MT, centre, with his More Core Division. Best surf team ever? Yeah, it was.

Surf great famous for Busting Down the Door, game-changing surf brand and bristling coke addiction gravely ill with throat cancer. “He is tragic and fantastical!” says Matt Warshaw

"I hope he is lauded for the way he left surfing — for Paris, Tokyo, New York; for ateliers, design studios, clubs, foreign-language magazine racks — then just as eagerly returned to cross-pollinate our beautiful but woefully inbred sport."

I have no doctor’s note to prove it, but at the south end of my duodenal bulb, hard against the superior flexure, is a nubbin of scar tissue marking the place where an ulcer sprouted and flourished over a six-month period in 1986 when I dated Michael Tomson’s not-quite-ex-girlfriend.

Just an extended summer romance. Nothing at the outset, flirty and harmless, haha, nobody even knew!

Then a friend of mine who was also a friend Michael’s pulled me aside and matter-of-factly reported that Michael found out and was going to “serve my head on a platter,” and I didn’t get a restful night’s sleep until late 1987.

Michael Tomson was overwhelming.

In all things, for better and worse. I use the past tense, which is not technically right, although week before last I got a message that he had advanced throat cancer, followed by a second message that he had died, then a third and final message that he was alive but in bad shape and not expected to recover.

Write about him now, while he still might read it, I was urged. Do not hold back, jump all the way in, that’s what he’ll want.

Michael’s legacy is and will always be divided into three parts. The easy, uncomplicated, foundational part was built wave-by-grinding-wave at Pipeline in the winter of ’75-’76.

At that epochal Free Riding moment in time, Michael was, let’s say, 60% the surfer his cousin Shaun was in terms of raw talent.

Was that hard to live with?


But my guess is that playing second banana throughout his formative years to a younger and slightly better-looking relative had much to do with what Michael achieved in his career, beginning at Pipeline, where he never out-surfed Shaun but often out-gritted him.

Shaun was a surgeon on those big hollow walls. Michael was a bull at full charge with six banderillas stuck in his back.

You couldn’t take your eyes off either of them. (How did Michael get ready for Pipe? Easy, surf Waimea. “After Waimea, it makes going back to Pipeline much easier. And Sunset’s a joke after Pipeline.” Read the full interview here.)

The second part of Michael’s legacy is Gotcha, the wildly innovative and successful company that he co-founded in 1978 and into which he poured all of his fissioning talent, taste, ambition, and vanity.

Gotcha was, above all things, a big blaring Moulin Rouge-level spectacle.

Throughout the 1980s, you never knew what the company would do next, except that, like Michael himself, it would be outsized and extreme. For me, the Gotcha project was always hit or miss. The Gotcha Pro, spawn of Mardi Gras and the Op Pro, was a gaudy, bloated world tour setback.

Gotcha’s infamous “If You Don’t Surf, Don’t Start” ad campaign, with its gallery of American non-surfing and therefore unworthy archetypes (fat kid, old person, street-tough) juxtaposed against color action shots of Gotcha team riders — the cool kids — was mean, petty, awful.

But the energy pouring forth from Gotcha’s Costa Mesa HQ, month after month — the sheer creative horsepower, the audacity — was miles ahead of any surf commerce entity, and I don’t just mean Quiksilver and Billabong, but all of it, the mags, the boardmakers, filmmakers, everything.

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say the whole sport was slipstreaming behind Michael and Gotcha. Nobody else could have made Surfers: the Movie, for example, which I’m glad to see is now in the Best Surf Film Ever conversation. 

The third and final part of Michael’s legacy will be his enduring and literally all-consuming cocaine addiction, which Chas Smith calls “Shakespearean . . . a forty-year dance.”

Tomson’s longtime friend Phil Jarratt wrote about it in 2015. Tomson himself unapologetically spoke of his drug use, and much more, during a conversation with Smith less than three years ago (read here), in which he throws his head like a bull and is thus recognizable as the surfer he was in 1975, but is now swaying and about to buckle at the knees.

Both pieces are difficult to read.

I hope that Michael Tomson is further remembered and lauded for the way he happily, eagerly, relentlessly left surfing — for Paris, Tokyo, New York; for ateliers, design studios, clubs, foreign-language magazine racks — then just as eagerly returned to cross-pollinate our beautiful but woefully inbred sport.

That was the plan (read here) from the very beginning.

If you have a Gotcha-era surf mag handy, open it up and look how flat every non-Gotcha page looks by comparison. When you watch Surfers, remember that Michael was stealing, to our great benefit, from Rolling Stone, not Bruce Brown.

Hell, at one point this crazy bastard had us all wearing elastic-band madras-plaid Bermuda shorts!

For 35 years I have been both awestruck and ambivalent about Michael Tomson. He is tragic and fantastical, but familiar.

His love of surfing is mine.

His nihilism is a distant cousin to my mostly outgrown but still vibrantly recalled selfishness.

Maybe some of you feel the same way.

“I’m not bold enough to be Michael Tomson,” Chas Smith writes, “so I need him to be Michael Tomson for me and to hell with the price — physical, financial, emotional, mental — that he has to pay.”

(Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Matt Warshaw, keeper of the Encylopedia of Surfing, sends subscribers a longish form email describing his historical adventures of the week, with nods to contemporary events. It’s a fine thing to receive amid the tidal wash of emails offering clothing sales and discounted trinkets and, if you surf, it’s as essential as wax and, for three bucks or whatever it is a month, cheaper.)

See this ten-foot White? Caught on a drumline at Ballina, "Shark Number 28" has been tracked swimming from Queensland to WA and back. Forty thousand clicks since it was tagged in 2016. | Photo: @NSW_ sharksmart

Longtom on Australia’s Great White crisis: “Is there a tipping point? Or do we accept a world of more Whites, more bleed-outs, more epic battles between surfers and sharks?”

Ain't there an ethical obligation to consider the kids who wind up in the jaws of nature's most opportunistic predator? The people who have to drag them in, watch them turn grey while they wait for the chopper to arrive?

The grey bodies under the sheet on a beach are stacking up and when it’s a fifteen-year-old kid it’s even more upsetting.

I was talking to an attack survivor in a Ballina kitchen this morning and the kid’s Dad was his wedding singer. It’s a small, connected world and the trauma of someone getting ripped apart in the surf ripples through it quickly.

Is there a tipping point where something gets done about it?

Or do we accept a world of increasing White sharks, more surfers getting whacked, more bleed outs, more epic battles between surfers and sharks who didn’t read the modern-day script that it was all just a case of mistaken identity and once they realised the boo boo they’d just swim off red faced.

This one came back and wanted more of the kid.

Like the one on Rob Pedretti and others.

Yet academics like Chris Neff still make tenure writing papers that say the problem is not the shark attacks but the public perception of sharks that lingers after the movie Jaws in 1976.

A more paradisical place to breath your last breath can’t be imagined.

Little half point cloaked with pandanus palms with wedgey lefts. Miles of unattended beach leading to a rivermouth. Paperbark swamps behind the dunes where brolgas dance in the spring time. The dirt road to the break winds past a lake of sweet fresh water – the town water supply – where, if you’re discreet, you can slip in for a quick skinny dip to wash the salt off post surf.

It’s an area saved from crowds by distance from the highway and mostly B-grade spots that hipsters, eurokooks and paid freesurfers eschew.

There’s a growing disconnect here between science and reality…and I come from the side of science.

Spent three years at Queensland’s premier sandstone institution in front of the lions of the marine biology game. The White shark remains a cypher, both in its abundance and even the basic biology.

Two-and-a-half metres is the size estimate of the one that mauled Mani Hart-Deville.

A baby.

About the size of the one that swooped me last year. How old is that animal? Estimates vary.

The established science states Whites are slow growing and long lived but a Japanese study found much faster growth rates and age to maturity. They age an eight-footer as young as two years old and age to reproductive maturity as young as seven for gals, half the time quoted in other studies.

Which would make the currently established numbers in the east Australasian population – a range between 2909 to 12,802 – about as meaningful as the racing guide on a fish-and-chips wrapper.

Not to disparage shark scientists but their form is patchy.

I stood in a hall nursing a brown sanga* with 200 of my fellow brethren and sistren on Sunday August 9, 2015 in the midst of the first shark crisis.

Tadashi was in heaven, Craig Ison looked like a slab of raw meat attacked with a cleaver, Matt Lee only survived by a miracle, Jabez Reitman was torn up.

People wanted something done.

Infamously, lead shark scientist Dr Vic Pedemoors, a fine South African stud, came on the radio on the eve of a tagging program instigated by the pressure from that meeting and said local surfers were a bunch of pussies ( I paraphrase, but that is the gist) and that he expected very few sharks to be located and caught.

The fuel guage barely moved in the shark boat such was the fine fishing for White sharks found right outside the rivermouth.

Two were tagged with the opening hour.

Many more, of course, followed.

Science does not have a good handle on the White shark population of eastern Australia. Growth rates, time to maturity, fecundity, transition from juvenile to adult survival rates, seasonal aggregations have all likely got bigger than expected error margins.

That’s before we get to the question of why they bite us.

Meanwhile, by accident and on purpose, an almost ideal world for the White shark has been created. Protected in Australia since ’99, but likely, according to the supplementary material on the CSIRO population study, to have faced decreasing threats from humans since the late 80’s, bolstered as adults by increases in whale and seal numbers.

Boosted as juveniles and sub-adults by decreases in commercial fishing in NSW and the establishment of marine parks along the Australian coastline.

We’ve created a world tailormade for our old pal the White shark.

But if you create such a world, and the White Shark Recovery Plan makes clear such a world is a desirable and wondrous thing then ain’t there a slight ethical obligation to consider the kiddies and old sea dogs who wind up in the jaws of nature’s most long lived apex, opportunistic predator?

The people who have to drag them in, watch them turn grey while they wait for the chopper to arrive?

The Mums, Dads, school mates, drinking pals, girlfriends and boyfriends etc etc etc?

Is there an end state where we can say, OK, too many, let’s go fishing?

I almost daren’t say it, but it feels like we could be close.

* A dry argument horrifies me only slightly less than getting hit by a white.

Watch: World’s greatest athlete Kelly Slater reveals what led to his “full-on breakdown” and how a little yoga with Tom Carroll saved him!

Hint: It involves a spectacular falter.

Two weeks ago, in a tease even greater than any planned World Surf League announcement, the world’s greatest athlete admitted to a moment in his unmatched professional career that was a “full-on breakdown.”

What was the moment?

What could it have been?

We all waited with bated breath for the Apple TV’s Greatness Code to be released. The series focuses on pivotal moments in legendary sporting lives. LeBron James, Tom Brady, Usain Bolt and of course Kelly Slater.

But back to the moment… what? What would have sent tears rolling down Kelly Slater’s tanned, sculpted cheeks?

Did you have a guess?

Derek Rielly wondered if losing the title to Andy Irons at Pipeline in 2003 might have done it but, as Greatness Code was released in its entirety yesterday, wondering is no longer necessary.

But should I spoil for you or will you savor the suspense all day, go home, butter some popcorn, pour a refreshing Snapple ice tea and press play?

Oh heck, nobody has/cares about Apple TV anyhow so the moment was when Danny Wills, great Australian regular foot, “faltered in spectacular fashion” at the 1998 Pipeline Masters, opening the door for Kelly Slater to shoot up and snag his 5th World Title.

Very exciting.

Apparently, winning five World Titles was his childhood dream and with it suddenly right there in front of him, the champ emotionally broke down.

Thankfully Nick Carroll’s brother Tom was there and did a little yoga with Kelly in order to calm him down. Very progressive of Tom, I think, as 1998 would have been early days for our modern yoga movement.

In any case, Slater went on, won the crown and cemented himself as the greatest athlete in the world by winning six more on top of those five.

Take that Tom Brady.

But does Kelly Slater’s breakdown moment surprise you?

Do you have a favorite breakdown moment of your own?

Watch here!

Watch/Listen: Podcast takes incredible technological leap by adding moving pictures into already riveting “Golden Age of Radio” dialogue!

Surfers win.

We did it again. And by “we” I don’t mean straight, white, hetero-normative, male-presenting men even though that is, grossly, accidentally, possibly shockingly whom David Lee Scales and Charles David Smith are.


I mean “we” as in surfers.

Pioneers grafted into a beautiful Polynesian and/or Peruvian stalk.

Cultural appropriators (save Polynesians and/or Peruvians).

But we surfers make everything better.


Hear me out.

Twenty some years ago video killed the radio star.

Radio stars kicked to the curb, destitute, sad, hungry, feeling their slip out of relevancy too late.

Today, thanks to surfers, video is enhancing the radio star.

Watch here in modern CinemaScope.

Or do you like radio?

Listen here and applaud Kelly Slater saving humanity through his vicious Instagram takedowns. Applaud Jon Pyzel for recognizing a train wreck before it hit him.

Either way, surfers win.

And by “surfers” I mean Polynesians and/or Peruvians.

Jordan Rodin's got the no-screw play down. Photo: Billy Cervi

Finless surfing kills: “I almost died like a sucker on a two-foot day being a stupid groupie dork and thinking I was invincible!”

BeachGrit almost loses (another) much-loved writer day before yesterday.

It happened. I’ve done it.

Fallen into that whole finless trap, by way of an 8’4″ special I happened across.

You know my type. The thing’s ugly, thick, heavy.

A regular dreadnought with a fat ol’ ass and rails so sharp you could shave with them.

It was intended for paddle fitness and small wave fun, plus maybe a crack at some juice if I could avoid having to duckdive. But the homemade fin system was crying to be fucked with. So I took ‘em all out and went in for the spin, dedicated follower of fashion that I am.

And now I’m hooked on the thing.

It’s like learning to surf all over.

Difficult. Humbling. Levelling. Stupid, mainly.

But it’s re-teaching me a lot of fundamentals that are helping with my day to day, and when you do connect an edge and get that friction free glide, oowee. Plus I come in from a forty-five minute surf feeling like I’ve been worked over by a personal trainer.

Couple of months of this and I’ll be saying goodbye to the dad bod for good.


Probably not.

That’s not my story though.

This is:

Today the waves are small, playful. Our dearth of local banks continues, but the odd two-footer is still presenting on the stretch out front.

A perfect day for friction free.

I’m still terrible/dangerous at it –a lineup liability, a twirling mess – so I’ve been deliberately avoiding crowded situations. Both for the safety of others, and the avoidance of shame for myself.

I find a right down the beach with no one around.

A small rockshelf hidden under a cliff, offering a ledgey take off before rolling into the shorey. There’s no clear shoulder line though, and many of the rocks sit separate to the main shelf and are barely submerged.

Tricky. It’s barely two foot, though. I can manage.

After my last couple of surfs on a gentle beachie, the surging takeoff is messing with me. I’m having trouble connecting the rail and am spinning and falling on most of my waves, frustrated by my apparent regression. But it flashes just enough panty line at me to keep me going.

I dodge rocks, and the board.

Fuck, the stacks are comical. Learning how to fall all over again. I briefly consider ditching the leash to avoid an awkward collision but I’m a lazy creature and my fall rate would require a lot of swimming.

I continue for a good forty-five mins. More spills, a few spins, one or two fleeting moments of pure bliss.

As I’m thinking of heading in, another set shows on the outside bank. I go deep on the ledge, maybe a little too deep, but this one is sitting up real nice.

If I can connect on it, even for a bit, I’ll happily call it a day.

I position myself for it, turn to the beach to start paddling, and then…

and then…

I don’t know.

All I remember is coming to under water, a splitting pain in my head and horrible ringing in my ears. Whether I hit my board or a rock, I couldn’t tell you.

But, I’m a few feet down and everything is dark blue, black.

Immediately, I realise I need to get up, up.

I don’t know how long I’ve been under and whether or not another wave is coming. I’m struggling to move, like one of those messed up dreams where you’re trying to run as fast as you can but your body is stuck in some horrible, invisible sludge.

I will myself to paddle, paddle.

Finally some receptors fire up and I’m able to break through. I find I’m mercifully close to shore. I get to the beach, though to be honest right now I still can’t remember how.

My feet and hands are tingling and everything seems slanted as I rip off my leash.

What the fuck just happened?

I look up the beach, down the beach. There’s no one within a couple of hundred metres of me, on the sand or in the water. Immediately the ringing in my ear intensifies and everything, the midday sky, the sand dunes, the cliff face with its running, tangled coal seams is all washed out in a strange blue haze.

I collapse on the beach, running my fingers over my head to check for any gashes.

I find blood, but not much. Just a long scratch across my jaw.

Is this where I copped it?

Or did I graze myself on a rock after already being knocked out?

I don’t know. I don’t know.

I look back up again to the closest peak and the dozen or so people on the shore nearby it. If I was under an extra twenty, ten, five seconds, nobody would have realised until it was too late.

If at all.

It’s a week before my thirty-sixth birthday, a week before my daughter’s second birthday, and I almost just went out like a sucker on a two-foot day being a stupid groupie dork and thinking I was invincible.

Fucken surfing, eh.

So uh, yeah.

Moral of the story?

If you want to try finless, maybe get a softboard first. Or maybe just don’t do it at all, if you’re a kook like me.

I don’t know.

Fucking surfing, eh?