Meeting Rob Machado and Shaun Tomson

It’s been a few years now that I’ve been slingin’ surf clothes on the ‘net.

I’ve had to give lots of shirts and stickers away for brand recognition since I have no connections in the surf industry, except for my recluse board shaper, Ed, who would kick my ass just for mentioning his name.

One morning I walked down to the beach access with a backpack full of tee shirts.

In the parking lot, I spotted Rob Machado, one of the world’s best freestyle surfers. A few groms were hanging out casually with Machado. I unzipped my backpack and fished for a few junior-size tee shirts for them.

I approached Machado and crew and told them I had extra inventory from a recent street fair and was giving them away for free. The groms, with much appreciation and respect, accepted the gifts.

Machado on the other hand wouldn’t take one from me.

He looked it over quickly and said, “Thank God I Surf?” I don’t need this shirt, I already surf everyday.”

C’mon Rob … have a heart, mate. I’m sure you’re approached with free merchandise every day and it’s a pain in the ass to be hounded constantly by surf apparel wanna-bees. But I wasn’t hounding you; I merely asked if you would like one. All you had to do was reply, “No thank you.”

You’re a smart guy Rob. I’m sure you could have probably guessed that I was starting up a surf t-shirt operation from scratch with no support. Maybe you thought to yourself, “Who is this kook? Thank God I Surf … What’s he a Jesus Freak?”

It’s ok Rob, I wasn’t devastated. After all, I don’t follow the ASP or pro surfing that much. If I ever publish a surf magazine, it would be called “Amateur Surfer” or better yet, “Average Surfer.”

(Picture this: A magazine dedicated to your Average Joe surfers (and their Sheila’s) who actually have to pay for surf wax, leashes, wetsuits and boards. There’d be lots of pictures of average surfers riding egg and fun boards. Also included: Action pics of soulful cutbacks, pot-bellied longboarders hangin’ 5 … and much more.)

I tried not to take Machado’s rejection personally. Perhaps his sponsors don’t let him accept non-sponsor shwag.

In a way, I’m glad Machado didn’t accept my gift. It taught me an important lesson, which put simply, is, don’t take anything personally. It’s a lesson I’m trying to still master. It’s getting easier and easier but perhaps will take me a lifetime – or more – until I get it.

Who knows what kind of mood Machado was in that day? And he’s such a good soul from what I’ve been told; it’s hard not to like the guy.

It was indeed a blessing Machado blew me off. That was the first time that I conscientiously decided to manifest the rest of my lifetime, where I would try not to take anything personally.

But alas, things tend to even out in life. Recently, another pro surfer I offered a free tee shirt to accepted my gift with a big smile.

Shaun Tomson, 1977 World Surfing Champ, Class Act. The Eastern European Jews, those of the Yiddish-speaking variety have a word for someone like Tomson: mensch.

A mensch is someone of the utmost noble character. It goes way beyond just being a nice guy; it’s about possessing qualities that all of us should strive for: being just, kind, considerate and compassionate, to name a few.

I’m not just sucking up to Tomson because he took my tee shirt. Hearing him speak at a lecture one night, I resonated with Tomson’s laid-back and engaging attitude when talking about his book, 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life.

More astounding than Tomson’s entertaining stories about his salt-crusted wisdom, attained through half a century of beach experience, is his positive attitude. Some people might accuse me of being corny or sentimental here for cheerleading Tomson on and marveling at his good energy.

But considering Tomson’s only son, Mathew, passed away at age 15 in 2006, only a year and a half before I heard Shaun speak, you’d forgive him if he was anything less than a bit high-energy.

Witnessing how Shaun engaged the crowd and was very approachable, putting everyone at ease, I felt a sense of relief, like everything was OK in the world.

I realized it’s possible to experience tragedy as Shaun and his wife Carla did and still celebrate life and its beauty. Shaun and Carla honor Mathew’s soul by staying positive.

You’d forgive Shaun if he became withdrawn. You’d probably understand it if he gave up surfing.

But Mathew also loved the water. Any time Shaun has an epic session, he feels like he is sharing that experience with Mathew.

If I ever complain about how my day didn’t go my way and lose focus, I think of Shaun and his uber-mensch personality brings me back to Earth in a positive plane.

I don’t usually re-read books; there are too many good ones to get through just once.

But Tomson’s book is one I intend to look over again.

From recounting the days of his Apartheid-era youth in Durban, South Africa to his experience on the surf contest circuit and up to the present, Tomson’s book is loaded with quick-page-turning gripping surf lore.

I will have to look over once again Chapter 5, titled, “I Will Paddle Back Out,” in which Tomson describes getting absolutely demolished by a 20-foot wave at Waimea.

“Never to this day have I been struck so hard by a wave,” says Tomson (p. 85). “It was a feeling of absolute crushing violence, an unbelievable sensation of force and power. I could not have imagined any human body taking such a beating and surviving.”

I don’t surf waves nearly as big as Tomson has, but I recently had a session where I also felt beat up. Eight-foot waves are no ankle slappers so I guess I should take it easy on myself. But this session I recently had drained me spiritually and psychologically. I ended up being so exhausted, my immune system weakened and gave me a sinus infection.

I had no idea that the surf was going to be 8-10 feet. Hadn’t talked to anybody about it nor had I checked the Internet surf forecast, which I never do, living Thank God so close to the beach.

The first mistake I made was to not watch the surf for a good time and study the swell intervals and the break.

The water seemed dirty from recent heavy rains (which is why I got a sinus infection) and the sets were closing out for the most part where I surfed. It doesn’t matter that the conditions and the shape were less than ideal; I thought that for as long as I had been surfing, which compared to Tomson is just a blink of the eye, I should have been way more dialed in.

But I will Paddle Back Out the next time that it’s 8-10 and breaking at break-neck speed.

What an admirable person Shaun Tomson is. Even after the tragedy of Mathew’s too-short life, Shaun Paddles Back Out and always will. And I thank him for that, for showing me the perfect example of how to continue to stay positive and love life in the face of tragedy.

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