It’s quite ironic that the day Shaun Tomson arrived in Hawaii for his first full winter on the North Shore, Off The Wall was absolutely pumping. I picked him up from the airport, took him to where he was staying, dropped his stuff off, and charged down to the fabled break. It was early season and sand had built up from Ehukai through to Pipe and linked with Off The Wall. Shaun just took to the place immediately, his wide-stance tube-riding style, honed to perfection at Durban’s Bay of Plenty and Cave Rock, adapted seamlessly with the powerful North Shore barrels. That was a timeless session on a Hall of Fame day.
The rest, as they say, is history. Shaun’s surfing over the next few winters defined an era, his tube-riding, captured so magnificently by Bill Delaney in Free Ride, made him famous worldwide. As Pete Townend says in Bustin’ Down the Door, Shaun was the Kelly Slater of our era; he had the whole package: Hollywood looks, charisma, charm, versatility, phenomenal power, and amazing skills.
To me, however, what set Shaun apart was his professionalism. In an age when surfing was viewed as a subversive activity, Shaun Tomson was the consummate ambassador for professional surfing, talking it up, ever reliable with interviews and photo shoots, winning tournaments around the globe, dressing impeccably, flashing that Hollywood smile on the winner’s dais. The guy really put pro surfing on the global map. I have more respect for Shaun as a person and a surfer than anyone; his legacy is being played out by the multi-millionaire set that rule the waves today and tomorrow. —Rabbit Bartholomew