Shaun Tomson, South African businessman and former world surfing champion, visited the University of California, Santa Barbara to give a keynote address to inspire waves of student leaders. The event, held at Corwin Pavilion on Feb. 20, 2014, was part of the Office of Student Life’s 14th Annual Student Leadership Conference.
After his speech, Tomson dedicated time to talk with students, faculty, and staff, as well as autograph copies of his newest book, “The Code: The Power of ‘I Will.'”
TBL sat down with Tomson to find out more about his code of self determination and his role as a leader.
Q: How did you realize that using a code would become a positive motivation for people?
A: I didn’t intend it to be that. What I originally intended was just to be a gift to a group of young people–a distillation of what surfing had given me–and I was then giving that gift unto a group of young people. So it was never meant to give people hope like it has. You know when you think of something and then you write it down, it develops a life of its own. The words become animate, they move and they love, and that’s what happened to it–it’s become something alive.
Q: Do you support any non-profit or philanthropic organizations? If so, what are they?
A: Yes, I have been on the board of directors of Surfrider Foundation for many years; I was the first person to actually be a member in 1984. And I am a big supporter, and on the board, of Santa Barbara Boys and Girls Club. So both helping the environment and helping young people are very big passions of mine and part of my life’s mission.
Q: What advice would you give to students confronting difficult life decisions?
A: Think twice before you make a decision. I think that mantra should be at the forefront of every young person’s mind, because when you are young you have more chance of dying, and if you just think twice it’s that moment of introspection before you make a decision that can save your life.
Q: What would you recommend to students who are trying to become entrepreneurs themselves?
A: Try to find something that you are passionate about and build your career around that. I’ll tell you why, because it doesn’t feel like work!
Q: Could you give me a description of growing up during the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa?
A: It was like a flower that had been closed that was suddenly opening, and not just opening and releasing its beauty, but releasing this kind of fragrance that enveloped the country in this fragrance of hope… There is a big movement [Surfers Not Street Children] in Durban, my old city, where a friend of mine [Tom Hewitt] is rehabilitating gang kids through surfing and putting them on a positive path using surfing as the vehicle… He, for his philanthropic work, was actually given an MBE [Most Excellent Order of the British Empire] by the Queen, so it’s a very high civilian honor.