Surfer, writer, designer, brand builder, and surf industry icon - people say Michael Tomson is all that - but if you ask him he'd say, "I'm a surfer - I've been doing it all my life and its influenced everything I've done, so I guess you'd have to start there". And indeed it has. Growing up in South Africa, it was surfing that got him out in the world competing in international events, first as amateur, winning several national titles and then later as a pro on the world tour. He was 5th in the world twice, in '76 and '78. And it was those results, plus some epic performances at the Pipeline on Hawaii’s North Shore, that provided him the platform to start Gotcha Sportswear with long time friend Joel Cooper in a garage in Laguna Beach, a decision which changed the course of his life.
Under Tomson's creative direction, Gotcha broke new ground in how surf wear could be designed and marketed. The brand became a catalyst in the evolution of surf style as a world wide direction in youth apparel - surf became the new cool - and in the process, Gotcha became the #1 surf brand of the 80's/90's era. Within it's first ten years Gotcha had reached $180M in sales annually; it was available in international markets around the globe, and the brand had earned dozens of awards for it’s innovative ad campaigns and directional product design.
" I remember being at the Magic Show (Men’s Apparel Guild in California) in Vegas when I couldn't get to the booth, I couldn't physically get in there. Department stores had realized surf was the next big thing and this was the brand they had to have, it was mayhem… "
The brand's success was recognized in the mainstream apparel world when the Los Angeles Mart nominated MT as West Coast Designer of the year - twice! First in 1985, then in 1987. "I was really stoked with that - it was the first time we were being acknowledged outside the surf space" The surf industry itself hadn't really computed the significance of Gotcha at that stage. They realized the brand was growing and they were selling categories they never sold before, and they could see the brand was doing everything right at the core marketing level - the best team, strong sales support, projects like Surfers The Movie - it all seemed to good to be true.
Which of course it was and in 1991, at the peak of Gotcha's influence, Tomson became increasingly afraid that Gotcha would become a victim of it's own success and that the brand was on a mass market trajectory which would ultimately alienate it's core business. His response was to create MCD, More Core Division, a brand that was the antithesis of Gotcha in all respects. MCD was luxury hardcore - more expensive, more exclusive, plat-formed off dark colors with tattoo styled prints, and successful where it needed to be - at the core surf shop level. "I saw Gotcha's relevance dissipating and MCD's relevance gaining momentum - plus we had Archie (Matt Archbold) as our initial MCD ambassador, and then later on it was Andy (Irons), 2 perfect matches for the brand. MCD had it going but I knew it could never be another Gotcha, its footprint was smaller.
In 2008 the book "Goin' Big - Gotcha and the Evolution of Modern Surf Style" was published detailing Gotcha's impact on an extremely creative period in surf culture as board riding and action sports began to assume a wider influence in youth apparel trends.
In 1989, Tomson and Quiksilver's Bob McKnight, were the prime initiators in the formation of the SURF INDUSTRY MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION (SIMA), the governing body for what is now an $10 billion industry. Tomson served as president for two years during which time he also founded the WATERMAN'S BALL - one of the largest environmental funds supporting clean oceans in the U.S. today.
Tomson and Cooper sold Gotcha in 1998 and MT went on to form a consultancy business built around his expertise in the industry he grew up in - Action Sports. The services provided include all matters pertaining to branding, market strategy, positioning, product design and most importantly "making sure the client understands the brand's DNA and its forward road map for the next 3 years". His experience in this market, including all the right turns, the wrong turns and everything in between, put him in a unique position as a consultant. "Most of the time brand owners know where they'd like to be, they just can't figure out why they're not there yet".
His client list has included, at different times, Quiksilver, O'Neill, Rusty (Australia), Lost, Converse (Japan), Airwalk (Japan), Surf Expo, as well as smaller brands like OurCaste.
Recently his interest has shifted towards Rusty in which he now owns an equity interest.
He currently divides his time between Laguna Beach, and the North Shore of Oahu