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Paddle-out pays tribute to Gotcha co-founder Michael Tomson

Surfers gathered at the same spot Michael Tomson could be found catching waves at his home break in Laguna Beach, paying tribute Saturday, Nov. 14,  to the surf-industry influencer who helped create the popular Gotcha brand.

Tomson, a native South African who moved to the Orange County coastal town in the late ’70s following a stint as a professional surfer, died on Oct. 7 at the age of 66 after a long battle with cancer. 



“A true creative spirit and trailblazer whose impact will continue to leave ripples in the ocean and on land for generations to come,” an announcement for the ocean tribute read. “This ceremony is in honor of his life and his legacy.”

The traditional Hawaiian paddle-out ceremony brought friends and family to Agate St. Beach, some who took to the chilly ocean to send their surfer-style goodbye.

Prior to creating the Gotcha brand, which was among the first surf brands to bridge into the mainstream market, Tomson was part of an early group of surfers, including cousin Shaun Tomson, who pushed to make surfing more than just a fun pastime, but a legitimate, competitive sport.

He teamed up with partner Joel Cooper to create the Gotcha brand in South Africa in 1978, a year later bringing it to the United States for expansion.

The growth of the brand was documented in the book “Goin’ Big: Gotcha and the Evolution of Modern Surf Style,” published by Bob Mignogna, former publisher of Surfing Magazine, and written by Kevin O’Sullivan, detailing how Cooper and Tomson started the brand with just $30,000, working out of a room in Tomson’s Laguna Beach house.

Gotcha was the first surf brand to open the door into department stores. The style was different than what existed in the surf world at the time, more fashion-forward with bright neon colors and styles such as longer walking shorts.

Michael Tomson, a former pro surfer turned surf apparel maker who co-founded Gotcha, died on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020 after a bout with throat cancer. He was 66. (Photo: Goin’ Big: Gotcha and the Evolution of Modern Surf Style)

Tomson’s influence went beyond surf apparel. He was one the founders and the second president of the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association, or SIMA, helping to unite surf brand leaders that were rivals in shops, but friends in the water.

Tomson also helped create the Waterman’s Ball, the industry’s marquee fundraiser that through the years has raised more than $8 million for ocean-related causes.

Source: Orange County Register

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