THE WRITE OF HIS LIFE

“Zambezi sharks are one of the world’s most dangerous predators,” Montecito surfer Shaun Tomson writes in the first sentence of his new book, “Surfer’s Code: 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life.”

In one of the most impacting opening passages, Tomson recounts an encounter with a Zambezi shark at South Beach off the coast of Durban, South Africa, in which his father, Chony, was attacked, lifting his body completely out of the water and tearing off most of his right biceps. His near-death, or surprising survival, became “local legend,” but despite the trauma, Tomson’s dad always encouraged his son not to “turn his back on the ocean.”

“He never gave up on his love for the ocean, and he instilled that love in me from a very young age,” Tomson writes.

Much of the book, which came out last month, plays out in the same manner, dueling as autobiography and surfing metaphor. Tomson edifies in 12 easy-to-read chapters, each titled with an instructive lesson – “I Will Paddle Back Out” and “All Surfers Are Joined by One Ocean,” for instance. The pages, peppered with a strong dosage of surfing jargon, are accessible even to a person who’s spent more time in a board room than on a surf board.

But “Surfer’s Code” is still, after all, largely about surfing. Many pages of the book, with its heavy binding and thick glossy pages, are occupied by full photo spreads of Tomson in his old school years (short shorts and all), charging down a mountainous wave or slicing through a hard-breaking tube.

Tomson, a 1977 World Champion and 14-year participant on the World Tour, devotes a three-page exultation to the Queen of the Coast, Rincon Beach – “arguably the best single wave in the entire state of California” – and he frequently refers to that locale in later segments to illustrate a surfing code of ethic or to wax wisdoms of life.

In one particular instance, he describes “getting slugged in the face by an outraged surfer” in the early ‘80s at Rincon. The “guy” had accused him of “dropping in” on his wave, an apparent violation of the tacit surfing code. The surfer and his friends punched and kicked him before Tomson averts a brawl (the attacker was later prosecuted and jailed for felony assault). Tomson uses the story to illustrate one of the 12 main points: “There Will Always Be Another Wave.”

The idea for “Surfer’s Code” was born five years ago when Glenn Hening, who started the Surf Riders Foundation, asked Tomson to bring something along for the kids for an event he was hosting. Tomson decided to forgo the obvious shirt, glasses or surf wax. “I printed up these codes, laminated them and handed them out to the kids,” Shaun said last week during an interview at his Coast Village Circle office. “I first began Surfer’s Code as a means of steering young surfers in the right direction – giving them practical insights into what surfers do and how they act in the surf zone. I soon learned that each lesson for life in the water also had meaning for life on land – not just for young surfers but for all of us.”

The codes are not only printed on paper, but also in the pockets of every garment from Tomson’s menswear collection, Solitude, a company he began with his wife, Carla, and later sold to JCPenney.

Tomson sees his book as a story of tradition and as an opportunity to pass the torch, just as his father passed on a love of the ocean and the values of perseverance to him while he was growing up. Tomson did the same with his son, Mathew, who passed away in April at the age of 15 from an accident. “Surfer’s Code” is as much a tribute to Mathew as it is a compilation of inspiring codes to live by.

“I did not invent the lessons in this book,” Tomson says. “The ideas were already out there, part of the daily rituals of large and diverse surf community. My idea was simply to pull them together.“

[“Surfer’s Code: 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life,” by Shaun Tomson, with Patrick Moser, is on sale at area bookstores, including Tecolote Bookshop in Montecito, for $18.95.]