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Surfing legend shares lessons in life

From Robyn Curnow, CNN
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The spiritually of the surf
  • South African Shaun Tomson is is one of the greatest surfers of all time
  • The surfing legend now travels the world, sharing his story and inspiring others
  • He's the author of 'The Surfer's Code,' a guide on the lessons he learnt from surfing

(CNN) -- Walking on the white sands of Durban beach, with South Africa's powerful waves towering in front of him, surfing icon Shaun Tomson feels right at home.

For this legendary athlete, little can rival the sense of exhilaration and peace brought by the jump from land to water.

"There's a moment there when you cross from one universe to another and it always happens the same way," says Tomson.

"All the troubles and worries of the world are behind you: they're left on land and it's just you, the ocean and your board and it's very peaceful and no matter what has happened to you in your life, no matter what struggles you're going through, it's that moment of peace and that moment of cleansing that keeps drawing surfers back."

A surfing pioneer
Lessons from the sea

Having won the biggest competitions in the sport and helped create the world professional surfing tour, Tomson is regarded as one of the greatest surfers of all time.

With his unmatched style and model good looks, he is considered one of the sport's most influential figures, who helped to change the image of surfing for good.

Born in South Africa in 1955, Tomson first took to the surf board as a young boy under the guidance of his father. He soon went on to perfect a pioneering style that saw him carving maneuvers into the face of the waves, attacking them with aggression, rhythm and speed.

In the 1960s he took his unique style to Hawaii's notorious "Pipeline" surf break, known as the "Mount Everest of surfing," and rode some of the world's most dangerous waves, winning fans across the globe.

But Tomson's life came crashing down five years ago with the tragic death of his 15-year-old son, Matthew, who accidentally hanged himself playing "the choking game" -- self-strangulating to achieve a brief high.

The loss of his teenage son irrevocably changed Tomson's life and prompted him to travel the world and share his story.

By talking about the pain of losing a child, Tomson has fashioned another career for himself as a motivational speaker who helps others to deal with life's wipeouts.

Shaun Tomson's Surfer Code
- I will never turn back on the ocean
- I will always paddle back out
- I will take the drop with commitment
- I will know that there will always be another wave
- I will realize that all surfers are joined by one ocean
- I will paddle around the impact zone
- I will never fight a rip tide
- I will watch out for other surfers after a big set
- I will pass on my stoke to a non-surfer
- I will ride, and not paddle in to shore
- I will catch a wave every day, even in my mind
- I will honor the sport of kings
  • Surfing
  • South Africa
  • Africa

"I just told my story," he says. "I told what had helped me, I told how I came through it, I told how you can come out the other side.

"You're going to be scarred, you're going to have a big piece of you missing, but one day you can find happiness again, it is out there."

Just before Matthew's death, Tomson wrote "The Surfer's Code," a self-help guide on the lessons he's learnt from riding the waves.

In the best-selling book, Tomson shares the 12 most important lessons that surfing has taught him about life, offering advice accumulated throughout his illustrious career.

He says: "It all implied commitment and it all implied action: 'I will always paddle back out,' 'I will always take the drop with commitment,' 'I will never turn my back on the ocean,' 'I will honor the sport of kings,' 'I will paddle around the impact zone,' 'I will never fight a rip tide' -- just powerful lessons that going surfing had taught me about life -- they were my core values."

Since its first release "The Surfer's Code" has been re-published and updated, an intensely personal homage to his dead son.

Two years ago, Tomson and his wife Carla adopted a baby, Luke, at birth. Tomson says the child has brought light back into his life.

"I wanted to write about my journey and what had happened with losing Matthew and then this miracle that had happened to us with our new child, our two-year-old Luke, and I wanted to write that story to show people that out of despair can still come happiness," he says.