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Unconventional Wisdom: Shaun Tomson

59, Santa Barbara, California

The fundamental role of a pro surfer, or any athlete, is to inspire. I've always considered it a responsibility. Throughout my career I've given talks at schools and I've tried to be positive about my life and my surfing, and I've always hoped that positivity would inspire kids.

My book, The Surfer's Code, was at the printer when I got the call from my wife that my beautiful boy had died. I thought, "I can't release this book right now." So I stopped the book. It was a time of absolute devastation for me. I was mowed down. My wife was destroyed. But then I realized that I needed to have the book published. It was written for kids. It was written for my boy.

Just two hours before he died, my son read to me over the phone. It was this beautiful essay that he'd written for school. It was about tube riding and it was one of the most beautiful pieces about tube riding I'd ever heard. He'd written the words "the light shines ahead." Those words have been such a powerful metaphor in my life. It's become a mantra for me. It's something that I share with a hundred thousand kids a year; I share it with the largest corporations in the world and the most successful businesspeople in the world.

Youth is a time for being impulsive and taking risks, but it has to be tempered with caution. Life is so precious. Sure, risk can heighten that experience, but you have to be careful. Commitment: That has always been the foundation of my relationship with surfing.

There is nobility in sport. And there's a responsibility to respect something that has given you so much. I came from this sort of old-school, post-colonial, Olympic ideal environment. I think I always saw the sporting component of surfing differently to most. Duke Kahanamoku was my father's hero and he was my hero. We loved the nobility associated with surfing.

My father always taught me to win like a gentleman and lose like a man.

My life used to revolve around surfing, and now surfing revolves around my life. Everything has changed. The most important thing for me has always been my family, but surfing occupied everything else. Surfing still occupies a very important place in my mind and in my heart, but now both family and career are more important.

Never stop pushing yourself. I still like to get out there and push myself to my absolute maximum. The stoke and the satisfaction I get at 59 years old is the same as when I was 19. Performance becomes relative to yourself and not to anyone else. The push for me is to be as good as I can be. Maybe not better than I was, but as good as I can be on each wave.

The last time I surfed Hawaii was 2006. I pulled into this big Backdoor barrel, probably 8 feet, and just as I was coming out, the next thing I knew, I was flat on my back right on top of the reef; my board hit me in the face and I broke my nose. It was the last time I ever surfed Backdoor.

There are six pillars of surfing: speed, power, rhythm, aggression, style, and creativity. If I can find a board that helps me in all those aspects, that's the board I'm looking for.

It seems that artifice has replaced art. I look around at what guys are riding and there's so much derivation replacing inspiration. I see guys riding boards that we thought were dogs back in the '70s. It's clearly a fashion statement.

There's a shot in Free Ride where I get this nice tube at Off The Wall, and the camera pulls back to show Rabbit Bartholomew paddling out. It's just the two of us, and it's absolute perfection. That movie represented such a change in surfing, and that moment was such a special time. It was just me and Bugs at Off The Wall, it was 1975, and we had our whole futures ahead of us.

Sometimes you find your destiny, and sometimes it finds you.