Building the Sport of Surfing
Written by SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel
Surfing has a glamorous image with daring surfers riding the waves. Behind the glamor, though, there's more to see – the work surfers do to better the sport, promote education, and serve the community.
No one does this better than Tom Gibbons, who has been a coach, founder of the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) and Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum, Surfrider Foundation HB education chair, and much more.
Gibbons began surfing as a teen and young adult in Seal Beach, CA, and has been surfing ever since, teaching surfing at Marina High School in Huntington Beach and starting the surfing program at Cal State University, Long Beach.
A believer in the importance of education and the cultural significance of surfing, in 1978 he and other surfing coaches formed the NSSA for amateur high school and college surfers. Along with hosting surfing competitions, their goal was to encourage scholarship and community service.
"We wanted to improve the image of the sport," says Gibbons, "and have younger kids look up to surfers as role models." The NSSA drew surfers from across the country, hosting the first National Championships in Huntington Beach its first year.
Now the NSSA is the leading amateur surfing organization in the U.S. Surfers who have gone through its program include Kelly Slater, Brett Simpson, Carissa Moore and Bethany Hamilton. Gibbons adds that “all the members of the 2021 USA Olympic Surf Team were members and champions in the NSSA.”
Putting his dedication to surfing into maintaining its history, Gibbons helped found the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum in 1987.
And he was the first co-chair of the education committee for the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center in San Clemente, CA.
Gibbons has also worked with the Surfrider Foundation, which protects the world's oceans and beaches. Under his guidance, CSULB students formed the first Surfrider university club on the West Coast in 2013.
Tony Soriano, Surfrider’s Huntington/Seal Beach chapter advisor, says, “Tom is all about educating the next generation to take responsibility for the environment, especially the ocean that they enjoy.”
SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel know the positive impact Gibbons has had on surfing and surfers themselves. Many surfers he coached still carry a guide he wrote, My Surf Journal, to document their surf sessions.
Gibbons is a role model both for his actions around the water and the way he lives life to the fullest, enjoying time with his wife Barbara…
restoring vintage cars…
and rowing with his dogs Yoko and Liberty.
Tom Gibbons didn’t seek out the spotlight, but by following his passion for surfing and sharing it with others, he's gained the respect and thanks of the surfing community.
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