Our beautiful 15-year-old son Mathew Tomson lost his life in a tragic schoolboy prank on Monday evening, 24th April 2006, in Durban, South Africa. Other than telling me about how excited he was to play in his first rugby match the next day and how much he loved me and his mom, the words of this story were the last words he spoke to me on the phone across the oceans from South Africa to Santa Barbara. He had recently been enrolled at my old school, Clifton, one of South Africa’s finest educational establishments, and he was loving its rigorous challenges. My remarkable wife was enjoying devoting all her efforts to Mathew and to making being a mom the number one priority in her life.
He was making outstanding academic progress and his easy smile, warm personality, mischievous sense of humor and good looks had surrounded him with a circle of wonderful new friends. He was effervescent and laughing and looking forward to seeing me in the next few weeks.
An hour after the phone call he was taken from us, from a prank gone awry. Our boy loved life and life loved him back. He liked surfing; he loved downhill bike riding and liked going fast and riding radically. I’d sent him a new front fork for his bike and he just loved it. “Dad, I can manual for as long as I want,” he’d say — “manualling” is a difficult maneuver, doing a wheelie without pedaling while riding downhill. It took skill and balance, something he innately possessed. He liked swimming and water polo and we had some great days together body surfing and getting bombed in the wild shore break at Waimea Bay in Hawaii.
Carla had taken him to Maritzburg, a neighboring town, on numerous occasions and she watched his first race when he was so thrilled to be lent gloves by World Downhill Champ Greg Minar. At the event he met Nigel Hicks, who became one of his close friends and took him on many downhill adventures.
He was truly thriving in his new school at Clifton and really enjoying the adventures associated with his new lifestyle in South Africa and becoming acquainted with his African roots. A recent trip to a game park with his aunt demonstrated that Africa had never left his heart. He was really excited to see the wild up close for the first time. He truly was a nature boy.
On this note we’d like to leave you with the essay he wrote on Monday, his last day of school. Our beautiful boy was so proud of what he’d written and read in English class that day. My wife and I would like to share his beautiful words with our friends all over the world. As a young boy he knew instinctively why we surfers love what we do and had the sensitivity to understand the subtle interplay between aloha and respect.
My wife Carla and I will miss him more than the depth of the oceans and the breadth of the sky. Hold your children tight and then hold them tighter again. Love them with everything you have, every minute of every second of every day. Listen to them and learn from them and teach them the right way, and from us, teach them that they are not invincible.
With our love and with our deep sadness,
Shaun and Carla Tomson
“Becoming a Man” by Mathew Tomson
Deep inside the barrel, completely in tune with my inner self, nothing else matters, the hard wind and spit shooting past me from behind, my hand dragging along the wall, the light shines ahead. My long hair carried by the wind. My feet are in perfect placement on the board. As I lean forward I feel myself speeding up, getting faster and faster as the barrel starts to close. I crouch down until my legs burn and I then pull out to the whole lineup cheering. My body tingles with joy and happiness. I finally felt respected. I got back on my board and paddled to the outside. I turned my head to the right to find Keone and his crew paddling towards me. My joyful feelings disappeared as fast as they came, my mouth went dry and I was truly afraid. He stopped in front of me and raised his hand. I ducked, but no pain was to come. I opened my eyes and put my hand out and firmly grasped his hand. This was not a handshake; it was a sign of respect. I looked into his eyes and we paddled to the point together without saying a word. The moment was much more powerful than any words could explain. For the rest of the season I was allowed to take off on as many waves as I wanted. I could have never imagined being part of “The Crew,” but I was and I will always be. That was the day I became a man.