Mike Tomson: Life on the Edge 8/24/54 – 10/8/20

By Shaun Tomson

Many people play a part in forming our lives – Mom and Dad and friends and teachers are often the biggest influences. My cousin, Michael Tomson, played a huge part in the trajectory of my life. We were born 3 days apart - Mike a year older. We caught our first waves together on the same type of surfboard, on the same day, at the Bay of Plenty in Durban, South Africa where we were born. We surfed in our first contests together, went to Jeffreys Bay on our first surfari, to Hawaii on the same pilgrimage - on an early trip in the ‘70s while teenagers, we shared a pop-up caravan together on the North Shore.

In the surf Mike was the most courageous surfer I had ever seen - Bay of Plenty, Cave Rock, Sunset Beach and Pipeline. Wowee - at Pipeline he was a gladiator throwing himself over the edge into horrendous double up tubes. He carved his own path. Like he said, “No one took off deeper.”

That is how he lived his life - full on - maxed out. In his early 20s he wrote an op ed in the New York Times about apartheid in sport that created a firestorm in his homeland of South Africa. 

He did honors in business at Natal University, studied Peter Drucker with the same fervor he read Mailer and Hunter Thompson. He created South Africa’s first Rolling Stone type magazine out of his bedroom - Down the Line - and employed the country’s best writers and photographers. 

He was the youngest brand manager ever for Unilever in his first job and then after the pro tour, a writer and editor at Surfing Magazine. Until Jordy Smith, he was the only other South African to win a major professional event, placing #5 on the IPS World Tour in 1976. 

He was on the cover of Surfer Magazine, the bible of the sport.

He started Gotcha with Joel Cooper while on the tour – Joel became his best friend and the company grew into the hottest, most creative surf company ever, employing the world’s best designers and world’s best surfers.

He hired the best and brightest from across the planet changing the lives of thousands with his boundless creativity and force of will. If there was a trend bubbling up in Tokyo or New York or London, Mike knew about it before it bubbled over. 

Gotcha soared in the stratosphere, got too big, so he started MCD - More Core Division and assembled the greatest, hippest, coolest, edgiest surf team on the planet - Martin Potter, Cheyne Horan, Gerry Lopez, Mike Stewart, Sunny Garcia, Brock Little, Rob Machado, Ho brothers, Dino Andino, Matt Archbold and yes - Andy Irons too.

He wrote the insightful words that have been stolen and re-quoted by millions and ignored by thousands more domkops across every growth industry: 

“Size is the enemy of cool”.

He had influences – Jann Wenner for one - but nothing was derivative – he was a font of creativity and originality and if there was an envelope to be pushed, Mike bashed it down. 

Then he started the Gotcha Pro at Sandy Beach – surfing’s first rock and roll pro surfing event. And then followed it up with the first ever event at Teahupoo. 

And then he made “Surfers”, one of surfing’s top documentary films - even getting Miki Dora to finally go on screen in an unforgettable scene.

A lot of surfers have a hand in changing surfing’s path – an innovative board, a new style, a new brand, a new fin, new music… There are a lot of one trick ponies out there and they are damn good tricks and damn good ponies. 

Mike Tomson’s achievements are like a stable of thoroughbreds, no ponies for him, and only Kelly Slater comes close to Mike’s breadth of achievements. Hell, even Kelly said when he was young. “All I wanted was to surf for Gotcha.”

I co-produced a film a few years back – Bustin’ Down the Door. It chronicled the drama associated with the birth of pro surfing.

The best line in the movie is Mike’s – more core division to the max:

“I will surf until I die”

Our love and prayers go out to his wife Kimberly, son Oliver and sisters Jennifer and Mandy.

Mike, I’ll miss you – we spent some of the best times of our life together.

1 comment

  • Mike Reilly.

    MT was always intimating to me as he was the real deal. The gotcha book I look to often for culture queues. What a life. RIP Legend. 🙌🙌💯💯

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