 4:25pm

He Charged.

gasher's picture
gasher's picture
gasher commented Monday, 12 Oct 2020 at 6:28pm

Yeah he did!
Had a poster on my bedroom wall of him, way deep at Pipeline, & even backside outshone a lot of the bigger name guys there at the time.

Water walls are calling

roondog's picture
roondog's picture
roondog commented Friday, 9 Oct 2020 at 10:12pm

RIP tube rider

bungan's picture
bungan's picture
bungan commented Saturday, 10 Oct 2020 at 7:57am

Vale Michael Thomson. I thoroughly enjoyed his articulate recollections of surfing history especially recounting his arrival on the north shore. Great surfer. True character.

Bungan

brutus's picture
brutus's picture
brutus commented Saturday, 10 Oct 2020 at 11:03am

one of the most creative, innovative genius's that surfing has seen. He did it his way , and was truly great surfer...RIP mate!

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Saturday, 10 Oct 2020 at 11:55am

He was one of the characters I remember well from the 80's I wonder if Mark Price is still with us? 66 is too young ciggies caused it?

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Saturday, 10 Oct 2020 at 2:59pm

Mark Price is CEO at Firewire. Seems to be doing fine:

https://surfsimply.com/surfboards/me-myself-and-surfing-mark-price/

(quick google jobbie)

bipola's picture
bipola's picture
bipola commented Saturday, 10 Oct 2020 at 1:32pm

what causes throat cancer

Agitator's picture
Agitator's picture
Agitator commented Saturday, 10 Oct 2020 at 7:59pm

@bipola possibly quite a few things could cause or contribute to throat cancer....from recollection I think he used to or still did smoke a lot and may have had a liking for the yeyo.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Saturday, 10 Oct 2020 at 8:26pm

Anything from Epstein Barr to eating lotsa Muff

Toppa's picture
Toppa's picture
Toppa commented Saturday, 10 Oct 2020 at 11:29pm

RIP Michael Thomson. You can survive throat cancer if you catch it early enough. I was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in 2018. (throat and oesophageal closely related) Never smoked and haven't touched alcohol since my mid 20's now 58. Chronic reflux and some life stress at the time caused my cancer. I'm doing well now. Going to the doctor when I first noticed some difficulty swallowing saved my life. Back in the surf too! If you ever have unusual symptoms of anything not normal please visit your gp. Early intervention in treating cancer or any illness is key. Really sorry to hear of your loss Zen Again.

Toppa

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Saturday, 10 Oct 2020 at 11:57pm

Awesome Toppa and glad you're still with us. Thankyou for your story and kind words.

And again, I didn't want to make it about me, this piece should be dedicated to Michael, Huey rest his soul.

My cousin didn't smoke, he was hard as nails and lived hard. But he was a welder by trade- I wonder if that had anything to do with his throat cancer.

Good advice from Toppa- if something doesn't seem quite right, get it checked out. Ditch the she'll be right mentality. It could just save your life.

1173

billie's picture
billie's picture
billie commented Sunday, 11 Oct 2020 at 5:27pm

Dear Zenagain,

I feel like your comment is valid and you are worthy of condolences and comment space. This is a community and all your feelings/experiences are welcome. Including your discomfort at the attention.

Lots love mate

Billie

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Sunday, 11 Oct 2020 at 5:47pm

Cheers Billie.

Right back at you.

That's why I keep coming back to Swellnet, people like you and your ilk.

1173

groovie's picture
groovie's picture
groovie commented Sunday, 11 Oct 2020 at 6:15am

R.I.P> Michael T. Fond memories of him & Shaun helping to Bust down the door in Hawaii! Condolences to Zen ,61 is way to young ! GR8 advice from our survivor of cancer!

Mango Carafino's picture
Mango Carafino's picture
Mango Carafino commented Sunday, 11 Oct 2020 at 6:04pm

The legends in my youth era are slowly being summoned to ride that wave in the sky. I hope when my turn comes. When my turn comes, I hope I will be remembered for a few days on a surf website. MT joins the ranks of too many to lists here, Duke, Eddie, Rabbit Kekai, Ho, Chesser, Foo, Ace Cool, Midget F. The list is endless and we too will join it. Live life to the grandest.... see you on the other side MT.

chickenlips's picture
chickenlips's picture
chickenlips commented Monday, 12 Oct 2020 at 8:44am

If you Smoke Stop... If you don’t Smoke don’t Start...

PabloM's picture
PabloM's picture
PabloM commented Monday, 12 Oct 2020 at 11:07pm

Legend

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 13 Oct 2020 at 6:40am

SES story on MT with input from Shaun Tomsom, Paul Naude, Marc Price and others:

https://shop-eat-surf.com/2020/10/the-genius-that-was-michael-tomson/

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay commented Wednesday, 14 Oct 2020 at 12:50pm

Thanks for that link, Stu.
I was expecting it to verge on George Brothers style hagiography, but those were some really insightful and quite touching tributes.

Phil Jarratt's picture
Phil Jarratt's picture
Phil Jarratt commented Tuesday, 13 Oct 2020 at 10:10am

We were good friends back in the day, both trying to be gonzo journalists on the North Shore, and we stayed in touch over the decades. Always enjoyed MT's razor sharp wit, even when he could barely speak any more. A big life cut short, sad but inevitable. RIP, mate.

Phil Jarratt

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Tuesday, 13 Oct 2020 at 4:56pm

From my memory they never made an impact here as we had the triumvirate already in Ripper, bongalong, and quickie. I really can't remember much about Gotcha and reading about Michael is a real eye opener. Was different without the internet.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 14 Oct 2020 at 10:00am

Yeah, most of what I know is gleaned from historical reading as, like you said, the Big 3 ruled the Oz market. Also, while Bong and Quik penetrated the US market, Gotcha only made inroads here.

stylemaster1970's picture
stylemaster1970's picture
stylemaster1970 commented Wednesday, 14 Oct 2020 at 1:00pm

I think Sanga was sponsored by Gotcha?

If you argue with a fool long enough you will lose sight of who the fool really is........

bdp's picture
bdp's picture
bdp commented Thursday, 22 Oct 2020 at 11:21pm

MCD had an amazing team on their roster at one point. Dino Andino, Pottz, Sunny, Derek Ho, Mike Stewart, Mike Ho, Gerry Lopez, Cheyne Horan, Brock Little, Archy and Andrew Irons.