Life Lessons with One of the Greatest Surfers of All Time, Shaun Tomson
Enjoy this inspiring ASPN Classic with a surfing legend.
On this Saturday Special rebroadcast of the Next Swell, Rob Nixon is joined by surfing legend Sean Tomson. Sean is the author of the best-selling book “Surfer’s Code“, and the writer and producer of the award-winning documentary film Bustin’ Down the Door. He is a Business Administration and Finance graduate from the University of Natal. He is a World Surfing Champion, an inductee in the Jewish and South African Sports Hall of Fame, the US Surfing Hall of Fame, and has been described as one of the greatest surfers of all time (Surfing Magazine 2004) and one of the most influential surfers of the century (Surfer Magazine 1999). He is a board member and ambassador for Surfrider Foundation, the world’s largest environmental group dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans, waves and beaches and he received the SIMA Environmentalist of the Year Award in 2002. He currently lives with his wife and son in Santa Barbara, California and still finds time to chase the perfect wave.
Rob Nixon 0:00
Welcome to Episode Three of the Next Swell podcast. My name is Rob Nixon, your host and I'm completely stoked to be talking with World Champion, legendary and iconic surfer, global motivational speaker and author Shaun Thompson. This podcast is going to be a bit of a departure from our last two. Instead of talking the politics of the sand and surf, we are going to explore how someone can have their lives impacted and in turn impact others through love, that special place where the ocean meets the land. We're going to explore and Shawn's life and experiences and in that special place where inspiration can happen, the joy can be overwhelming and life's tragedies can be healed. Shawn, I can't thank you enough for you speaking to me today and taking time out of your busy life to talk some story. Thank you so much.
Shaun Tomson 0:46
That's great to be on the show. Robin, thanks for all your tireless work for Surfrider Foundation and the organization that is very very dear to my heart, so it's great to be on the show.
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Rob Nixon 1:49
So Shaun, obviously you're very well known for your surfing career. You're one of my heroes. In fact, I think the first time we met was at a Surfrider Foundation Board meeting as a little starstruck, but the first thing I did was make sure I could sit next to you and talk to you the entire meeting. And it was awesome. You're very good and great human being in general, and a great surfer that I've actually had the opportunity to see out in the water personally. And it's a it's been a pleasure. And it's been a pleasure knowing for sure. So Shaun, tell us a little brief history of your start as a surfer and where you from what drew you to the ocean and the waves and what got you into surfing originally?
Shaun Tomson 2:34
Well, I grew up in a place called Durban in South Africa a long, long way from here. I started surfing in the 60s. My father was a champion swimmer in his youth land, ocean, he had this passion for surfing and body surfing and lifesaving and being in the water his whole life he spent on the beach. His dream was to compete in the Olympic Games. And then he was really badly attacked by shark while he was the surfing. It's one of the first recorded incidents of a shark attack on a surfer. And that was in 1946 in South Africa, but he never lost his great love for the ocean. And certainly, he imparted onto me and my mom loved the ocean as well. She came from the island of Malta which was very heavily bombed during the Second World War. It was the most heavily bombed place in the history of the world she endured 3400 air raids, and ultimately was evacuated to South Africa. And she told me, you know, when she saw the Indian Ocean for the first time, she knew that that was where she wanted to live. She said to me when she saw the sea, she gave me this statement she said I've never felt as free as when I've been near the sea. So both of my parents loved the sea. So I suppose I've got a love for the sea and my genetic makeup. And I started surfing as a young boy because our family was always at the beach and I started body surfing and then I served on these little rubber mats we called surfer planes and then eventually graduated to a little belly board that was four foot six and once I caught my first wave and stood up for the first time, you know we all of us as surfers experienced that one moment when wow life is different. You have a completely different perspective on your life and and where you going and where you are at that point in time. That sad moment that captures you forever. And for some people, it's a real defining moment. And for me it was and I just wanted to always paddle back out and capture that moment again. So I became very passionate about my surfing and love to compete. surfing and competition was very much in its infancy back then in the longboard era, but I love to compete. I like to say I was an instant success. I came third in my very first event. It was only three of us in the event but like San Jose instance success here, three out of three. But I love competition. I love pushing myself, being with my mates in the water, trying to be the best I can be my father loved me competing more than that. He just loved me serving and he loved seeing the progress in advance. And ultimately, he went on and he bought the biggest surfboard manufacturer in South Africa when I was 12 years old, which was pretty cool thing for your dad to do. He retired at a very young age, he had a beach bag, and he used to pick my brother and I and cousin up from school every day and take us down the beach did it pick us up when the surf was good, otherwise, we'd have to catch the bus. Or Walker, sir. He was very, you know, very stoked guy. And he could see I love surfing and made sure that I had everything I needed to be successful. But also, he was a very purpose driven individual. And he could see that surfing was a great vehicle to empower young people. It was a great way for young people to get out in the fresh air to test themselves against the ocean to become better human being he said, he really was a big promoter of of amateur surfing and professional surfing. He created the first pro contest in the world which is still running, it's celebrated 50 years this year, the longest running event in the world was first called the Devon 500 then against and 500 and now it's called the bleeder Bay press. I mean, a lot to my dad and Sydney had a lot to my mom as well to have that wonderful love for surfing imparted onto me at such a young age.
Rob Nixon 6:38
So you go surfing and you mentioned the competition and that eventually drew you to to Hawaii, and you're well, your exposure to the rest of the surfing world I believe my generation of surfers we grew up with the momentum generation, Kelly Slater, Shane Dorian, Rob Machado, those guys and but they wouldn't be able to done what they done without your generation which I've commonly started calling the breaking down the door generation which was the group of guys that you're with in Hawaii in the in the 70s rather Bartholomew Mark Richards incans, Peter Townsend and many more people that are going to be come surfing legends. Can you expound on your experience when you reach why in the 70s and what it was like to be to be an outsider in a very an area that was very leery of outsiders
Shaun Tomson 7:54
will be many generations in surfing that have all built on the previous generation Sydney there was an amazing generation before me and an amazing generation. Before that generation in a wet bag or at the surface, I looked up to people like David nueva net young Richard to Paul straw. The reason amazing service and in the next generation was we have a lira and Nigeria Lopez EDR car, semi Hawk, berry Can I puny. This will actually happen. Of course, this was a generation ramp before my generation. And I was lucky in that I've lived through, you know, and competed against a number of these servers from many different generations out to Hawaii for the first time in 1969. It was my dream always to go to Hawaii. I had I had photos all over the house of Hawaii at a photo pipeline read about bed and you know, I knew that one day I would go to serve in Hawaii. So I love to what my father loved Hawaii as well. When he was recuperating from his shock attack. I needed surgery on his hand. His father sent him to San Francisco. And after arm surgery, he went to recuperate in Hawaii. He was most probably one of the first South Africans ever to visit Hawaii in the in the 40s and met the whole kind of murky family and to kind of MOCA had been his hero when he was a young young swimmer because juke was such an amazing swimmer said he was this connectivity between our family and Hawaii that went back a long way and then in 1969 for my bought my bar mitzvah present when when a Jewish boy comes of age. My father took me to Hawaii. That was my prayers and my father and my stepmom. We went off and spend six weeks in Hawaii in Hawaii was a universal way from from South Africa back then, and we stayed at a con. And I wrote some of the biggest surf of my life, it was the legendary winter of 69. And, you know, I was out there in makaha when the surf was 2530 feet. Did you want to call it? So, you know, Hawaii was part of my blood and I started the gang at a very young age, I've got confidence in big surf it at a very young age. And then because along with that, I would come back to South Africa with that confidence. I started winning most of the events in South Africa when when I was young, and I would consequently get invitations to compete in these events in Hawaii, just as professionalism or starting to come into surfing, say every year. I was 14 in 1969. And from then on every single year, I would go to the wagon invitations. I mean I was I was spending winters in Hawaii when I was 15 years old just with it with friends. You know, it was when I think my mum and dad leaving me listen to that big word to say the biggest waves in the world that 15 years ago. Why are these parents me being a parent now? required incredible, but I am. I fell in love with her why I fell in love with the culture. The people the surface. The surface were like heroic, to me, Barry Can I puny? We know I believe Jay Hackman, they were like heroes. They were they were larger than life. And all I wanted to do was was to be a great surfer like them. So I hit it really hard in Hawaii. I mean, I pushed it. And then in the mid 70s, this group of young Australians,
we all coalesce together, you know, we all had this ambition of wanting to be the best guys in the water and be the best surfers on the planet. And in those days, there's no such thing as a professional surfing circuit. He was isolated events around the world. But for us, the ultimate was to win in Hawaii to win an event in Hawaii that you kind of mocha vandal, the Smirnoff Pro, or the Caribbean classic or the Hamptons, or the big province of the day that was the ultimate to one of one of these privates a minimalist to be recognized by the media as the hottest surfer it's sensitive, the hottest surfer and how the either the hottest separate pipeline, Madison had rocky pointed back door and off the walls, you know, we were one of those very driven. And while it wasn't a group effort, because we certainly weren't like a team, we all collectively came on the scene at the same time and because we had this great drive and ambition and and loved surfing and had the sort of pure soulful experience with surfing and also could see that there was a potential to create a professional sport out of it without in any way interfering with the sublime soulful experience. It all happened together. So we were sort of perceived as, as the is read out individuals but also as this group as this movement in much the same way as it was a movement before us and then after us there was a movement with Tom Curren, john Carroll Martin pattern and it was a movement with with the momentum generation and you know, there's a new movement today with the Brazilian storm, you know, then these movements that really defined surfing at that moment young guys putting it on the line, surfing better than anyone else and changing the sport just just for the love of it.
Rob Nixon 13:35
Well, I will say one thing about your style surfing Shawn it's it's I know there's been a couple surfers that have had the the nickname and Mr. Smooth that watching you surfing the waters is some of the smoothest, most radical maneuver that I've seen in style stylist is going through the roof with your surfing so
Shaun Tomson 14:01
as a surfer you want to be stylish and when I say style, I don't mean an artificial way of holding your hands or holding your body your style must be this intrinsic reflection of who you are as a person your style. In many ways is your personality to identity your style is your ethos, your style is your your character. At that time we all have very unique we all have very individual styles. You know Mark Richards had his own beautiful style and rabbit Barthelemy had his own style and he can set his own style and Pete Italian had his own style just the same way as the surface before us. Nigerian very cannot apparently Gerry Lopez they all have had unique style set styles really important. I think power is really important. The car was really important. You know Surfing is sort of in three in three silos, you have the cough, how you do those maneuvers, the carving maneuvers, then you have to rotting and then you have area on the neighbor's, which was never really part of it but style, rhythm and flow links, all of that together links the carve together links the two together links to aerial maneuvers to give sisters know how you hold your body, styles who you are as a person.
Rob Nixon 15:29
I'm talking about that era before we move on to our next segment. So at some point, rabbit wrote an article for surfer magazine that kind of upset a lot of people and really see all into one group.
Shaun Tomson 15:47
This is true.
Rob Nixon 15:50
Is it my question is this I have obviously seen the documentary breaking down the door and I believe we've talked about this but it seems like you're the one that is credited with basically saying rabbit and a lot of other guys is asses from being really messed up in North Shore after Barry Kanade came out and tried to smooth things over with everybody.
Shaun Tomson 16:18
Yeah, well, I think it was, you know, rabbit read this article. And he thought it was a great article, I thought it was a very respectful article. But it really clearly identified what you have to do in order to be successful not just in Hawaii, but but as a metaphor for success in business for success in life, you got to bust down the door, no one's gonna open their door for you. And let the barbarians come in and take over you know, you've got to you've got to bust down that that door. And rabid always being very respectful, but sometimes reality isn't isn't isn't how something is perceived. So some people perceived it as as being disrespectful, which is wasn't also rabbit while he's one of my closest friends and I have the greatest amount of respect for him. He was quite energetic in the water and he wanted to catch a lot of waves and and had had a particular beef with Barry kanade puny in the surf in Australia. And he shouted at Barry in the heat of competition and you know, that sort of exacerbated the situation. There's perception there that revenue disrespected as a Hawaiian God Barry can opinion well, Barry never really, you know, very, never never did anything about it. You know, there was there was sort of the word was out that rabbit had disrespected himself. Yes, there were some turbulent years. And then against the group, you know, got hold of this drama, and used it to sort of further their own aims of of control. So it became very sticky for all of us. I mean, all of us copped it rabid. Teeth punched out. I got it. I got smacked to God try to hit me with a bottle. I mean, I wouldn't. I went and bought bought a 12 gauge, shotgun pump action semi auto. I mean, I've been in the military with 10 shells and I wasn't gonna leave the island I had sent me death threats and people telling me they would kill me if I didn't believe that but I had to stick it out rabbit stuck it out in Kens, stuck it out. PT stuck it, we all stuck it out. We will cut it. I mean, EMR was any one of us that that never kept it. But you know, sometimes that's the price that you have to pay. And I think for one of us there was a realization that sometimes you have to be very careful in what you say yes, you have to be always truthful and honest. But sometimes you have to be perhaps a little bit more delicate and some people can perceive your words the wrong way. And you know, weights have great power. And we've seen it in what's happening in the political discourse in the United States today that which have tremendous power, which have power to create a positive way and words have power to to create a negative way so learning experience for all of us but we all ultimately stayed peace was declared numerous times. And I think today when we look back was a great story a lot of drama there and, and and I was very I was really honored to be able to make that movie with my with my director, Jeremy Gold. We made our door and it's a 10 year anniversary of that meeting, which really Chronicles what what happened during that period, the drama, highlights and the lowlights of what we had to go through as some people but we, we you're looking back now it was. We were tested in fire. Now we were in In the ring with the bulls we were in literally hand to hand combat it made us better than we were. And yes, at times it was unpleasant. But that's the reality that that we lived through.
Rob Nixon 20:17
How did it feel to win the World Championship in 1977? Is every year correct? Thank you. 77. Right.
Unknown Speaker 20:25
Correct. Yes, it was so long ago. I mean, it was 40 years ago, it was a very satisfying to me was the first year of the provisional savings circuit. So in February of that year, this whole group of professional surfers from all over the world gathered in a place called Bearly heads. And now we have this professional tour in front of us. For the first time we had they called it man on man competition that was to man he's, from the first time we had a team point decimal system. And for the first time we had a circuit of all these events and all over the world that would ultimately culminate in a why. And and first World Champion would be one, yes, Italian won the World Champion championship in 1976, there was a little bit different, it was declared retrospectively. So when we go to Hawaii, right at the end of the day, having said that, we're gonna have a weird time, but we're going to count all these points. And it wasn't like the circuit. But it was so exciting for all of us at the time. Now not to take away anything from your talents, great achievement, but it was this first year of the circuit was so exciting. And then to win, it was just an amazing experience. For me, my father was, was really excited. He, he loved sport. He loved me to do well. But he was very accepting, when I lost, he never blamed me. He would never let me dwell on a defeat. He had a very simple philosophy about competition, that competition is black and white. With these no gray areas and competition, then when a judge lays down a score, that score is laid down in stone, and now none of crying or shouting, or abusive behavior is going to change that score. That score is a lot. He would say to me when you win, win like a gentleman and when you lose, and you're going to lose often lose like a man. And yet that's a colonial philosophy that you have to lose when you lose your man up. Don't cry or not ever defeat. And yes, certainly sometimes I was absolutely devastated after I close to people and you put everything you have into it, but I would go shake the one hand and move on. That's the way it is. And when I talk to young people about competition, I say that's when we're like a gentleman respect your opponent and lose like a man and when you lose you go you shake the hand of the big 10 put it behind you and you move on to the next wave and the next event said was very simple. competition was really simple in my mind.
Rob Nixon 23:06
Well, your your father, my father sounds very much like he probably got along very well. That's, that's, that's awesome. Okay, I'd like to move on to talk a little story. We've heard your background which I think gave us a lot about your motivation for worrying talk about not in the future this this cast, but I've had the opportunity to do this in the past through serving on Surfrider Board of Directors together. I'd like to screen a few out to your right now and then we'll trade we'll trade story here. What is funny and along with inspiration to me, and very personal to you, I believe I know it is for sure. But we'll start with sharks. How about that? Sounds good. I've got a few years ago I was surfing down here and lovable sharks in the water. A lot of bait shouldn't have been in the water a lot of us out and so much bait in the water actually we're going to head and face with fish hitting us and slapping us and stuff like that and paddling after wave and this this smaller kid next to me, whose father I knew very well and trusted me to take him out there is paddling into a wave and disgrace shadow comes up behind them and he stands up and his little face lights up and he takes off from this wave and I thought he was just oh, I just got this great way. He goes great. And he finishes off the wave kicks out. pals back out to music. Hey
Unknown Speaker 24:45
Rob. Rob, do
Shaun Tomson 24:46
you see that the
Rob Nixon 24:48
I was like dude, that wasn't dolphin me to go back in right now. And it's a fun one to to have with me after that. I was like he's like you should have taken out a lot earlier than I was like you were at the beach. You couldn't see what was going on. out there, but but you have one that doesn't necessarily involve a shark. But it's the one I call it the one I story, the Spartan and in South Africa,
Shaun Tomson 25:14
can you can you tell us a little bit about that? Yes, it's a story that happened a few years ago. So I was very frightened of sharks during my career based on what happened to my father. And also, the area that I grew up used to have many shark attacks. On the east coast of kwazulu Natal, very warm weather subtropical wouldn't ever drops below 75 degrees. You have rivers in summertime that release a lot of fresh water in the water becomes very brown and discolored. NetSuite is NBC shock, loves to live in those mbz is the most deadly shock in South Africa, way more deadly than the great one counts for about 90% of the attacks. It's almost like a bull shark on steroids. They grabbed about 12 feet, and very, very aggressive. So you know, I was always wary of this nbcs. And you know that Australians Of course, they knew that I was frightened of sharks, I remember competing in an event it was called to surf about like one of the biggest events in the world. And out in the semi finals and waiting for waiting for wave up against Australia. And and of course, the jaws theme comes over the PA system. It's so funny, I just thought he's trying to put me off my game. But I thought it was funny. So I had this, you know, I have this fear of sharks. And then I was back in South Africa about three years ago. And a young guy who I used to sponsor when I had one of my companies in South Africa for me up, he said, Shawn, this is gonna be really firing. And you know, I'd love to take you to this break, you've never surfed before, it's going to be six to eight feet. So I'm getting if I haven't saved it before, and I'd saved all the spots on the coast, I knew I hadn't saved because it didn't have shortcuts, because we'd only serve in a place that had Sharpies. So these were nets that were about 350 yards out strand parallel to the beach. They went straight in one long land there was sort of they would die there, they were like staggered, you know, one would be a feather in one up, that's a shocker actually swim through the gaps generally went once a shark swam inside, it interfered with something, and they were mostly caught on the inside, swimming out, but they're very effective if it had shot meets, the chances of getting hit by shock were very, very rare. So anyway, you wake up early in the morning picks me up and we drive down the middle road, and we end up at this this break. And the surface is cooking. When I say it's cooking, it's like six to eight feet. And it's actually protection, my friend and I are standing standing on the beach, and we're looking at these incredible teams coming down towards us, and they just use powerful cylinders. And as they're breaking upon themselves, they shooting this compressed air. I've always called that, that compressed air, the breath of God, it's like when you're inside the TV, places, places the person can be to God. It's just, it's just the most wonderful, wonderful experience. So we check out these, these great web pages are gonna be stripped off and put on our websites. And we ran down the beach. And as you're running down the beach, that African Sun is just coming up through the ocean because we're on the east coast. And as it's arising, there's all this mist in the air because the water is 75 degrees that is about 16 you have this this theme coming off of the water looks like the ocean is boiling with the sun coming up. And it was just as beautiful, sublime experience when you when I'm connected back to my homeland and connected back to my roots in Africa and seeing these perfect race me gentlemen, what do we paddle out but what is absolutely translucent, and amazing. We start sharing these like great tubes together. And here we are inside that tube feels like Tom's expanded, like Tom has absolutely slowed down like you can actually, when you're sitting at your absolute best. Psychologists call it being in a state of flow, you actually feel that you can actually control the curve that was the most amazing sensation and just have these great waves like in slow motion, felt like I was an atomic thing because I felt like I was 25 years old again. So we're sharing these great waves together. chappellet made up for a couple of hours, just the two of us. And I say what's the name of this break? Yeah, surfers had great names for the waves. We read bands up pathline sensitive Mavericks whatever. cc is shown we call it Why not? I said Why do you call it one I said we call it one because when the wave breaks, it looks like a human. Wow, that's pretty cool. You know you're locked inside that tube and the way it has that sort of oval form. It's not perfectly rounded.
That's pretty cool. So he served for about another hour and then I catch my last wave in a catch all the way down the point I'm about 200 yards away from my body and I kick out and as I kick out I fly through there. I'm not trying to do an aerial or anything but I'm getting really fast and I land back in the water in this translucent water and a sink down into the water my boards really small my boards like around six one and six one were like 119 my boards about two and a half inches thick so it's really submerge and as I land on a look down in this transition when I see a black shed like heading towards me super fast. And I look to my left and I see another one these two of these shapes actually heading towards me like I don't know 20 knots super fast. And I think rob a man I'm gonna get charged in off a twos and B's because I've seen it happen for two shots. I hit one guy. And then as about hitting explode out the wood and I see it's two dolphins like
I'm not going to concede that even the two dolphins swim off and my like my heart feels like it's gonna jump right out of my mouth. So I'm going to zoom in I'm going to catch the little wave and and I'm like almost shaking on the beach from from fear and exhilaration as well you know, not being consumed. And I'm walking at the beach and as I walk up the beach, I'm dripping wet. My boat and my arm with my wetsuit on. I walk past an old fisherman who standing on the beach with a like a massive rod. And as I walk past him, he says, You haven't been surfing out there, have you? And I go with dare. What's it look like? I'm dripping wet. I got a board anemometer which says and of course, I've been saving up they said, he said, you know what we call that way. I said, Do you wanna? He said, Do you know why we call it one? A city? You call it one out? Because cheap looks like a human and has that overperform? Is it no mate? We call it one hour because he's a 12 foot NBC shark that lives in Atlanta. And when it rolls over on its side, the bad people, all you can see is one I said, You know, I speak now. That's actually what I do. I do they call them keynotes. And he talks in front of hundreds of 1000s of people. And I talk about about purpose, and how you can find your purpose, find your path and and find your path. And within the context of that when I talk to people, I say, I'm not giving any of you a prescription. Today, I'm just giving you a perspective of a life that's been learned with passion and purpose. I said I'm giving you perspective. And the story I tell you about one story about many different things. But it's a story of perspective. You know, from my perspective, my reality is Surfing is incredibly challenging, exciting, exhilarating wave and having a sublime experience with my body getting connected back to my homeland. And from the perspective of a fisherman, it's this terrifying place where the 12 words mbz called one Alex lives, and we look at the same reality from two different perspectives. And I tell people, what I'm doing today is I'm giving you my perspective. And there's no prescription associated with this perspective. I'm not I'm not here to tell you what to do. Just to simply give you a perspective, and that's how I like to try to start my, my talks. So people are way more receptive. I'm not at the like Tony Robbins, or, or, or like one of these sort of professional dudes. I just like to tell stories to people that will emotionally arouse them. stories about courage and camaraderie, and integrity, and honor and connectivity. I tell stories, simple stories to emotionally connect people. And then I tell people, here's my code is a tool that you can use as well, to inspire yourself to empower yourself to make your life better to make positive change in your life and your families and your businesses live tomorrow. Here's a tool and it's free. And I like to say my to my code, it's open source code. You can use it free doesn't cost you anything. You can take it to your organization, you can change your organization in three hours by getting everyone to write 12 lines. Every line begins with a well and that's what I do and I love it. I really love it because many people sometimes you will have so busy that you're so locked into the treadmill that you don't have this little bit of time for introspection and thing. When you stop for 30 minutes, you just stop. And you think about who you are. You think about what's best inside you? How can you be the best that you can be? What's the best side of you, and you write your code 12 lines, every line begins with our work. And you write poetry and your power, and your passion. And this card is a credibly powerful tool for yourself and also to connect others and tell others who you are and who you're going to be. So I love the and I've been doing it. I've been doing it since I lost my beautiful sun in 2006. Yes, that's my mission, create a positive wave around the world using the cut.
Rob Nixon 35:44
Well, you actually have transitioned very well into the next into the next segment here. So you you've written a book, The Power of AI, well, the code is the correct title
Shaun Tomson 35:55
or the code parallel surface code. So CSS code was was the basic principles that surfing had taught me about Lark and it was really inspired by sci fi the foundation. It was inspired by Glenn Heenan, you started Surfrider Foundation. And in 1984, when he was starting the organization, he said to me, Sean, you know, we'd love to have you be an ambassador for the organization to highlight what we'd be doing. I was the number one surf in the world back then. And I said, Sure, I'll even be on your first post, I'll get you a picture. And I wrote the copy. And I read the copy for the first Surfrider post, it was do a good tip. And it was picture me doing a bottom 10 I've still got a copy of the poster somewhere. And that was my, my connection with Surfrider from 1984. I've been a member, I've been on the board a few times, and that allowed the organization. So Glenn Hanning was this profound influence in Surfrider Foundation. And then when I moved to America, shortly after I moved here in 1995, he said, Shawn, you're adopted breakover incans, having a severe environmental challenge. The homeowners are connected septic tank systems, when it rains, the septic fill up, crap flows, overflows and flows out into river flows and water makes us super sick. And I wouldn't want you to help me do something about it. Instead, I'm bringing a group of young people to the beach. And I'm bringing some garden, some state people, you know, some politicians, like some influences, said no, I want you to give the young people something he said you've got $100 budget against the gate. Kenny is just a Cassidy said, Give me something. So I'm going to hand it back for what can I do with 100 bucks. So I wrote to get a sheet of paper. And in 30 minutes, I read 12 lines, every line begins with I will, I will take the drop with commitment, I will always paddle back out. I will never turn my back on the ocean. I will honor the sport of kings, I will realize that all servers are joined by one nation on catch a wave every day. Even in my mind, I'll never find a Riptide a pair of running backs that it was that simple. And I read it in 30 minutes and I made a little plastic card and had a printed local printer. I even managed to misspell the word commitment. And I made 100 cards and I handed them out to the young people that came down to the beach the following weekend. renkon. And the media was there and people love the cards and people can see the problem. And you know, we got publicity. And ultimately over a period of years, we solved the problem. But the cards took on a life of their own. They just kept going and people wanted them printed more. And my wife called her and I had started a company called solitude and we made lots of clothes. And we just put the cards in our board shorts and shirts that is code. Card 12 lines 105 words every line beginning with our sort of started to go out into the community and people liked it and people find me at a show and come and talk to that group and kind of talk about church coming to get our religious group coming to going to synagogue come and talk about lawyers group and and I got a babysitter. Hey, Shawn, I'd love you to come and talk at a leadership conference back code. That integrity about online. Retail, it's a big conference 1000 people I mean, it's a bit scary. You said you're going to be the opening speaker after you is going to be Malcolm Gladwell and often gonna be Richard Branson, so you need to be on your game. So that was like the first big conference I did and I loved it. People like the message and ultimately out of it came up this book that I collaborated with a great guy called Patrick Moser, and was called surface code 12 chapters every chapter was in deep exhale duration of like, why did I rise? I'll take the drop with commitment. I never thought a Riptide or I'll always paddle back out. So it was like stories built around those
12 metaphors. And then, I mean, this is, this is classic how life works and you can't sometimes when you give something away for nothing when you just do a good tune, you never know where life will take you. You never know where the wave will go, I promise you. The more times that we can do something good for nothing, the better our lives will be. It's amazing. So now I'm sitting out at rain calm, you solve the environmental problem. And a guy paddles up and he says, Hey, Sean, my name is Gordon Cici. I'm a headmaster at a local school, school school and a cat. But we only have 80 students a high school when a little farmhouse, he said you want to come and talk to our students about service code. I said, Sure. The book had just been released. So I go down to the school. I take my book down there. And I'm talking to the kids about service code. And then while I'm speaking to them, I have a bit of a brainwave. Again, surface close market triathlons, 105. Boys, I wrote it in 30 minutes. What about you? Okay, what about each of you, 80 of you writing your own code, 12 lines, every line begins with I will write it in 30 minutes, and send it to me. So about a week later, and get the codes back from the kid about 1000 lines of code. 80 students $12,960. And the very first line I get back, is from a young girl named Sarah, she's 13 years old, I will be myself. I'll be myself, I will be myself. When I read that. When I cried. You know, I had lost my beautiful son a few months before. Too bad choice to again, all the checking game that he learned from some kids at school. And perhaps it was peer pressure, we'll never know about my son try the game. Play the game was a stupid game, they played with the school towers, all the kids at the school used to waste goods. And the game killed my beautiful son. And when this young girl, right, I'll be myself, it just touched me deeply emotional level. And this young girl's putting a flag into the sand and saying that no matter what someone wants to do, she's going to be herself. And I thought, Wow, it's inspiring. And then I read all the other amazing lands that these young students read, I will have faith I'll pray, I'll face my fears. I thought wow, this is such brilliant poetry and passion and power and write another book. So based on the code from the kids, I click 12. And read another book. And I called it the code, the power of AI will. And this book was written for teams, to give them a framework to motivate positive choices. So they made it and they try to make a choice in their life, when they try to find the path. They're trying to find the purpose, the coking gives you power to make good decisions. So it became very popular, I was searched at university and I read the book with Patrick again, I for some, you know when you when you write a book as an author, you're hoping people will read it, because you put a lot of time into thought into it and and for a brief moment did was number one on Amazon and the team section was so cool. I mean, I we started that and got out there into the community. And now 10s of 1000s, maybe hundreds of 1000s of people know about the code and kids use the code to help them be better. And it's just that inspiring to me to know that like, we did it start, it started. Surfrider Foundation geogrid 10. That's where it started. And it just rolled from there. Wow. That
Rob Nixon 44:20
the message of the code, and I've heard you use you're talking to an audience, we believe in Laguna Beach a couple of years ago. But no matter what age, what ethnicity, the wealth you have, or don't have school children and corporations, it translates because the way the way you're adapted the program from your original surfer's code to encouraging people to write their own 12 pieces of the code. And that that's, that's ended up being to where you, you've gone to some pretty heavy hitters and done this.
Unknown Speaker 45:09
I mean, lots of huge companies said to her that philosophy, you know, we've done academic academic tasting of it. We're working with Claremont Graduate University, I'm now working with the Rotterdam School of Management, as well as the number one business school in Europe. I just came back from doing a leadership summit there. You know, for 600 people and aware, these amazing organizations, there's a great organization for young presidents organization, these are entrepreneurs, young companies, with revenues in excess of 20 million bucks, I do a lot of work with them. And it's, I like to think that, yes, I read surfer's code, but the code is not market, the code is everywhere, they just cracked the code, I'm just, I just found this little tool that's open source code that anyone can run. And when you write your mission, when you write down your path, it helps you find a path to have a better life. And you know, we all have struggles in our life. I mean, I've had great success I've had, I've had struggles, and that's what life is it's success and struggles, success and failure. But that moment, when you just stop, and you think about the best part of yourself, and how you can be that best part of yourself, I will be a better dad or be a better husband will be a better wife, or I'll be a better team player, or I will have faith or I will pray or I will do what I say I'll do whatever the case is everyone. I mean, I've read hundreds of 1000s of these. And every time people do this process in a team setting, when you have a team together, 30 or 40, or 50, people haven't been in there. And everyone writes the code together. And one of the time they stand up and they read the code, they're 12 lines, everyone becomes transformed into the best version of themselves. They become Nelson Mandela, they become JFK, they become Barack Obama, they become Martin Luther King, they become Mahatma Gandhi, they become golden. They become, they all become these amazing leaders. They stand there, and they really coach everyone else. And, it just encourages and engages everyone at a deeply emotional level. And it also creates this wave of positivity. And this wave of hope, I will, because everyone knows that the teacher, the teacher, is unwritten. But now you write it down, and you can make it happen. So these all mean all sorts of academic studies about about goal setting and how it improves motivation, increases probability of success. So this is not goal setting. This is purpose setting, you're setting your purpose. And when you set your purpose, you will, you will improve your life, purpose led businesses perform 42% better than businesses that aren't purpose LED and purpose driven. So purpose today is a fundamental, important business concept. And businesses read that businesses involved with purpose and businesses involved with empowerment, and businesses involved with employee enrichment. And businesses that have a higher calling, perform better, and are businesses that people would more willingly be associated with. They want to be associated with businesses that are not just about profit sales and growth, but they're about purpose too.
Unknown Speaker 48:57
how can I get you to come to my wife's schoo and talkl? And actually, I would like you to do or if you can get How can people contact you to do this, this?
Shaun Tomson 49:13
People can't take me out just my email Shawn Thompson. He said, he went to MSU and email@example.com you can just go onto my website. And there's a direct link to to email us I welcome it. And you know, it's like I speak to about 100,000 students a year so I mean, I'm, I do a lot of preventive stuff for students. I love to do it. I love to work with organizations because obviously organizations is how I make my income. And it's a lot of fun. But like a lot of times, organizations or schools will just do this themselves. there they'll so I can send them like a well. Here's a talk to At your students, often 40 minutes an hour, and maybe get everyone to write the code and share the code. The code, yes, it has great power in an individual setting. But it has awesome power in a group setting, because it's a way that we can all engage with each other in the best possible way. Because the code shows us our best possible selves. And we reveal what's best about humanity. And when you reveal this goodness, it automatically creates this ripple that ultimately turns into a positive way and use what I'm talking about may be perceived as Kumbaya, but it's not what I talk about has been based in scientific fact. Scientific studies curbstones create a ripple build a wave. abstain, Peter ripple, by the way.
Rob Nixon 51:01
Thank you so much, Sean. I for the final part, maybe give a few more minutes because you're going to run over a little bit of the hour, but I want to bring this back to the to the beach in the ocean and the healing power of the ocean. You mentioned your son that passed away multiple times. His name was Matthew Thompson. Can't my my favorite story that I've ever heard you talk tell was the Secret Circle story. The sacred the sacred circle? The sacred story circle? Yeah, single story circle. And it's probably because my boys and and i will especially with one of my children. Sometimes we have hard time communicating but we're on the beach. They just light up. It's just, you know, four or five hours of the beach six hours, sometimes seven hours, you know, all day. They looked under guards and it's just like just having fun and exploring and, and, and loving the outdoors and what the what the ocean and Beach has to offer. And that story to me. I have a personal connection with that. I guess I just I love it. And I would like you to tell that story. But at the same time of like you think about the questions. I mean, I know after the passing your son he said that you had a hard time getting back in the water and paddling out and I can only imagine I can't even imagine losing one of my children. But what what got what got you back into the ocean and did did getting back, paddling back out and surfing Did that help you spiritually and emotionally start the healing process with your with the lost person.
Shaun Tomson 53:16
Yes, surfing and salt water. It's a wonderful healer. And there's many amazing groups that use surfing as a vehicle to help kids whether they might have ENS or they might have autism in the vastness of the ocean, I think people then humility, and they learn this sort of flow of life then bobbing gently on the water. You know, surrounded by those sort of energy bands surrounded by those waves. It's just transformative for people to have spent more time in the water than most people on earth. you're catching waves catching waves, but sometimes the best times happen on this little strip between the land and the water the beach, you know, that's such a special magical, magical time and yes, I've had incredibly magical times on the beach. But you know, when I lost my my beautiful son and it was just absolute horror, devastation. You know, there's no real words that can describe when you lose a child. It's just desolation and you know, you have to re examine your faith and like how can God do this to me I was trying to be a good person and was was life so unjust and why why is God so unfair? The first step in the healing is this. Acceptance this what is not what if not accept what is not what if because, what if it was yourself to blaming yourself or blaming others. We can't do that you have to be forgiving of yourself. You have to be forgiving of others and you have to just accept that reality of the situation. But still, it's like if you just cut in and you cut deeply. I was in Rotterdam two weeks ago, I was telling you speaking at the Rotterdam School of Management, and right in the center of Rotterdam, Rotterdam was very heavily bombed in the Second World War half of the city was destroyed by the Nazis. And they rebuild the city. And they've got this amazing statue of this figure looking up to the sky. And this huge fissure in the middle of this magnificent, powerful statues, chest weighs, just lost a piece of himself. And that's what losing a child is like, you just lose this piece of yourself. So well. Mentally, you can say, Yes, I have to be accepting. I have to accept this dreadful reality that I'll never be able to hold and kiss my son again. You have to find a Stoke again. Because the Stoke gets swept away, you know that drive the core service have any paddle out, the more thing before the sun is even come up. Then travel was gone. I had nothing. Sitting was gone, was gone. And then a friend kept phoning me up one of my old school buddies say, Sure, I want to take you surfing for a while now I'm not interested in no desire So he just kept going and kept going. I've tried in a couple months. I'm going to take you surfing. So I said, Okay, I'm gonna take you to break you're never safe. And that's cool. wake up early in the morning and taking this break, and we walk down these long steps. Magnificent days, there's about three to four features myself and my body. And I'm pedaling and then I'm crying and just devastated. But as I push through that first wave, and the wave hits me in the face, just like washes washes my tears away. And it's such a it's a metaphor. Yes. But that literal moment when the emotion like washes, tears away, it was profound to me, not because it's a cool metaphor, but it was profound because this is what the ocean was doing. It was like pushing tears away, and you keep crying, but they just mixed it with the salt water. And it was like, just paddled out and said the sun was coming up. And it was beautiful. It was magnificent Malaysia perfect. And it could feel my beautiful son. My son's name was Matthew means gift from God. And good feeling with me. And then I swung around. Unquote. That way I started pairing paddle back out, caught another wave then I started feeling better and the ocean started healing me. Certainly dead because I was busted and broken. Ocean healed me. And then I paddled up to my buddy. And just like at one hour, I was the guy, you know, what's the name of the wave?Man, what's the name of this way? It's called sunrise. Going, Wow. I felt like my son was talking to me because sunrise is such a metaphor for the next day for the new day. And it helped me so much and that was sort of first step perhaps, for me to get back on the path of healing to find to find a new way because after that, my life was different. I found a new path. And I found a new purpose.
Rob Nixon 58:49
Thank you Shaun, so with all we've talked about from the beginning your history to it on the coast and surfing and to the impact and and meaning meaningfulness it has in your life do you have like a final message about the importance of preserving and protecting just this sacred area where the ocean meets the land? I mean, I mean, I know you do, but I like to hear from you. As far as is what it means to preserve these places for people to enjoy to love to lose and to to heal their. Why is it so important for us to to preserve these areas?
Shaun Tomson 59:44
Well, this morning I went for a surf, like two to three feet. Perfect. Just a few like five guys out there. My Local breaking I just set up bobbing around and when you surf in Santa Barbara And you look south, which is the way the coastline flows here. It's the only area in California where it doesn't go north south, but it goes east west. You look south and you look South out towards the Channel Islands, we have a group of six islands here. And in between the shore and the Channel Islands are 24 oil derricks the 1960s platform A blew out. And it was the single biggest oil disaster at the time in US history. Hundreds of 1000s of gallons spewed out along the coastline here killing the sea animals spoiling the coastline. And that was the birth of the environmental movement in the United States. That's my dog buddy. said that platform A blowed out 69. Out of that the EPA was created the Clean Water Act was created. But it came from people concerned people that love surfing, love the coastline, fishermen, swimmers, boaters, people that just love the coastline and have an interest in keeping this place pure and everyone got together and made legislation and they changed the trajectory of business in this country. But still, the coast needs to be protected because it's under constant assault. This current administration is so business driven. It does not have the environmental ethos. And even the Clean Water Act was ultimately an EPA was started by Republicans. The current administration has turned the back on that aspect of the Republican Party. The Republican Party started environmentalism. How about that here in the United States?
Rob Nixon 1:02:11
He wouldn't you wouldn't, you wouldn't know that if you-
Shaun Tomson 1:02:14
Richard Nixon was the guy. I mean, that is like so contrary to, to what one would think that it needs to be protected. We need to save it. This is a place of healing. This is a place of solace. This is a place of love. This is a place of incredibly sublime experience. This is a place that we need for food. This is such a special place and we need we need to protect it. When we go out there. We catch those incredible waves and the ocean gives and we paddle back out again. The ocean gives and we take and the ocean gives and we take longer to get back or got to give back. It's our ultimate responsibility not just as servers. But as humans, we need to get back. We need to be ocean warriors.
Unknown Speaker 1:03:07
And one of the greatest organizations that doing that is the Surfrider Foundation, which Shawn and I are both heavily involved in how about you come back to the board Sean?
Unknown Speaker 1:03:18
Surfrider does amazing work 60,000 volunteer activists around the country that rally together whenever there is an environmental issue to protect preserve the world's waves, oceans and beaches. seen in the 25 bucks joins here for that make that voice bigger, make that voice louder, make that voice more strategy and make super audible powerful.
Rob Nixon 1:03:46
Shawn, I can't thank you enough for this interview. It's been awesome. And it's flowed amazingly well. I can't wait. I can't wait to see you again. Should be up in your area. A couple months. But enjoy, enjoy what you're doing and keep doing what you're doing. And because there's there's a lot of people out there, you know, 1000s 1000s and 1000s of people you've touched and yeah, thank you. I appreciate your time.
Shaun Tomson 1:04:19
It's been a good ride, take care Rob.
Rob Nixon 1:04:21
All right. Thank you so much, Sean.