Riding Life’s Waves with Purpose, Meaning, Joy and Humility


By Deborah Vietor

From the age of nine, Shaun Tomson has matriculated in the school of surfing and never looked back. A former World Surfing Champion, he has achieved the distinction as one of the 16 greatest surfers of all time, (Surfing 2004.)

As one of the 25 most influential surfers of the century, (Surfer, 1999) and winning 19 major pro events, Shaun created a unique technique for riding in the tube adopted by surfers everywhere. Utilizing surfing as a metaphor for riding the waves in life, Shaun held a tremendous impact for those globally.

Shaun has been inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame (1977), the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (1998), the South African Sports Hall of Fame (1977), and received the SIMA Environmentalist of the year Award (2002) and the Surfrider Lifetime Achievement Award (2009.)

Raised in Durban, South Africa in a Jewish family, Shaun grew up close to his parents and siblings. His father, Ernie, (Chony) Tomson a world class swimmer with a goal to compete in the Olympics survived a brutal shark attack, rendering his right arm useless. His life’s purpose became mentoring Shaun and many other young surfers.

Through all of his accolades and achievements, Shaun has remained one of the most generous and humble individuals I have met. His superpower could be described as connecting people on a cellular level, raising consciousness through public speaking and leadership training.

Following the October 7 acctacks on Israel, Shaun traveled to Israel to offer support solidarity and hope. Asked to come to Israel by Omer Levy from Shabbat Surf Club and Arthur Rashkovan from a company called Klinika, Shaun says the group wanted to use Shabbat to bring people together and shine a light around the world.

“We wanted to use this beautiful ceremony as a way to bring people across the world together, to create more understanding, empathy and engagement,” he says.

In Israel, Shaun participated in a memorial paddle out for 26 surfers that were killed during the terrorist attacks. Prior to his departure, he wrote a post that went viral, writing in part, “I grew up Jewish, secular. semi-observant. I had a bar mitzvah and went to a Jewish high school, but religion was not at the core of my being. Since the barbaric slaughter of innocents by Hamas and its allies on 7th October 2023 and the explosion of antisemitism across the world, my relationship with my religion and Israel has changed…I am now no longer Jewish.

I am a Jew. I am a proud Jew and I stand against the hatred of antisemitism. I hope you will join in this existential struggle against evil. In today’s divided, troubled and turbulent world how you use your power of influence is your fundamental choice. On which side of the moral divide do you make your stand? I know that Shabbat can bring people together and the lights of the candles represent the light of hope.”

Currently rated #1 on Amazon, his most recent book “The Surfer and The Sage,” offers a plethora of information utilizing a method including polarities for each chapter such as “Pessimism and Optimism,” “Anxious and Calm,” and “Despair and Hope.” A small yet empowering book, including multiple beautiful surfing photographs there is something for everyone regarding how to face life’s challenges utilizing surfing as a metaphor.

Shaun has a powerful way of describing visceral and often ethereal experiences in nature and surfing, translating them into practical language utilizing the power of the pen though a book entitled “The Power of I Will–The Code.”

With 18 chapters in the book a magical number in Judaism as the number 18 represents good luck, symbolically giving the recipient the gift of “life.” Multiples of 18 are often gifted in dollars when donating to a charity , wedding or Bar Mitzvah.

Some of Shaun’s “I Will” statements include: “I will never turn my back on the ocean.” “I will take the drop with commitment.” “I will watch out for other surfers.” And his mantra, “I will always paddle back out.”

An excerpt from another book, “Surfers Code: Twelve Simple Lessons For Riding Life’s waves.”: “I will realize that all surfers are joined by one ocean: Empathy. I will honor the sport of kings: Honor and integrity.”

“The Code” is a simple sheet in which an individual writes 12 lines beginning with “I Will,” such as “I will become more spiritual,” “I will complete a Masters degree, or “I will become more focused on creativity.” Each person’s “I will” sheet is individual and unique, creating commitment and inspiration.

“Sometimes all you need to turnhope into action is to write your promises down and say them out loud – to make a promise to no one but yourself. This book is about many things – faith, courage, creativity, determination – but above all it’s about the promises we make to ourselves about the future,” Shared Shaun.

“Commitments” are what Shaun calls these lines, not “Commandments,” as his mission is to assist individuals activate their own personal Code, living a more purposeful life. As each individual writes their “I Will” statements, one sentence from each person is written on a board in front of the room as people share and collaborate on their statements.

Tragedy struck during 2006 when Shaun’s 15 year old son Mathew died as a result of a choking accident he played using a tie. Shaun believed he would never surf again and while at the beach in South Africa, his friend shared he had a message from Mathew that he was o.k. and sorry for making such a mistake. Instantaneously, a bolt of lightening hit the hospital behind them, serving as a sign that life must go on and Shaun would surf again.

Prior to his passing, Mathew shared as part of an essay on surfing, “The light shines ahead.” This helped Shaun to survive during this most devastating time.

As he speaks to youth groups, he emphasizes how when faced with a critical decision such as being presented with drugs or dangerous stunts to stake a step back for a moment and think, “Is this a good idea?”

A keynote speaker internationally to groups including Disney, General Motors, Cisco, Price Waterhouse, Google, and The Gap, he inspires those in prisons, universities and non profits as well. Shaun has received letters of praise and gratitude even from those who are incarcerating sharing how impactful this program has become in changing their lives.

Shaun produced and co-wrote the award winning documentary film “Bustin down the Door,” a dramatic story of how a group of young Australians and South Africans created professional surfing, building a multi-billion dollar industry.

He is a board member of Surfrider Foundation an the Santa Barbara Boys & Girls Club in addition to a Business finance graduate of the University of Natal, Shaun has created 2 popular apparel brands with his wife Carla, “Instinct” and “Solitude.” They reside in Santa Barbara with their 13-year-old son, Luke.

With surfers and many others stoked means “pumped, extremely happy or excited.” This also refers to excitement or enthusiasm. Shaun continues to share his “stoke” wherever he goes. He received the Boys to Men’s Community Hero Award for 9 years of sharing his stoke and raising funds for the San Diego community in 2023.

What is your stoke and how can you share it with others?

Learn more about Shaun Tomson at


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