Michael Tomson, centre, with Mark Price, left, and a little Martin Potter in an early Gotcha ad.

Surf icon famous for Hawaiian campaigns, game-changing surf brand and “Shakespearean dance with cocaine”, dead of throat cancer. “He was a bull at full charge with six banderillas stuck in his back!”

Death of a legend… 

South African surfer turned clothing baron, Michael Tomson, who was revealed to be gravely ill with throat cancer three months ago, has died, aged sixty-six. 

Tomson had reportedly been on life support for nine days before passing away. 

As the surf historian Matt Warshaw wrote in our initial report,

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.'”

(Read Michael Tomson’ Encylopedia of Surfing entry here.)

In 1996, Warshaw interviewed Tomson on pro surfer salaries, an exchange that demonstrates MT’s perpetual forthrightness and entertainment value.

Why are pro surfers’ salaries such a big secret?

Because most of the surf companies aren’t publicaly traded, and as such don’t have to disclose those kinds of things. That and, it isn’t a big media event, what people get paid, the way it is in other sports it is. The salary caps in basketball is a huge deal. It’s an intregal part of building your team. Everybody has to know what everybody else is making in that situation, that’s how the whole system works.

Is it unseemly, to you think, to even bring up money?

No. Or it shouldn’t be, anyway. People get rewarded for excellence, and who’s to say that this kind of thing should be paid this much, and that kind of thing paid that much. It’s a free country and it’s a free market, and if someone’s willing to pay for the service, why not take it? Take it and be proud of it.

When we talked a couple days ago you said you’d be willing to tell me how much your guys [at Gotcha] are making.

Fire away. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.

Martin Potter.

Okay, so let me back up a little. None of these numbers are completely, perfectly precise, okay? Salaries are never a fixed thing. Photo incentives, contest incentives, contract changes, everything goes up and down, it’s always moving. But with Potter, yeah, his salary has just been reduced. I think he makes $60,000 from us, and another $30,000 from our Australian licensee, plus incentives for photos and videos and things.

How does that compare to his best year, earning-wise? [Note: Potter at this point was six years past his world title, and had just retired from competitive surfing]

Less than half. Way less.

Rob Machado.

I think Rob’s at $185,000 this year. Between 185 and 200. Last year it was 150.

So, in your mind, when you’re thinking about paying somebody $200,000, how does that translate in terms of the companies bottom line? How do you know you’re getting your money’s worth?

You never really know. It’s a game. Does having Rob Machado on the Gotcha team earn the company $200,000 at the end of the year? Who knows? My theory is that 50% of all advertising and promotions are a waste of money, but nobody really knows which 50%.

But you’d never consider not having a surf team.

Not a chance. For anybody positioning themselves in the so-called hardcore surf market, having a kick ass team is one of the most important things

The Gotcha team, apart from Rob and Chris Ward, is getting older . . .
(Pause and a sigh) This is problem. The aging guys, and what to do with them when they’re done.

After all those years, I hear Cheyne Horan is maybe no longer with the company, or no longer getting a salary? Something like that.

(Another pause) That got ugly.

Is it over?

In one way. The friendship isn’t over

Shall we move on?

No, no, that’s okay. Look, Cheyne got to a point where he was chasing something with his career that was going to impossible to obtain. And he was looking to us to support him in that chase, to an extent that I didn’t think we could really afford. Plus his financial situation was just a mess which, you know, wasn’t really my problem. Cheyne didn’t spend his money wisely, back when he was making a lot. But somehow, invariably, with Cheyne, it ends up being my fault, you know?

So he’s off the payroll?

Honestly, I don’t know right now if Cheyne is getting an official salary from Gotcha. If he is, its very small.

He was in right at the beginning. Cheyne was your first team rider.

There was a time when I was paying Cheyne myself, out of my own pocket. Yeah, I mean, these are really hard decisions. In other professional sports, there’s usually enough money left in the pot at the end of your career that you can live comfortably from then on. That’s the case in surfing. The money isn’t big enough in most cases, and when it is big enough, a lot of guys, most guys, don’t manage it properly. So they end up hanging on longer than they should. And, for us, for the company, that becomes really difficult. There’s a lot of emotion involved, a lot of history, a lot of sentiment. You’re talking about somebody you’ve been with—and not just in terms of a paycheck, but surfing with them, living with them, all of that—for 10 or 15 year. So those are really, really tough decisions.

How do think Potts is going to do, as far as moving on to the next stage?

Honestly, I predict a major problem with Potts. There’s someone who really blew a pile of money. Way more than Cheyne. I mean, a huge pile. On Peter Mansted [Potter’s manager], on his entourage, on his own indulgences. And what’s gonna end up happening is he’ll wake up one morning as say, “Shit, I’ve got nothing left.” At the moment, the guy still surfs well, but the kids are surfing better. And wait and see. What’s gonna happen is, he’ll come to us and say, “What have you done for me lately?” And we’ll have to something like, “Look, we’ve gone as far as we can go. This is where you are in your career, and we’ve just signed Chris Ward, so . . . . ”

Michael Tomson from ENCYCLOPEDIA of SURFING on Vimeo.

Not even a hard punch in the head can kill this formidable almost-apex predator.

Swarming Great Whites force mass closure of Australian beaches along one thousand km stretch of coast, including sights of recent attacks, Snapper Rocks, Kingscliff and Cabarita…

A bumper season… 

Seventeen beaches along a thousand-click stretch of coast from Burleigh Heads in Queensland to Narrabeen in Sydney’s north were shuttered over the weekend due to “a huge number of shark sightings.”

Sharks forced North Burleigh, Snapper Rocks, where Nick Slater was killed by a Great White one month ago, Fingal Head, Hawks Nest, Port Stephens, Kingscliff, Brunswick, Newcastle Beach, Coogee, Evans Head, Broulee, Sharps Beach and Narrabeen to close; Pacific Palms and Lennox Head were closed twice.

A dead whale washed up on the Tweed Coast brought in the obligatory swarms of feeding Great Whites, forcing Salt, where Rob Pedretti was killed by a “fifteen foot Great White” four months ago, Casuarina, Cabarita, where Christian Bungate was attacked by a White “as big as it gets” on his foil board, Hastings, North Pottsville and South Pottsville to close.

Three weeks ago, a dead fifty-ton Sperm whale sparked a feeding frenzy at Ballina, surfers warned to stay away along a fifty click stretch from South Wall to Evans Head.

The sight, then, was as grim as it was photogenic.


Don’t wanna take no hell from a Great White?

Buy your “Biteback” stainless steel spike here as “last line of defence to fend and fight off these apex predators.”

If that fails, crankshaft tourniquets available here.

Academics around the world thrilled as southern California university discusses adding Surf Studies major: “If all of the studies on employment for recent graduates are right, majors are irrelevant!”

"It's like a quadruple win."

Of all the wonderful majors offered at colleges and universities around this wonderful globe, does it surprise you there is no “Surf Studies” offering?

We have Black, Hispanic, Gender, LGBTQ, Sexuality but no Surf and a shame.


Well, one pioneering southern California university is aiming to possibly change that. Point Loma Nazarene hugging the mighty Pacific there in La Jolla.

This fall, and for the first time, Point Loma is offering The History and Culture of Surfing taught by professors Ben Carter and James Wicks. The course, which instantly filled, spurned rumors that the University was considering a surf studies program.

The thrill.

Carter, also the dean of foundational explorations, thinks it would be a very good idea, telling the school newspaper, “If all of the studies on employment for recent graduates are right, majors are irrelevant. 90% of recent graduates do not go into a field directly tied to their major. Disciplinary purity is not the future; it’s not even reality.”

Professor Wicks added, “Surf culture and history is an established academic discipline that is as rich as any tradition. It warrants our attention and analyses in terms of gender, ethnicity, class, transnational connections, art, kinesiology, theology, business and politics.”

The Dean of the Colleges, Jim Daichendt, is less enthusiastic, claiming, “You have to find a department or an area to tie it into. It’s usually helpful to have it owned by somebody, because then it ensures longevity. Who could teach it? Do we have the expertise on campus? Is there enough student interest? Pioneering is wonderful, but you certainly don’t want to pioneer something that is definitely a dud.”

Professor Carter thinks Old Man Daichendt is a total wet rag, though, and believes there would be many young men and women signing up for a Surf Studies major. “Think about this: you’re actually being paid [or] you’re actually being encouraged academically to go stroke out and have fun. It’s a total win-win, all the way around. It’s like a quadruple win.”

I, myself, have an Intercultural Studies major and an Applied Linguistics masters and did very poorly in the one math class I was forced to take but only count two wins in Professor Carter’s argument. 1) Being paid 2) or encouraged to go stroke out and have fun.

Where are the other two wins?

More as the story develops.

Shark researcher jumps into pen to shepherd two-ton Great White into position for tagging ceremony. | Photo: @ocearch

Fully clothed Shark researcher jumps into water with fifty-year-old, two-ton Great White; Twitter explodes: “So bad, how horrible that you would do this. Now trophy hunting has gone to the ocean, you bastards.”

"Let's see how long it is before she's no longer with us because of pure stupidity."

Sometimes you can’t win for losing, as they say.

Ocean Research organisation Ocearch is in the biz of tagging Whites and sharing the data with whoever wants it in near real-time.

Important work. Environmental warriors at the front line.

Recently, they tagged a Great White in Nova Scotia, fifty years old they estimate, the footage including one researcher jumping into the drink, fully-clothed, to guide the seventeen-foot long, three-and-a-half-thousand pound Great White they called ‘Nukumi’ – a name given to her to honour a ‘legendary wise old grandmother figure of the Native American Mi’kmaq people’, into the pen where it got tagged.

Footage is pretty wild, see below, and everyone wins: research is collected, and Great White gets a little holiday above the water.

Twitter, which was founded in 2006 to push the then just awakening outrage culture, was pleasingly on point with its apoplexy.

Leave him alone! We have done enough damage to the ocean and it’s occupants!

You should have left her there in her natural habitat

I Would like to know what are they trying to do with her they need to let her go back to her home

It’s OK to admire a beautiful animals from a far. But why do we need to probe the ‘Queen of the Ocean’? #sad The worse momment her life was you spotting her.

I totally support your efforts, but this looks really aggressive to me. Y’all need to use a gentler touch. Design some more comfortable equipment to get her out of her habitat, even if it’s only for two minutes

Right- let’s see how long it is before she’s no longer with us because of pure stupidity.

Did you guys let her go?

Stressing out an “ancient mature female” seems like the right thing to do.

So bad, how horrible that you would do this. Now ” trophy hunting” has gone to the ocean, you bastards.

I think, tagging Whites is a very good idea and a little jabbing and jostling ain’t such a bad price to pay for science etc.


The Benny's Surf Club gang. | Photo: @bennys.club

New York gay and BIPOC collective “Benny’s Club” created to neutralise surfing’s “intimidating…scary…straight, white male energy.”

"I know a lot of queer surfers I’ve talked to feel [this]: you sort of have to live a double life. You might be out and proud on land, but in the water, you better keep your mouth shut."

It ain’t easy being a fag, this I do know.

For whatever reason, cheekbones, high-ass, penchant for all-white ensembles, I’ve been hassled since I was kid, called a faggot, poofter and so on.

And so, I sorta hear this.

New Yorkers Johnny Cappetta and Momo Hudes have created a gang of queers and non-whities, who wanna surf but who don’t dig, and who get freaked out, by the taciturn white bastards, men, who dominate American lineups.

Benny’s Club organises surf lessons, happy meet-ups in the Rockaways and much chatter about technique and how lineups work.

In an interview with i-d magazine, founder Momo Hughes, recalls an early taste of the horror,

“As a very small, skinny kid, [I’d] have grown men threatening to fight me on a regular basis. It’s just pretty aggressive. Even as you get older and better and become a regular at certain spots, there’s very much a pervading vibe in the water: shoulders down, head hunched, black wetsuit, don’t say shit to anybody. I felt, and I know a lot of queer surfers I’ve talked to feel [this]: you sort of have to live a double life.” JOHNNY CAPPETTA

“It was just my dad and my brother and all of these older white men. It was really intimidating. I don’t know if when I was younger I realized how uncomfortable I was by that — I think I was more concerned with the ocean at that point. There’s that feeling that if I drown, if something happens, none of these people would bat an eye or be concerned. Just being in the water by yourself and not knowing anyone is really scary. The straight, white male energy is the reason why Benny’s was created, but also to make it a less intimidating and scary experience to go out there alone. Occasionally at Rockaway, I’d see a female surfer, and those times were so exciting. Any time that would happen I’d always paddle closer to her. That’s so much less intimidating, and inspiring to see — a female surfer out there in a crowd of men.”

Johnny says,

“As a very small, skinny kid, [I’d] have grown men threatening to fight me on a regular basis. It’s just pretty aggressive. Even as you get older and better and become a regular at certain spots, there’s very much a pervading vibe in the water: shoulders down, head hunched, black wetsuit, don’t say shit to anybody. I felt, and I know a lot of queer surfers I’ve talked to feel [this]: you sort of have to live a double life. You might be out and proud on land, but in the water, you better keep your fucking mouth shut. There’s a feeling of keeping your politics out of the water. And what that really means is, don’t make any of the straight, white, old men consider things that they don’t want to consider. I think that Benny’s for me is a way to open space in the lineups, in the water, to an understanding and an acceptance of our whole humanity as surfers, and to provide access. It’s an intimidating and serious place and if you’re not white and male passing, it’s very hard to even get a wave, let alone feel comfortable.”

I’m white and male-passing so I get by.


Contact Benny’s Surf Club here.