From Brenda in Hove: It’s a small world

29 August

My son, Ian, in South Africa was attending a virtual conference recently and one of the speakers was Shaun Tomson. For those of you who weren’t paying attention to surfing competitions, Shaun was the World Surfing Champion in 1977 and since then has received many accolades. He is regarded as one of the 16 greatest surfers of all time (Surfing, 2004) and is listed as one of the 25 most influential surfers of the century. (Surfer, 1999) He was also one of my students at the university in Durban where I was teaching at that time. He was, and still is, a legend.

Ian sent him a note saying how much he had enjoyed his presentation and signed it off as ‘Ian, from Durban’. Much to his surprise, Shaun responded – and then they spoke on the phone for nearly two hours and found they have many shared passions, including school education. Shaun spends a lot of his time talking in schools, not only where he lives in California but also in Durban, where he grew up, and elsewhere in South Africa. As they talked, Shaun was amazed to hear that I was Ian’s mother and remembers going to my lectures, sometimes right off the beach and still in a damp wet-suit.

The surf was very good along the coast of Natal where we lived and lots of students (including my sons) were keen surfers. I remember going to beach once with my children and group of hunky, glamorous surfers called out to me “hello, Mrs Gourley” – and , as I waved back, I realised my children were looking at me with an awe I was not usually accorded.

Anyway, Shaun got in touch with me to say hello – and send me a link to one of his talks: He has written a book called The Code – The Power of ‘I will’, an inspirational book that tells of how he developed a personal code for living – and hopes to persuade all young people to do the same. I hastened to read the book. When it was published in 2013, one of the reviewers, Steven Hawk (former Editor of Surfer Magazine) wrote “ although The Code sells itself as a self-help book for teens, it is a much richer mix than that. It’s part memoir, part surf rap, part homage. Above all, it’s a gut-punching journey of emotional resurrection. Shaun Tomson confronts the darkest tragedy – the death of his own son – with grace, intelligence, and a historic kind of hopefulness. The lessons herein penetrate in unexpected ways.”

I am part of a Commonwealth of Learning mentoring programme and I immediately realized that this was a book and a message to be shared with not just the young people I mentor but all the people in the programme. I told Shaun about the programme and I didn’t even have to ask.  He promptly offered to give one of his talks, pro bono, to all the people on the programme, mentors and mentees alike.  

I still can’t believe the timing and coincidence in us coming together. I had been giving a lot of thought as to how to inject more focus into the mentoring journey. All the young people I mentor (and this must go for millions more) are finding life very difficult with this Covid menace. It is taking its toll wherever you are in the world and whatever your circumstance – and mentoring takes on a different complexion.  The advice and inspiration and motivation that Shaun shares so selflessly has never been more needed.

Another reviewer emphasises this and I think is worth quoting: “ The world today is very much like a wave: it’s shifting and changing virtually every second. Like surfers, we are defined by the decisions we make in this dynamic environment. Shaun draws on a life of learning, both on waves and off, and offers some sage advice for drawing the best line through life.” Jim Moriarty, CEO “Surfrider Foundation”, 2013

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