Meet Shaun Tomson, one of the greatest surfers of all time.

Welcome to Remarkable People.

This episode’s guest is Shaun Tomson: Surfer, Code Maker, and Flow Evangelist.

A few years ago I was in the Apple store in Santa Barbara getting my son’s iPhone screen fixed. A guy came up to me and asked, “Are you Hawaiian?” and I said no.

Then he said, “You look just like Guy Kawasaki..” I responded that I was Guy Kawasaki, but I’m Japanese, not Hawaiian. He introduced himself as Shaun Tomson.

I had just started surfing, so I didn’t know who Shaun was, but the Apple genius said to me, “Do you know who he is?”

“No.” I responded. The genius says, “He’s one of the greatest surfers ever.” Well, duh. From that humble beginning, Shaun and I became friends.

Surfer Shaun Tomson on Guy Kawasaki's Remarkable People Podcast

He took me surfing a few days later, and not even the great Shaun Thomson could get me up on a wave!

Shaun is recognized one of the ten greatest surfers of all time. He won the IPS World Championship in 1977. He and a small group of surfers established surfing as a profession in the 1970s.

He is currently an author, speaker, and board member of the Surfrider Foundation. Besides being a remarkable surfer, he is also a remarkable human being.

Do you know about the state of consciousness called “flow?” Keep listening, and you’ll learn what it is and how to achieve it.

I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. Now here’s Shaun!

What did you learn from this episode of Remarkable People?

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FULL TRANSCRIPT of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People Podcast with guest Shaun Tomson

Guy Kawasaki:

A few years ago, I was in the Apple Store in Santa Barbara, getting my son’s iPhone screen fixed. That’s a monthly occurrence. A guy came up to me and asked, “Are you Hawaiian?” And I said, no. Then he said, “You look just like Guy Kawasaki.” I responded that I was Guy Kawasaki, but I’m Japanese, not Hawaiian. He introduced himself as Shaun Tomson. I had just begun surfing, so I didn’t know who Shaun was.

But, the Apple Genius said to me, “Do you know who he is?” “No. I responded.” The genius said he’s one of the greatest surfers ever.

Guy Kawasaki:

Well, duh. From that humble beginning, Shaun and I became friends. He took me surfing a few days later, and not even the great Shaun Tomson, could get me up on a wave. Shaun is recognized as one of the ten greatest surfers of all time. He won the IPS World Championship in 1977. He and a small group of others established surfing as a profession in the 1970s. He is currently an author, speaker and board member of the Surfrider Foundation.

Guy Kawasaki:

Besides being a remarkable surfer, he is also a remarkable human being. Do you know about the state of consciousness called flow? Keep listening, and you’ll learn what it is and how to achieve it. And by the way, you need to understand one surfing term in this episode.

It’s called the tube. The tube is when the wave breaks and forms a little tunnel. And, riding in the tube is a religious experience as you’ll hear. I have never ridden in a tube, so I only understand it from the perspective of other surfers. And, looking at pictures and watching videos. I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. And now, here’s Shaun Tomson.

Shaun Tomson:

I grew up in this coastal town. It was quite a big city. It was about three million people, one of the biggest ports in South Africa. And I grew up in a segregated society. I’m of a Jewish extract. My ancestors came from Europe during the pogroms in Latvia. They all fled in the late 1800s, the 1900s. My mom ended up in South Africa, after being evacuated from the Island of Malta in the Second World War.

Shaun Tomson:

Which was the most heavily bombed place in the history of the world. So, I come from refugee stock. And ended up in South Africa. I was born in South Africa. And, it was a very unusual time to grow up in this sort of segregated society. It was really the last westernized country that was still segregated. The massive civil movement in the 60s in the United States.

Shaun Tomson:

The early 60s was with Martin Luther King. Sidney influenced South African leadership, a big influence on Nelson Mandela. And, the other leaders of the time for liberation. And, we were part of a very liberal household. We were both English speaking and Jews. Because it was pretty much in the wide population group. There was Afrikaans speaking people, which were traditionally, were a lot more conservative.

Shaun Tomson:

Originated from Dutch stock. They also fled for religious persecution. And then, the English words were a little bit more or a lot more liberal. And then, also being Jewish, we had quite a liberal family. But, I grew up in this segregated society. And, at the time, when you’re just on the beach.

Shaun Tomson:

When you’re fourteen or fifteen, you don’t really realize the import of these regulations. And, for me, the big change in my life happened when this famous Hawaiian surfer guy called Eddie Aikau. This Hawaiian legend, who my father had actually invited to compete in South Africa, was denied entry to his hotel called the Malibu hotel of all places.

Shaun Tomson:

And, we went and picked him up, and it was so sad to see this state of South Africa through someone else’s eyes. And finally, realize the sort of injustice of the structure. And then, he came and stayed with us, and that’s kind was really sort of the first time, when I really came to this realization. That wow, this is not the way it should be.

Guy Kawasaki:

Because he was Hawaiian or, simplistically because he was too brown, was not allowed to check into the hotel?

Shaun Tomson:

Into the Malibu hotel. Like one of the greatest surfers in the world. Someone who’d been invited out to surf in a pro surfing contest wasn’t allowed to check into the Malibu hotel. And, it created a very big sort of media sensation in South Africa. Because, obviously, the media was very anti-discrimination, anti-apartheid, way more liberal. But, as a young boy, I think I was fifteen or sixteen at the time.

Shaun Tomson:

And, I would go surfing with Eddie, and I could see this impact that this had on him. And, how it sort of crushed his spirit, and how these dehumanizing regulations are so like impactful. And, you can live in a society, and it’s like you’re almost like an ostrich with your head stuck in the sand. Not really realizing what’s happening around you.

Guy Kawasaki:

Could you spend a few minutes and explain just; what was the manifestation of segregation in South Africa at that time? What could blacks, not do?

Shaun Tomson:

So what happened in 1948, after the Second World War. Jun Smuts, who was a great South African leader, was defeated in the election. The Nationalist Party came to power. Which was a very conservative party, dominated by primarily Afrikaners. This is not to point a finger and say that all Afrikaners are evil and racist. But, at the time, it was a very much an Afrikaner dominated party. And, they instituted a series of laws. That would suppress both black opportunity, and also the places where blacks could live. It was called the group areas act.

Shaun Tomson:

So, blacks could only live in certain areas. They could only attend certain schools. They were only allowed out in certain areas, at particular times. For instance, they had to carry this passbook, around with them. For instance, I was at a Jewish school. There were no black kids in my school. Very few black kids in the university. I’m talking the 70s here. It wasn’t like it was a hundred years ago.

Shaun Tomson:

There were separate toilets for blacks and whites. It was this apartheid. It means apartness, it’s an Afrikaan’s. Apart and hate means the quality. So, it means the state of being apart. And, the concept, the moral sort of imperative that they used to state, was; separate but equal. And, if you go back to Animal Farm and George Orwell. All people are equal, but some are more equal than others. All pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Shaun Tomson:

That was the way that their sensibility at the time. But, ultimately, over a period, the country came to this realization that things had to change. And, was this country going to end up in a radical civil war? And, certainly, there was massive unrest, massive disturbances, massive uprisings, the young black kids in Soweto in 1976. When I was at university, they had an uprising.

Shaun Tomson:

I stopped going to school, because Afrikans, which was perceived as the language of enslavement. They tried to make it a compulsory language for black kids to learn. So, the massive strike in Soweto in 1976, Steve Biko was killed in 1976. That was sort of a big turning point. And then, ultimately, ten years later, Mandela was released from prison in 1990. And, four years later, in 1994, we had our first democratically elected elections. And, South Africa became a free and democratic country.

Shaun Tomson:

I was competing around the world and didn’t spend a lot of time in the country back then. But, I had retired from the tour. I was in the country through the last four years of the transition to democracy. And, it was amazing to see that at the time, a lot of us thought the country was going to go up in flames. We thought the country was going to be absolutely destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people were going to die.

Shaun Tomson:

People talk about leadership, and all lack thereof. And, here’s a guy who’s been in prison for twenty-seven years, comes out of jail and unites this dis-united country. And creates a relatively peaceful transition to democracy. It was amazing the power that this man had.

This fundamental mojo, and this fundamental value structure. That he could persuade 60 million people to be on the same page. It has never happened before, and it will never happen again.

Nelson Mandela:

The time for the healing of the wounds has come, the moment to bridge, the causes that divide us has come time. The time to build is upon us.

Guy Kawasaki:

Did you ever interact or meet with him?

Shaun Tomson:

No, I always wanted to. I always wanted to meet him, but I never did. I had so much admiration for him and for what he did.

And, for that spirit of reconciliation, that spirit of openness, that spirit of kindness, the deep humanity, the morality and the connectivity to sport too. He was a great boxer in his youth, and he was a fitness guy. And, he was just a truly remarkable individual. Well-read.

Guy Kawasaki:

Wow.

Shaun Tomson:

His lawyers and attorney fought cases, had this tremendous steel will. And, this great spirit of honor.

Guy Kawasaki:

So meanwhile, you’re a World Champion Surfer.

Shaun Tomson:

Yeah, switching gears.

Guy Kawasaki:

You had to break a little bit of your own, sort of closed society. When you came to Oahu and entered the North Shore scene. So, what was that like? I mean, it wasn’t apartheid, but I bet you have some stories is there.

Shaun Tomson:

Yeah. So, growing up in South Africa, my father was a champion swimmer and his youth. He loved swimming, and his dream was to compete in the Olympics. He was in the Second World War, and he’s South African swimming champion at thirteen years old. And then, he started his swimming career again to try to make the ’48 Olympics and was very badly attacked by a shark. When he was out there, on his little wooden surfboard. It nearly bit his arm off. But, his hero in his youth, was Duke Kahanamoku.

Guy Kawasaki:

Oh, really?

Shaun Tomson:

And, he would tell me about Duke. And Duke became my hero too. And after my dad’s shark attack nearly killed him, but he survived. His father sent him to have arm surgery in San Francisco. One of the top hand surgeons. And, after the surgery, he sent him to Hawaii to recuperate. And, he stayed in the Royal on the beach. When there was any two hotels on the beach, the Moana and the Royal. And met Duke Kahanamoku. So, it was wonderful for my dad.

Shaun Tomson:

And, I really think that the spirit of aloha, really connected with my father very deeply. And, he came back to South Africa with this wonderful love. And in my youth, Hawaii was always the place that one day as a surfer you have to go.

I had pictures of Hawaii in my room. And, my dad would tell me these stories about Hawaii and the Kahanamokus. I think we were the only house in the whole of South Africa where you had to leave your shoes outside if you wanted to walk inside.

Shaun Tomson:

And, it was quite a conservative society. But, it was shoes off. And, I used to have these pictures of the Banzai Pipeline on my wall. And, Waimea Bay. And, then my first exposure to Hawaii was for my bar mitzvah present. My dad gave me a trip to Hawaii, and he took me to Hawaii when I was fourteen years old. And, I surfed all the big waves over the North Shore and Makaha.

Shaun Tomson:

And, just fell in love with the place. And, from then afterward, I would go almost every single winter. At fifteen, sixteen years old, flying around the world going to Hawaii to try to compete. And, it was sort of a few years later, by the time I was about eighteen that I started to get pretty good. And was able to take it on. Take on the big waves at Sunset, and Pipeline and all that sort of thing.

Shaun Tomson:

And, then with that notoriety obviously comes that profile in the lineup. And, sometimes there’s some tough guys out there, that don’t like it when some young kid out there is sort of blazing a new trail. So, at the same time that I was starting to succeed, there was a whole group of young Australians, Rabbit Bartholomew, Mark Richards, Ian Cairns, Peter Townend, who also had this sort of desire. To take it on, and kind of change the way waves are written.

Shaun Tomson:

And, we had this sort of collective vision, that one day it would be possible to make a living out of going surfing. That they would actually be like a career path. It wasn’t just like going out there, having an amazing session, and coming in. But, there would actually be a career pathway. That there would be sponsorships, and that there would be a professional tour. And that there would be an industry.

And, we helped build it, we helped create it. I mean, us guys built the surfing industry, we built professional surfing.

Shaun Tomson:

And, it was wonderful to sort of be a part of that movement. That youthful desire, and that youthful energy. And, we were just willing to put it all on the line. And fierce competition. But, friendly and respectful.

But yes, we did end up on the wrong side of some gangsters in Hawaii. Some tough guys that were running drugs, and felt that we were in some way insulting Hawaiian heritage and culture. Professionalizing and promoting and popularizing this lifestyle. Which, nothing was further from the truth.

Shaun Tomson:

I mean Duke Kahanamoku was my hero, as far I know I was like ten years old. And, Hawaii was sort of for me, the center of the universe. And, my heroes were with the Hawaiian surfers. Barry Kanaiaupuni and Jeff Hackman, and all these sort of amazing individuals.

Ultimately there were some tough times. I mean, we went through some very tough times. I was interviewed by this magazine, this racy men’s magazine called Penthouse magazine.

Shaun Tomson:

It was like Playboy but hardcore version. And, the journalist had some things to say about this group of gangsters, the Black Shorts. And, they perceived that I’d written this article. And, so I was punched out. And then, a guy tried to hit me with a bottle, and smashed around a bit. Eventually, I was told that I was going to get killed so many times that I went and picked up a, from the local gun store in Wahiawa, I drove out to Tropic Lightning to Schofield Barracks. And, now I’m like twenty two years old.

Shaun Tomson:

And, I remember walking into the gun shop and saying to the guy behind the counter, saying, “Look, there’s a group of badass guys, there’s a lot of them, and they want to kill me.” I said, what you got for me? And, he showed me the whole line up. M16, AR-15, 44 Magnum 357. I mean, I’d been in the Army, I knew my way around weapons. And he said, “This is what you need, pal.” And, he picked up a 12-gauge Remington pump-action, ten shells.

Shaun Tomson:

He said, “You’ll hold up an army with this.” And, I remember I lashed of a 240 bucks. And, here I am. All I’ve got is an international driver’s license. And I walked out with my Remington, and I carried that around with me for a while. Until we finally managed to resolve our differences.

And, peace was declared, but it was a tough time. And, Rabbit Bartholomew, Ian Cairns, a number of Australians went through the same drama that I did.

Shaun Tomson:

But at the time, none of us even considered leaving. This was our life. Staying on the Island and building pro surfing. It was our life, and yes, we were in literally in the crosshairs there for awhile. But, it was relatively a short time period. And, it was just like one of those hiccups along the way, that ultimately I think gave surfing the character that it has today.

Guy Kawasaki:

You develop the surfer’s code. Your twelve, I Will-isms. Can you tell us how you came up with that?

Shaun Tomson:

Yes. The Surfer’s Code is actually the title of my first book. And, it started out, just as a gift to a group of young people that were coming down to the beach at a place called Rincon. Which is one of the most famous waves in the world. It’s about ten miles from our house here in Santa Barbara. Very popular wave. And, it was facing an environmental challenge.

Shaun Tomson:

The homeowners were connected up to septic tanks. And, when it rained, the septics filled up, and the crap overflowed in the river. And, would float out in the break and get the surface sick. So, this guy, Glenn Hening, had started Surfrider Foundation, contacted me, and he said, “Shaun, I want to do something about it. It’s a big problem.” He said, “I want to use kids to really heighten the awareness of this problem.”

Shaun Tomson:

He said, “I’m going to bring a hundred kids or about fifty or hundred kids down at the beach. And I want you to give them something to empower them. I’m going to bring the media down. I’m going to bring some of the local government down, and we want to just highlight this issue. And, if we can do it with kids, we think we can really create a lot of awareness.

Shaun Tomson:

So, I went home, and I thought like, “Oh, what am I going to do?” At the time, my wife and I had an apparel company called Solitude. I said, “Well, maybe I’ll give them some gear.” Or, find out Quicksilver, Billabong, all the famous surf companies, and get some like sponsorship for the kids. And then I thought, now I’m going to do something different.

Shaun Tomson:

And I got out a sheet of paper, and I wrote down twelve lines, the twelve lessons that surfing had taught me about life. And I wrote it in twenty-five minutes. Every single line beginning with, I will. As sort of a commitment as a province, a promise, as almost like a covenant with me, and surfing. And it was very simple.

Every single line was a metaphor. I will always paddle back out. I will never turn my back on the ocean.

Shaun Tomson:

I’ll take the drop with commitment. I will know that there will always be another way. I will honor the Sport of Kings, I’ll pass on my stoke to a non-surfer. I’ll never fight a riptide. So, I printed this piece of paper upon a little laminated card.

And, Glenn had said to me, “Shaun, you’ve got a hundred dollars budget.” So, I went down to the local print shop and laminated these cards and printed a hundred cards. Cost me one hundred bucks, and I gave them out to the young people that came down to the beach, and the cards just turned into a groundswell, became very popular.

Shaun Tomson:

The kids wanted them, moms and dads wanted them. A lot of people wanted them, because I think to people a code is power. A code is core, a code is at the center of our existence, a code is just a collection of values. And, that’s what makes us who we are.

The values that we subscribe, and when we subscribed to. And, these were simple values about perseverance, and courage and honor and bravery. And, in the context of serve metaphors. So, people just loved them, and then we kept printing more.

Shaun Tomson:

And then, we started putting them in our clothing, we were making a lot of codes back then. And, tens of thousands of these codes and cards were sort of being distributed out into the community. And, people started finding me up and saying, “Hey Shaun, why don’t you come and talk to us about a code. At a businesses and religious groups, and conferences.

Shaun Tomson:

The first conference I spoke at was a big leadership conference, like 3000 people and I opened it. I remember the next dude was Malcolm Gladwell, and the next dude was a Richard Branson, and there I am just talking about my twelve lines, my code.

Guy Kawasaki:

This is Shaun Tomson’s surfer’s code. I’ll tell you the twelve lessons, and then interpret it for you in case you’re not a surfer. Number one, I will never turn my back on the ocean. The reason why he says this is because turning your back on the ocean is dangerous. There could be a rogue wave, there could be other surfers coming in, there could be a lot of things that are happening behind you.

Guy Kawasaki:

So, never turn your back on the ocean. Keep watching the ocean. The ocean is a powerful force, and it’s going to clean you out if you’re not careful.

Number two, I will paddle around the impact zone. By this, he means that you should stay out of the way of other surfers. After you’ve caught a wave and you’re going back out, don’t paddle back out through where other surfers are now surfing. Because you’ll be a pain in the ass, and you might get yourself, or another surfer hurt.

Guy Kawasaki:

Lesson three, I will take the drop with commitment. The drop is when you’ve popped up, and you’re going down the face of the wave, and you’re either going to make it or you’re going to crash and burn. Taking the drop with commitment means that you’re not going to do this in a halfhearted way. You’re going to go for it and expect to make the drop. You’re not going to hesitate because if you hesitate, you will not make the drop.

Number four, I will never fight a riptide. A riptide is a tide that is pulling water away from the shore. So, if you are trying to get back into the shore, and you fight the riptide, you are going to lose.

Guy Kawasaki:

Because, the ocean is more powerful than you are. You should not fight a riptide. You should just paddle parallel to the shore until you get out the riptide, and then it’ll be much easier to come back in. The life lesson here is there are some forces that are more powerful than you. Don’t fight them, avoid them.

Guy Kawasaki:

Number five, I will paddle back out. I will paddle back out means that you are not going to give up. You could be crushed, you could be tumbled, you could be nearly drowned. But, you have to go back out, face your fears, and get back on that wave. Number six, I will watch out for other surfers. Watching out for other surfers is a matter of courtesy, of etiquette, of doing the right thing. Watch out for other surfers.

Guy Kawasaki:

Number seven, there will always be another wave. This is an important life lesson. There’s always going to be other opportunities. It means that you don’t have to be greedy, you don’t have to be selfish, you don’t have to always be taking the wave. Because there will be another wave. Don’t get depressed, don’t get despondent, there are always more opportunities.

Guy Kawasaki:

Number eight, I will always ride into shore. I will always ride into shore means that, at the end of your session, you’re going to catch a wave into the shore. You’re going to get that last great ride. You’re going to quit on a high point. You’re not going to paddle in, prone like a loser, you ride in. You don’t paddle in.

Guy Kawasaki:

Number nine, I will pass along my stoke. Passing along my stoke means that you have this love for surfing, or entrepreneurship, or marketing, or music, or writing, whatever it is. But, you’re going to pass that enthusiasm along to other people. You love surfing. You’re going to other people to love surfing. You’re going to share the stoke, share the enthusiasm. Share the love for whatever you do.

Guy Kawasaki:

Number ten, I will catch a wave every day. I will catch a wave every day, means that you’re going to be dedicated. That you’re going to go out there. You’re going to go out there, conditions are lousy, you’re going to go out there, if you’re sick or you’re tired, or you’re hurt. You’re dedicated, you’re going to keep grinding at it, and one day you’ll be a great surfer because you tried every day.

Guy Kawasaki:

Number eleven, all surfers are joined by one ocean. Sometimes surfers get mad at each other. Sometimes they compete for waves, sometimes it gets ugly out there. But, really, we all share this one love. The love of the ocean. We are all joined by one ocean. Remember that. It’s not a zero-sum game.

Lesson twelve, I will honor the sport of Kings. Surfing is the sport of Kings. It was started by Hawaiian Kings. So, what Shaun is trying to express here is that this is a great sport.

Guy Kawasaki:

It’s a sport of royalty, it’s a sport of elite people, it’s a sport of people who love something. So, this is not a mundane thing. This is not a boring thing, this is not something that you do without passion. You have to honor the sport. Because it is a sport of Kings. And, that’s the twelve lessons of the Surfer’s Code of Shaun Tomson. At least that’s how I interpret it. And, when he listens to this podcast, maybe he’ll correct me. But Shaun, when you listen to this, that’s how I interpret your Surfer’s Code.

Shaun Tomson:

Ultimately it resulted in a book. I collaborated with them, with the mates. [crosstalk 00:27:37].

Guy Kawasaki:

That’s like me saying the first time I went surfing, was with Shaun Tomson.

Shaun Tomson:

And, then that’s sort of how it all started. And, it took my life down a different path. And now, I get tens of thousands of people around the world to write their codes. From some of the big business dudes to young students to young entrepreneurs. And, it’s so empowering for people to do this process, and then to share it.

Shaun Tomson:

Guy, it’s mind-blowing. I do this all the time. It’s become my life now.

And, when people share their values and share their code, it creates this engagement that’s mind-blowing. Because the single biggest social problem in the world today is the lack of engagement.

The single biggest social problem in the world today is lack of engagement. And, this little tool that sort of I dropped into my lap so many years ago is a fundamental way that people can just get engaged internally with their purpose. With what’s important in their lives, find what’s important, refined, and defined their purpose. And then externally, when they read their code to others, they engage with people at a deeply emotional level. You know what they call it in Hawaii?

Guy Kawasaki:

What?

Shaun Tomson:

How about this? I did this precious at Kamiomicho School. So, the repository for Hawaiian heritage and culture. I think it’s a school that was one of the biggest endowments in the world. Amazing school. I spoke in their chapel, to three, 4,000 kids. And, the chaplain said to me, Shaun, this is spirit language. This is mana, this is you speaking in the language of mana here.

Shaun Tomson:

It’s amazing, when people write their code and they say, make these commitments to themselves. It’s just beautiful. And I like to say now, my life has been through ups and downs. As a surfer businessman, and lost my beautiful, lost my beautiful son. We lost our beautiful son Matthew in 2006. And, this has just given me so much strength to carry forward on a new path.

Shaun Tomson:

Is just getting people to connect with their true purpose their true values. And, helping them connect with others. And, ultimately become more engaged internally, more engaged externally. To solve this big social problem, that results in a million deaths every year.

Shaun Tomson:

Disengagement results in one million deaths in America. Every year, 2.4 million Americans die. One million of Americans die every year from preventable deaths, from bad decisions. Decisions related to be disengaged, eating bad food, smoking, drinking, dope, traffic accidents, homicides. Just being disengaged from the world, and disengaged from others. I learned this gift that surfing has given me, and I just give it away every single day, and I love it.

Guy Kawasaki:

A lot of your talks and writing is about achieving the state of flow. So, can you tell us how to achieve flow?

Shaun Tomson:

The term flow was developed, a Hungarian psychologist, a guy called me Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. And, it’s a state of optimal human functioning. It’s a state of absolute connectivity internally and externally. It’s a state of a high performance, it’s a state that athletes, creative people achieve when they are operating at the absolute audit age of their ability.

Shaun Tomson:

So for me, growing up surfing, I think I really started experiencing the flow state in the early 70s. When I started riding inside the tube, which is the most amazing moment in surfing. When you ride through this spinning tunnel of water. When you’re riding inside this watery hurricane when in dangerous waves, like the Banzai pipeline, you ride on the cusp of life and death. Which, really heightens that experience.

Shaun Tomson:

There’s an amazing poem by William Butler Yeats, a famous Irish poet. And, he wrote:

“A lonely impulse of delight

drove me to these two mouths,

I balanced all, bought all to mind.

The years to come seemed a waste of breath,

in balance with this life, this death.

So, that closeness to death.”

 

Guy Kawasaki:

You just happen to know that?

Shaun Tomson:

Yeah, I love that poem. I read that poem for the first time when I was fifteen years old and just memorized it. It’s called An Irish Airman Foresees His Death. It’s about First World War on this guy that goes flying. Doesn’t fly for patriotism, he doesn’t fly to kill, he just flies for the sensation. And only impulsive delight.

Shaun Tomson:

And, that’s very much about what tube riding is all about is this sort of extrasensory sensation, this feeling of being in absolute control. This feeling of pushing beyond your limits, in the context of being connected with nature and riding this band of energy as well.

Shaun Tomson:

I felt that I could control the wave, I felt that I could really curve that wall to my will. I felt I could be in time and space. You feel that omnipotence, in some ways you feel God-like. You feel that you are just this superhuman in a way. And, it feels like time has expanded like it just lasts so long.

Shaun Tomson:

And, that nothing can go wrong. And, it’s almost like you’re plugged in, to what’s driving the universe, this energy socket. It’s like we’re all powered by our internal mojo, by our life force, but it feels like you’re plugged into a much greater life force. And, it just feels like you’re electric and that you’re in your own world.

Shaun Tomson:

And everything is effortless. Everything is perfect, and you’re the master of this universe, this absolute state of flow. And, I love the word flow that he used. Because it represents effortlessness, it represents the synchronization with nature.

So, the state of flow, how can you get the state of flow? I think absolute dedication, discipline, concentration.

Shaun Tomson:

Focus on the matter at hand and creative. It’s not physical, it’s not just physical. But, it’s creative as well. It’s emotional as well. So, you have this emotional creative, plus physical. This internal and external connectivity, that just makes it this sort of existential experience. And, in surfing, you have the closeness to danger too. You, riding over sharp coral reefs at any moment, you could get smashed into that coral. So, it just adds and adds to and heightens that sensory aspect of the moment.

Shaun Tomson:

I met Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, actually spoken with him at a Positive Psychology Conference. And, it was wonderful to meet this man, who’s developed this groundbreaking theory of wellbeing. Because essentially, that’s what it is.

If people can find their flow, they can find their purpose, can find something beyond hitting their target for the next quarter. Or, I think people can be more engaged and flourish. Opening a state of engagement.

Shaun Tomson:

Of engagement with oneself, of engagement with nature, of engagement with creative acts. And for this whole new field of positive psychology. They say that flow is part of a state of wellbeing and human flourishing. That we all need to experience to be better people, and to be more fulfilled, to be more satisfied, to ultimately just be better.

Guy Kawasaki:

If we could only bottle that, huh? I mean.

Shaun Tomson:

Exactly. It’s like stoke.

Guy Kawasaki:

Yes.

Shaun Tomson:

People laugh about that word, about that word stoke. But, I love that word. And, when I see people when I met you, and I see how surfing has empowered you. And, how stoked you’ve become, you flip your book over. And, you see that picture on the back cover of your book there, and you just had this aura. And, you exuding this feeling of just absolute wellbeing.

Shaun Tomson:

And, so many people get this feeling in the water, and it just makes people better. Because surfing’s not easy surfing’s hard. And it’s really hard to start learning at 63. But, when you get that wave, it is such a feeling of joy and accomplishment. And, it’s all part of this whole feeling of like stoke. This feeling of exhilaration.

Guy Kawasaki:

Shaun, I have never had greater joy. Well, other than being a father and husband. But, in terms of an individual thing, then surfing. Surfing is just the most addictive thing you can do that’s legal.

I thank the Lord that I didn’t come upon surfing until my sixties. Because, if I had discovered surfing in my teens, the whole arc of my life might’ve changed. I don’t think I would have accomplished as much in business if I had found surfing earlier.

Shaun Tomson:

Definitely. I’ll guarantee you wouldn’t have. I’ve got to say during my time as a pro surfer, I competed for my first Pro event in 1969. I competed in my last Pro event into 1989. I would say there was not one surfer in the entire world, I will categorically state, who surfed more than me. And I didn’t do it because I wanted to win contests.

Shaun Tomson:

I did it because I loved it more. I’ve got to make two lectures up at Stanford, and he said to me, “Shaun, I was lecturing to my students, my law students. And, I was talking to them about success. And, he said I’d spoken to this surfer guy Shaun Tomson. I asked him what does he attribute his success to? He said to me, I loved it more.” And, that’s what I did in surfing.

Shaun Tomson:

I think I loved it more. I loved my time in the water. And, surfing just has that sort of addictive, but in a good way. It’s sort of addictive, obsessive quality of just wanting to be out there in the water, catching waves.

Guy Kawasaki:

Before I took up surfing, I played ice hockey. And, ice hockey is also addictive. Because there’s so much, especially if you start late. First of all, you have to skate. So, that’s a skill that you’re not born with. So, you have to learn how to skate, and then you have to keep track of your stick. And then there’s a puck, and then there are your four teammates, and then there’s the other goalie.

Guy Kawasaki:

And, there’s five other people protecting that goalie. There’s a lot of variables. I thought hockey was hard, and then I take up surfing and like, holy shit. So, you got to think of every other surfer, the ocean, the wind, the rocks, the tide, the size of the wave. And I thought hockey was complex but surfing. My God.

Shaun Tomson:

Every now and then, a great white shark will cruise you.

Guy Kawasaki:

I’ve never surfed in South Africa, so I don’t know about that.

Shaun Tomson:

Yeah. But, I think in that difficulty is the attraction. And, also that sort of obsession. Because it’s not like you can just master it and go, “okay, I’ve done that one. That’s, I’ve got that under control.” Even for me now, having served for decades, it’s still a great challenge, and it still keeps me very achieve.

Shaun Tomson:

When they are operating at the absolute outer edge of their ability. So for me, growing up surfing, I think I really started experiencing the flow state in the early 70s.

When I started riding inside the tube, which is the most amazing moment in surfing, when you ride through this spinning tunnel of water. When you’re riding inside this watery hurricane.

Shaun Tomson:

But yeah, just to sum up, so over the last ten years since I’ve embarked on a new path and writing books and primarily speaking at organizations, schools, and universities, I’ve found that disengagements are fundamental problem in society today.

Shaun Tomson:

If you look at the latest Gallup poll, they did a 2018 workplace study, 85% of employees are disengaged. So, it’s not just employees that are disengaged from the company’s purpose. And their own purpose, but it’s young people too. Young people are getting involved with bad stuff. I mean the drug use is at an all-time high.

Shaun Tomson:

School shootings are at an all-time high. People are just disengaged from their own purpose, and they disengage from each other. So, this concept, it’s a social malaise.

And, I mean there is a tenuous link between lack of purpose and lack of engagement and making bad decisions. There is a tenuous link between lack of purpose and lack of engagement and making bad decisions.

In my work over the last ten years, I’ve found that a really simple way for people to find, refine, and define their purpose. And it takes thirty minutes.

Shaun Tomson:

You take out a sheet of paper, and you write twelve lines. Every line beginning with I will. And, you write your code, you write your values, you write what you’re going to do. You write the next step.

From a surfing metaphor, you’re writing about your next wave. It’s a really simple process. It’s free. And, when you’ve written your code, keep your code because that’s your guidepost.

Shaun Tomson:

I like to say that this code is your purpose in the context of twelve promises. And, I like to say there’s a simple acronym for this purpose that you’re writing. And, it’s AIMYST. Your purpose and your code is aspirational. It’s inspirational, it’s moral. It’s yours, it’s no one else’s, and it’s timeless. It’s not like a smart goal, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-sensitive.

It’s timeless. When you write your code, it’s forever.

Shaun Tomson:

I wrote my code twenty years ago. I still carry it around with me in my wallet. And, I look at it every second day. If things go sideways, I look at my code in it. I’m going well. That kind of inspires me because it’s my words. It’s no one else’s word.

So, I encourage people, write your code. And then, as step two, share your code. Share it with your family, share it with your coworkers. Share it with anyone who you might think might need it. Because your code can inspire others.

Guy Kawasaki:

Does it always, is it always like lofty things? I will be myself, I will be kinder on me. Can it be really tactical and small? Like I will walk to the nose? I mean-

Shaun Tomson:

Yeah, it’s-

Guy Kawasaki:

Nothing lofty.

Shaun Tomson:

It’s a variety. Generally, it’s a higher-level purpose. It’s aspirational and inspirational, but often like for a person to state a statement like, “I will be present.” So, I will be present is both aspirational and also it’s both very tactical.

Guy Kawasaki:

Yes.

Shaun Tomson:

I will be present. I will be a better dad. How about that?

Guy Kawasaki:

Yes.

Shaun Tomson:

I will be a better husband. This is often written. I’ll be a better husband, I’ll be a better dad, I’ll be a better mom, I will do what I say I will do. I will be a better team player.

The words that people write are both goal-orientated and aspiration-orientated. I have never ever, in the thousands and tens of hundreds of thousands of lines of code that I’ve received from people.

Shaun Tomson:

No one has ever said, I will hit my sales goal, ever. And, I’ll do a group of fifty tough salespeople that are like sales driven. And, no one writes, I will hit my sales goal. Everyone just looks beyond that immediate target, to a bigger target. Even though that is in their minds obviously. They’re going hit their sales goal. How are they going to hit the sales goal? Yes, by being a better team player, by doing what they say they will do.

Shaun Tomson:

By being committed, by being accountable. I will be accountable, I will be committed. It’s sort of, I like the same philosophy.

You’re trying to hit the target, but you’re abandoning that hope of that fruition. And, it just sort of comes to be.

Shaun Tomson:

It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful thing. When I do this process Guy, I say to people, “Man, I got the best job in the world.” When I see people sharing this goodness, and it just gives you so much hope for the human condition. And, it gives you so much hope, for the world to see that while we all different Republican, Democratic, independent, who knows what.

Shaun Tomson:

But, when people write their codes, there’s this collective, a wonderful spirit of very tactical. So, write it down. Twelve lines, every line begins with I will and share it. And, that’s what I’d like to say to sum up. Write your code and share it.

Guy Kawasaki:

If nothing else, one lesson from this episode is that you should hang around Apple Stores. Because you can meet the most remarkable people there. The nerd you’re sitting next to at the Genius Bar could be Woz or Shaun. One of the world’s greatest engineers, or one of the world’s greatest surfers.

I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. My thanks to Jeff Sieh and Peg Fitzpatrick, who helped me achieve the state of flow, with every podcast episode. And, thanks to the Apple Genius who told me who Shaun Tomson was.

This is Remarkable People.

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