Rumours Of Michael Tomson’s Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
“As of 11pm last night he was lying in bed, breathing on his own.”
“As of 11pm last night, he was laying in bed, breathing on his own,” Matt “Mayhem” Biolos says of South African Michael Tomson, one of the most influential figures in the surf industry.
There is little doubt that Michael Tomson, the creative puppetmaster behind some of surfing’s most radical teams and iconic brands, is not long for this world. Tomson has been battling cancer for a while now. Rumours of his death have been greatly exaggerated a number of times the last few months, as Tomson’s struggled.
And Mayhem would know. Michael Tomson was almost his silent partner in …Lost.
“My partner, Joel Cooper [Gotcha founder] is closer to him than anyone in the world, and despite what all these Hearse Chasers on Instagram say, as of last night he was still alive.”
“My first year surfing and stoking out, reading the magazines, Gotcha was everything. It was the brand that spoke to me. The clothes were the most garish and radical. The ads were the most radical. The logo was the best—the fish with the bubbles—everything was the best.”
“They pioneered that caustic approach to surf marketing and surf industry. Before that it was Lightning Bolt, Gerry Lopez, Ocean Pacific—it was all pretty cute and sunny and happy. And then Michael just kind of blew it up with Gotcha.”
“Michael made it more in your face agro rock and roll, just raw. He brought in a fashion edge, an aggressive edge, and just kind of turned everything on its head. He really blew up everything and expanded what you can get away with surf, fashion, and marketing.”
He’s the first to really bring fashion into surf, and he turned the marketing upside down and made it way more aggressive. Way more Fuck You and less listening to the beach boys and dancing around in a pair of baggies.”
“He was equal parts marketing as he was fashion. If you don’t surf, don’t start. That was insane.”
“After Gotcha ‘blew up’ in the mainstream, Michael blew up the other surf brands with the introduction of one of most radical brands and radical teams in surf history: More Core Division.”
“MCD turned everything on its head, again. It was like, okay: Black.”
“Everything was so colorful before that and loud, MCD was dark. And that word: Core. We all use the word, from my punk roots: hardcore. Behind the scenes it was the corporate brains coming up with something to react to the public’s perception, but it was super rebellious.”
“”MCD turned everything on its head, again. It was like, okay: Black.” – Mayhem
“Here, I’ll tell you a funny thing about my life with Michael. Michael Tomson was supposed to be Mike’s and my partner, but it didn’t happen. He ended up being a silent kind of consultant for us. He was our sensei.”
“So, Joel Cooper founded Gotcha. It was fucking massive. They sold Gotcha to Merrill Lynch and him and Michael had these non-competes, but Joel came and said, We want to buy into …Lost and turned it into a real company. Mike and I are like, okay, let’s do it. Sounds cool.”
“We had meetings and meetings and Joel was like, ‘Okay, we’ll split it into thirds.’ And towards the end, during negotiation, Joel’s like, ‘Listen, Michael and I need 49%. We need 50% or whatever. So we can split it between the two of us.’ So it would be the four of us [Matt, Mike, Joel, and Michael]. We agreed to it and we did the deal, but Michael’s non-compete was so locked down and gnarly with Merrill Lynch agreement that he backed out. He got scared and pulled out.”
“Joel, somehow swindled us and kept full 49% [laughs]. I have plenty of regrets, but I do not regret doing that deal.”
“Joel made Mike and I, a lot of money and taught us a lot. We turned our company into a major company and we all did great from it for a long time.”
Michael also took a special interest in the era’s prodigious youth, Chris Ward, Andy Irons, and Shea Lopez.
“But I’m sitting here right now with someone who knows. Shea was part of the program.”
“As a little kid I grew up watching him run around in circles with other surf stars and moguls and big dogs,” says Shea. “His cousin [Shaun]— the Australian and South African contingent seemed to run the professional surf world to me, and Bob Hurley introduced me to all these figures.”
“I was riding for Billabong, and there was that split with Billabong and Hurley, and suddenly me and Andy negotiations with all three companies, I think, and Michael talked to Andy and I together, he talked to my parents and Andy’s grants together, and that was the decision we all made kind of as a unit: everyone was going to be looked after, our dreams were going to come true. I was 16 years old.”
“We had this massive opportunity and they had a pocketbook. The budgets then compared to now, it was ludicrous. The amount of staff around and people and, and just sheer number of athletes, you know, instead of just one or two it was dozens, it was a whole stable, huge photoshoots going on all the time at his house and in Hawaii and all over the world, and here’s Michael touting me and Andy as future world champions. That was our first introduction to surf stardom.”
“Michael wasn’t a businessman who’d never touched the water, He was a guy who’d taken on Pipe at his peak.” says Shea Lopez, who was tapped by Tomson at 16. “He was cool. He’s transcended is his era”
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