"Where will it all end? I'll tell you. It will end with the destruction of pro surfing as we know it."
This climate, man. Hot. And I don’t simply refer to the global warming trend melting icebergs and flooding lowlands plus paradisiacal island nations (I kid. Or do I?). I refer to everything else, but mostly the Israel v Hamas conflict currently inviting any and all outside the region to pick a ridiculously hardened side.
Death to the other or worse. If it can be conjured.
College students at Harvard imagining they know, and stand with, the oppressed. Hollywood notables thinking that they are victims and those who disagree must be dispensed with immediately.
The lack of nuanced thinking, wishing complete cancellation on the other, frankly, mind-bending.
Now, let us reintroduce the Ricky “Bobby” Basnett vs. Shaun Tomson blood feud. The business spilt into the public square earlier today when the former, and beloved, Championship Tour coffee sipper, Basnett became fired by the 8th greatest surfer ever, Shaun Tomson, after posting a slide to Instagram reading “From the river to the sea.”
Or not fired, but quit according to Tomson.
“From the river to the sea,” in any case, and depending on bent, either a call for the complete eradication of the Jewish state of Israel or a mere plea for Palestinian autonomy.
I think it probably actually means the former, though social media gonna social media and illiteracy gonna illiterate.
In any further case, Tomson fired Basnett, who had begun working with Insight, in a fiery letter.
Or maybe Basnett quit.
But let us transport to another time in professional surfing history when South Africa, Tomson’s home country, was ruled by a government that supported the subjugation of its natural born inhabitants.
History is important (please subscribe here) and, in 1985, Tomson, the smoothest surfer ever, stood on a Torquay, Australia stage and declared, “The rumor I’ve heard is about a South African boycott. Suddenly the surfers have principles. Suddenly we have political aspirations. I’ve been involved in pro surfing since it began…”
A powerful opening salvo.
“I don’t like people being killed in South Africa,” he continued. “No South African does. But do you think not surfing in an event in South Africa will change anything? Are you not all trying to get some cheap publicity? What’s the next frontier in surfing’s newly found political conscience? Maybe we won’t go to the USA because we object to American involvement in Central America (etc. etc. ad infinitum). Maybe we don’t go to France in objection to the socialist government. Maybe we don’t go to Israel because we object to the treatment of Palestinian refugees…”
England because crackdown on Irish nationalists etc.
“Where will it all end?” he sally forthed. “I’ll tell you. It will end with the destruction of pro surfing as we know it.”
Tomson went on to state, “If you don’t support South Africa, then voice your opinions, but support pro surfing. Look after your livelihood and what you love. I don’t stand here in defense of South Africa. I stand here as a surfer in defense of pro surfing. Thank you.”
Was Shaun Tomson on the right side of history?
Hindsight always a perfect 20/20. Apartheid South Africa an absolute historical disgrace. Tom Carroll, who rode for Tomson’s brand Instinct, was threatened with lawsuit if he didn’t travel to South Africa to surf. He refused then signed a million dollar contract with Quiksilver becoming an icon twice over.
Derek Rielly, in his exceptional biography of former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke (RIP) covered the scene, writing:
In 1985, the world champion surfer Tom Carroll refused to surf in South Africa’s three international surfing events “until black surfers are allowed on all beaches.” Carroll was sponsored by the South African company Instinct which threatened him with a lawsuit if he didn’t compete.
Hawke heard about the threat, called Carroll, and invited him to Canberra where he told the surfer that if his sponsor went legal he had the weight of the Australian government behind him.
“I was really welcomed by Bob. It was a nice feeling to have that support from him,” says Carroll, who didn’t lean either way politically and admits he was initially inclined to distrust any politician courting the youth vote. “I had some strange responses to my decision. All kinds of people went a bit crazy about it. But he was genuine, very interested and he asked all these really good questions about the tour and competing and where I’d been and even brought up some results. He read his brief very well.”
When Mandela came to Australia, Hawke introduced Carroll to Mandela.
“I remember Bob telling him, in his frank way, ‘Nelson, this was the world champion surfer at the time and he made decision to boycott the events in South Africa. Gave him the whole story. Mandela turned around to me and said, ‘Thank you very much Tom. I needed all the help I could get.’ Bob facilitated that. It was a lovely moment between the three of us. It gives me goosebumps now.”
At Carroll’s retirement dinner in 1995, Hawke would say, “His beliefs, his principles, were so strong that he put those in front of everything else and as I recall there has been no example in the history of Australian sport where a champion has been prepared to put principles so manifestly in front of his or her own interests as Tom Carroll did in 1985.”
Tomson was never pro-apartheid, let it be stated. Let it also be stated he is not anti-Palestinian, writing most recently, “Yes, I agree Palestinians have suffered too and that war is dreadful.”
Surfing and politics?
Where are you currently landing?
Willing to actually challenge your own suppositions, which are, let’s be frank, elementary unless you are there, studied, open? Or ready to double down on all that you don’t know?
My goodness. I once thought I knew. Nineteen years old, in Egypt, traveling to Israel, overland though the now trendy Rafah crossing for the first time. My positions became absolutely ludicrous when meeting real people in that Holy Land. Stretched further in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Somalia.
Maybe Shaun Tomson was right. Maybe he wasn’t. Pro surfing already destroyed by Dirk Ziff, Erik Logan and co. But lend an ear to the other side and try to understand, try to feel instead of popping off.
Pro surfing is dead, sure, but surfing still lives.
Take your shirt off.