The Legend That Is Shaun Tomson

In the mid-’70s, surfing was wild — long hair was paramount, contest conformity was bogus and feral quests for mystical waves were the road to Nirvana. The last thing the sport wanted was a professional, well-spoken figure at the helm, but that’s what it got in Shaun Tomson.

Jason Borte,

The 1977 World Champion had one thing in mind when he started competing, and that was to figure out a way to surf forever. He was and still is one of the ultimate stoked surfers, and competitive surfing was initially the means to an end. That world champion title and a career in pro surfing was his reward.

“When I think back on those days it becomes more and more obvious that I wasn’t blessed with an abundance of natural talent,” says Shaun modestly about his surfing heydays. “I made the most of everything I had. The one advantage I had, and still have, was that I loved it more. There was no one throughout my surfing career who surfed as much as me in the whole world. You just couldn’t get me out of the water. I used to surf all day. That was my gig. I was so unbelievably obsessed. I was obsessed with just sitting out there in the lineup and catching waves. It was my life. Surfing possessed my entire being. I loved it. That absolute obsession hasn’t gone away, and I still put in the hours. I think the very reason for my career was that I put in the hours and put in the practice, although I never considered it practice ever.”

Shaun’s surfing career, however, is nothing short of incredible. World champion in 1977, six consecutive wins at the Gunston 500 in Durban starting in 1973, a groundbreaking performance in Hawaii during the winter of 1975/76 when he won the Pipeline Masters. He had 12 career world tour wins, including a victory in the 1986 Spur Steakranch Surfabout in Cape Town. He spent 14 successful years on the pro circuit, including the world title year, a runner-up year in 1984, and many of those 14 years in the top ten. Shaun also excelled in surf journalism, penning articulate articles for surfing magazines.

On winning and losing

When it comes to competitive surfing, professional surfing, and in particular the juniors competing around the world, Shaun is well-versed to give pertinent information from his many first-hand experiences. Shaun has seen it all, from surfers shouting and screaming at the judges, storming the judging tower, losing it on live broadcast interviews and more.

“You know, the judges’ combined decision is set in stone, and nothing that you do will change it,” said Tomson of the aggressive overtones that sometimes play out in events. “My dad gave me advice earlier on in my career and it stuck throughout my surfing life. When you win, win like a gentleman, and when you lose, lose like a man.”

Shaun has also written the best-selling book The Surfer’s Code and directed a movie, ‘Bustin’ Down The Door’ that goes a long way to elucidate the earlier days of professional surfing and in particular the heavy initial years on the North Shore of Hawaii.


In 2006 Shaun lost his son Mathew Tomson in a childhood prank, and it was this tragic loss and what seemed like insurmountable odds that saw him beginning his rebooted life as an author and producer, as well as a hugely inspirational motivational speaker.

Shaun often comes down to JBay to attend the Corona Open JBay and help with web commentating, and he openly engages with everyone that he comes across.

He also goes surfing at Supers whenever he has a gap, and holds his own amongst the best professional surfers in the world, at the age of 63.

Find out more and connect with Shaun:

Moments from a magic career

Bonus video – Shaun Tomson and Rabbit Bartholomew

A legendary moment in surfing. Shaun Tomson and Rabbit Bartholomew, Aussie versus South African, twin fin versus single fin. One gaping Off the Wall barrel, two surfing icons… who got deeper?