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Surf Star Gets Students Onboard With Inspirational Talk

Shaun Tomson says the words 'I will' are key to personal empowerment

Montecito resident Shaun Tomson urges students to find their purpose and act on it.
Montecito resident Shaun Tomson urges students to find their purpose and act on it. (Courtesy photo)

A wave of optimism filled the auditorium at San Marcos High Tuesday when former world surfing champion Shaun Tomson offered a message of hope that came at just the right time as many have been distraught by the impact of the Montecito mudslide.

Tomson, a Montecito resident, had been invited to address the school prior to the disaster as part of the AAPLE Academy’s first official leadership assembly. AAPLE stands for Accelerated Academic Program for Leadership and Enrichment.

“The AAPLE Academy is focused on serving our greater community, yet we realize that it’s also important to serve students in our own school community which we hope to do by bringing inspired speakers to San Marcos,” said Layla Landeros, AAPLE Academy president.

Tomson, who told the audience he was offering “a perspective, not a prescription,” is also a businessman, environmentalist, filmmaker and bestselling author.

He has made it his mission, he has said, to empower and inspire young people to find their purpose and take action, He emphasized to the students the importance of possessing a positive attitude and a focused will.

“My hope is that maybe my perspective can help you,” he said, before launching into the facts about how 20,000 students die each year from poor choices, including drugs, drinking and driving, suicide, and accidents.

Tomson knows the dangers of poor choices firsthand, as his young son Mathew died in 2006 as a result of a school choking game. Tomson honors his son by trying to help others.

“Together, we can build a positive wave and the movement starts here,” he said.

His formula is simple, yet powerful. Two words – I will - provide "the magic tool” for taking control of one’s life, he said.

“'I will' represents absolute essential power,” he said.

Tomson wrote his own code seven years ago when he was looking for a way to give back to students who had volunteered their time to combat environmental issues at Rincon Beach.

He wrote 12 lines in 30 minutes, and this “surfer’s code” became wisdom he would impart to the students as well as become his anthem for life.

Each line begins with the words, “I will” and includes such insights as: “I will never turn my back on the ocean,” “I will pass along my stoke” and “I will take the drop with commitment.”

The Surfer’s Code: 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life, was Tomson’s first book. It was followed two years later by The Code: The Power of ‘I Will’ a compilation of 12 stories culled from Tomson’s life experiences in and out of the water.

The idea for The Code started as a class assignment at the Anacapa School in Santa Barbara when Tomson asked students to dig deep and write 12 lines describing their core values.

“The very first line I get back is from a young girl that says, ‘I will always be myself,’” he said.

Tomson reiterated the importance of this message throughout his presentation.

“Each of you can build your own positive attitude wave by creating a code to live by,” he said.

He stressed the power of words, particularly when they are declared triumphantly as a promise to oneself.

Tomson also spoke about the importance of attitude: “Attitude governs your actions and your actions define you. Attitude is a choice.”

Tomson's presentation included surf videos and a compilation of stories, including recollections from his childhood surf days in his hometown of Durban, South Africa.

He recalled the feeling of being caught up inside the tube of a wave, the fear of surfing amid Zambezi sharks, and one magical day he spent with his son Mathew telling sacred stories at the beach.

Tomson’s message (he now travels internationally hoping to change lives) has reached some 30,000 students in 24 schools around the globe.

Thanks to the efforts of AAPLE Academy Leadership Assembly co-chairs Valentina Venegas and Catherine McQueen, Tomson added the 25th school to his network.

“We hope students will take into account what Mr. Tomson says and put his ideas into action in their own lives,” said Venegas. 

“Perhaps his words can create a wave that helps change the world,” said McQueen.

AAPLE Academy at San Marcos High offers a four-year academic pathway that prepares students for top-tier college entrance while providing involvement in leadership and service-based opportunities that benefit students and the community.

For more information, visit

— Ann Pieramici for San Marcos High School.


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