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Are you not Shaun Thompson?

When I retired from paying rugby, I left with a body that was relatively intact. I considered myself lucky but I did leave the game with a few scars. Some of them where surgical, some were cosmetic. Rugby is after all a collision sport and I’ve had stitches put in behind both my ears (they’ve always been relatively out of site but with my ears being twisted and bent due to mask strings they might be more visible nowadays) and in both my eyebrows. The most prominent scar on my head however is not actually from playing rugby but rather a surfboard skeg.

When I was 10 years old I bought a discounted copy of the Zig Zag magazine. It was a prominent surf magazine at the time (pre internet) and I can still remember the cover of the magazine had a surfer wearing a helmet, surfing some big wave in some exotic and far off place( perhaps it should have served as a warning 😁). I convinced my mom to buy me a second hand surf board because well I figured perhaps I could do the same.

I surfed a couple of times (if you can call paddling in the surf and swallowing more saltwater than my kidneys could handle surfing) but on a particular day while spending the weekend in Jeffrey’s bay, camping, I collected the first of my scars. I can remember my mom dropping us at the beach and then excitedly paddling into the water just outside the swimming flags.

While paddling hard to catch a wave I tried to stand up but for what felt like the 100th time (it probably was) I fell off. As my falling momentum took me down into the surf, the force of the wave took my surfboard up into the air. We were two moving, diametrically opposed objects, connected however by the elastic energy of my leash. I surfaced just in time to feel a thud on the top of my head.

I can remember feeling a little dazed and pretty much ok but not really feeling like surfing anymore. I made my way back to the beach only to be told by my sister than my head was bleeding. No problem I thought. I dipped my head into the water but it didn’t stop bleeding. After using my towel as a bandage and a little confused as to what I should do next, a life guard came up to me and took me to doctors across the road. They were closed. Eventually an ambulance came to fetch me and with my mom following in the car took me to a hospital in Humansdorp.

After being checked over by the attending doctor and me explaining what had happened he had a look at my file. “What’s your name?” He asked. “Sean Johnson”, I replied. He looked up from my chart and asked “Are you sure it’s not Shaun Thomspon.” I replied again that my name was in actual fact Sean Johnson and he just chuckled. 5 stitches later and I was good to go again. On the car drive back from the hospital I recounted the story of the doctor asking me if I wasn’t Shaun Thompson to my mom. She smiled and told me that he was indeed a South African world surfing champion. The doctor had jokes.

That was 1990 and pretty much the end of my surfing career because the following year we moved away from the coast. Ironically it was also the final year of Shaun Thompson surfing on the pro tour. We retired together, one at the end of an illustrious career and one retiring before his surfing career had even started.

My joke, with people, is that in my next life I’d like to come back as a professional surfer. The idea of travelling and surfing around the world appeals to me but I realise there’s a lot more to it than just the glamour. The “isness”(reality of what is) of it, is a lot tougher than the romantic story. It’s pretty much how life is as well.

How often are we told that we can have, be or do anything we want to? There is a whole industry built on that idea. People willing to show you ,for a cost, how to achieve the lie of being anything you want. It’s just not true. You see you can’t be, do or have anything you want to ( these are often just desires as fleeting and changing as the seasons) but you can be everything that you already are.


My genetics (and the fact that I grew up in Johannesburg) would never have allowed me to be an international surfer. If I had clung to that dream I would have lived my life feeling a failure because I was trying to achieve the illusion of having, doing or being anything I want. The “isness” of life didn’t support the story. I did however have the genetics to play rugby and the opportunity. Striving to be something that wasn’t part of my path would have taken me down a road where many people find themselves nowadays. Comparing ourselves to the values and beliefs of other people around us making us feel inadequate because we have yet to feel the empowerment of being everything that we are.

I’m not trying to be a dream killer with my (generation x) opinion. I’m not saying stay in your lane because we need dreams and goals to move towards in life. Life is growth and change. We do however need to choose our goals carefully. To create, we have to be in motion discovering and unveiling our purpose. The motion though shouldn’t be outside or away from us but rather a movement inward, towards the root of who we truly are. Your strength lies in discovering who you are and ignoring the voices of social media that want to sell you something by poking at your “supposed” inadequacy. This is true empowerment, not feeling inadequate or disrespecting the gift of life because we judge our lives through the lens of those around us but rather choosing to live a life of empowerment by recognising and honouring everything that we are.



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