Shaun Tomson is one of the greatest surfers of all time. Growing up in Durban, South Africa, the 1977 World Champion competed on the pro tour for 16 years, winning 19 events, and at the time, was both the youngest and oldest surfer to win a professional event.
His revolutionary tube riding at Pipeline and Backdoor, honed to perfection at Durban's Bay of Plenty and Cave Rock, adapted seamlessly with the powerful North Shore barrels. Tomson's surfing documented by Bill Delaney in "Free Ride" made him famous worldwide.
A consummate ambassador for professional surfing, Tomson is also a successful entrepreneur, transformational leadership expert and author of the inspirational book entitled Code: The Power of ‘I Will'. Inspired from Tomson's own life experiences in and out of the surfing world, it offers the simple message -- I Will -- as a model to face life's challenges and help turbo-charge one's life purpose.
Now, on the eve of surfing making its Olympic debut, Tomson is eager to share the lessons he's learned and how that can help surfers, whether it's in the quest for a gold medal or somebody just getting their feet wet for the first time.
"I've been a huge supporter of surfing being in the Olympics," Tomson told the WSL. "My father was a swimming champion and dreamed of going to the Olympics. When he was training for the 1948 Games though, he was attacked by a shark and almost lost his arm and his life."
Tomson was born nine years after the incident that ended his dad's Olympic dreams, but his father encouraged him and motivated him to pursue a life around the ocean. Ernie Tomson hero was Duke Kahanamoku, who won Gold in swimming in the 1912 and 1920 Olympic Games. The Duke would become Shaun's hero too, and help guide him to become one of surfing's true icons.
And for the entirety of the Olympic window, Tomson will be hosting daily "Olympian Surf Experience" seminars live online via Olympic sponsor Airbnb.
"I'd like to really get across how surfing is like no other sport at the Olympics and cover the culture, the heritage, and the art form of the sport," says Tomson. "It's a sport that is so much more complex, multi-dimensional and nuanced than any other sport at the Games. I will talk about the physical and mental aspects of surfing -- how to develop the winning mindset along with equipment, maneuvers and strategy."
The '77 World Champion, who resides in Santa Barbara, California, is a keen observer of professional surfing and, at 65, is just as stoked as ever. Still in the water, still ripping, he believes a winning mindset can be learned and the top guys possess the right mix of creativity, flair and the drive to be the best in the world.
"A champion has a three-part philosophy: attack, attack, attack," he smiles. "That's the way they roll and all those guys surf like that. Those guys when they're on the ropes and they've been hammered they'll bust out a 9.90. I'll watch Gabriel and he's just so focused, and Filipe, Italo, and then John John sometimes. They have that incredible attack, attack, attack philosophy and I think that's what you need to do."
"The important thing is to have that imagination -- the flair, the fire, the fundamental radical approach then to learn how to win is the next part. To learn how to adopt the attack, attack, attack philosophy is so much more complicated."
Tomson laments that South African Jordy Smith is out with a knee injury and won't be in Tokyo.
"It's such a bummer Jordy isn't going to be there, I really would have loved to see him," he says.
Overall, Tomson can't wait to see surfing on sport's biggest stage.
"Surfing is such a powerful tool for inspiration and through the Olympics, it can reach a bigger audience, and even if someone can't go and get a board or get to the waves, they can still get stoked," Tomson surmises. "I truly believe the more people that are exposed to surfing, the better place the world will be."