A Master’s Dream Ride

WORDS: John McJannett PHOTOGRAPHY John McJannett

Australian Masters Surfing Champion Shaun Gossman reckons he’s lived every surfer’s dream – to travel the world, surf at some of the best breaks on the planet, compete against some of the world’s best surfers and get paid to do it!

THE current Australian Masters Surfing Champion in the 35-40 age group bracket, Shaun Gossman still rips!

Shaun powers his way through the surf with consummate ease and grace and looks every bit like he still belongs on the world tour. He reckons he has been fortunate enough to have lived every surfer’s dream – to travel the world, surf at some of the best breaks on the planet, compete against some of the world’s best surfers and get paid to do it.

Nearing the ripe old age of 40, Shaun is deeply reflective of the amazing and fortunate journey he has experienced in life so far. As he nears the next phase of his time in life, this quietly spoken, deeply considerate, thoughtful and somewhat humble family man is setting himself new goals and challenges that will allow him to share with others the multitude of life’s lessons he has accumulated along the way.

For Shaun, it all started in Durban, South Africa,  at six years of age, when his dad gifted him his first board.

“Dad was a surfer himself and he was keen as me to get me started in the water. The very first wave that I got pushed into, I stood up and I can still remember that wave to this day! That was it – I was bitten by the bug,” he says.

“There is a lot of attention on Jeffreys Bay when people think of surfing in South Africa but around Durban, there are some amazing surf breaks. Depending on conditions, you can pick from point breaks, beach breaks or reef breaks. I never looked back from that first wave and it has really shaped such a huge part of my life.

“I started competition surfing when I was eight in the Provincial championships of Natal. I was very competitive and was always in the mix to finish in the top three.”

Shaun continued to surf through his school years and completed his Matriculation (Senior) in December 2000. Once school was finished, he was off to surf the world.

“I started on the ASP Tour in the World Qualifying Series in January 2001 and competed in this series for nine years until 2010. I was initially sponsored by a South African company and later when I moved to Australia in 2002, I was fully sponsored by Ocean and Earth, which is a Sporting Goods Company based in NSW.

“Back then, every year the top 16 surfers on the Qualifying Series would move into the World Tour and it was always my dream to make the tour and compete against the likes of Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, and Kelly Slater etc. I came very close to finishing in the top 16 on three occasions. The competition was so close it virtually came down to scores in single heats and I just missed out.

“At times I surfed against many of the guys from the World Tour as some of them had to come back to the Qualifying Series in order to re-qualify for the Tour. I really enjoyed competing in the series and experiencing such a variety of different cultures and meeting so many different people and making good friends from around the world.”

During his time on the tour, Shaun travelled the world and surfed in competitions in Hawaii,  Brazil, Argentina, California, England, Scotland, Spain, Portugal, France, South Africa, Japan, the Maldives, Indonesia and New Zealand.

“I surfed my last event in March 2010 in the O’Neill Cold Water Classic in Tasmania,” he says.

Following his ‘retirement’ from the tour in 2010, Shaun and his partner Megan agreed it was time to settle down. They had been childhood sweethearts since school days and had reached the stage where they wished to start a family. Megan’s family had left South Africa to move to England so the couple had a few years in a long-distance relationship while Shaun pursued his dream on the World Qualifying Series.

“At that stage, I had lost a little bit of my heart for the tour and it was time for Megan and I to move on to the next stage of our life together,” Shaun says.

Shaun’s parents and his sister had moved from South Africa to Australia in 2002 and they settled on the Gold Coast. His dad eventually set up his own business in Australia in the very specialised field of constructing service stations.

“When I quit the tour, my dad asked me what I was going to do. I had no idea as I had not completed any tertiary study so when he said I could go and work for him, I said ‘okay – I’ll give it a go’. That was 12 years ago.”

Shaun is based on the Gold Coast and is now the project supervisor for Eastcoast Petroleum Services Pty Ltd. He looks after all of the installations of underground fuel tanks and the running of all the line works to the petrol dispense points in service stations.

“We do the work that the public never sees and probably never thinks of. Most people just drive into a service station and never think past filling up their tank,” he says. “Behind the scenes, it is a very complex, sophisticated and quite dangerous set up to ensure that the dispensing of petrol is completed in an absolutely 100 per cent safe manner. We are involved right from the start and it is quite incredible the number of safety regulations that govern our work.”

Shaun and Megan have settled on the Gold Coast and are now the proud parents of Cassidy, 10, Saxon, 7, and Harlow, 5.  His current work involves being away from home for periods of time and with his wholehearted commitment to his family, he doesn’t have the luxury of being able to surf as much as his heart might desire.

Shaun joined the Snapper Rocks Boardriders Club when he first arrived in Australia and has represented the club on many occasions, in state and national competitions, since he quit the world tour in 2010. The club was extremely successful, winning many titles, and Shaun became an integral member of the senior team. He also established himself among the elite of Australian surfers, winning accolades for his smooth, powerful and stylish approach in the surf.

“The club was tremendous to me when I first came to the Gold Coast,” he says. “The guys took me under their wing and gave us great support as we settled into life on the Gold Coast.  The Goldie was always our first choice as a place to live in Australia. It has a great climate, great beaches, fantastic surf and is a great location to raise a family.”

Amidst all his work and family responsibilities, Shaun still harboured a keen competitive spirit and made a comeback to individual competition in 2019 when he lined up in the Queensland Masters Surfing Titles in the 35-40 age bracket. After winning the state title, he moved on to the national titles and was crowned Australian Champion that year.

“The Master’s competition has been on hold during Covid so I have held on to that title for three years now,” he says. “The titles are due to be held again later this year but I was not able to compete in the state titles this year because of study commitments. However, I am hoping to compete again next year and I will then be in the 40-45 division when I turn 40 in late September.”

In the past two years, Shaun has also been closely examining his work life for the future.

“My dad is looking into retirement and selling the business and I have reached the point where I need to consider my future – for myself and the family.  I could not commit to the business long-term so I decided to chase another dream.”

Shaun has always taken a keen interest in people and human behaviour so he is now completing a Bachelor of Psychology degree online through the University of South Australia.  He hasn’t studied since school and it has provided him with quite a challenge in finding the balance between work, study and family life while still fitting in time for a surf!

“It is a lot of juggling in order to get where I want to be but these days I wake up early and go to bed late and do what I have to do!

I am so grateful for the opportunities that I have been given in Australia and I feel that I am now at the stage where I have to do something for myself and my own mental health and the benefit of my family and others.”

Shaun’s experience competing as an elite athlete on the world circuit has provided him with additional motivation towards achieving his new dreams and goals.

“I have been strongly influenced by my experiences on tour and competing with other self-driven athletes trying to achieve their individual goals. These experiences have sparked my direction towards studying and eventually working in the field of psychology,” he says.

“All the years competing as an individual tended to make me something of a selfish person. Everything was about me – I trained, I surfed, I did everything when I needed and wanted to.

When I came out of that environment where it was all about me and I had a family, got a job, new responsibilities and a different set of priorities, I found I had to really change my thinking and behaviour. I needed to go from being selfish to being selfless.

“All of a sudden there was almost a complete turnaround in behaviours that I had to adapt to.

I have seen some of the athletes that I have befriended over the years have great difficulty once they finish on tour. They have to adjust from being somewhat self-centred and competing at the top level to living without continuous change, travel and the adrenaline rush of competition.

So at the moment, I am thinking of possibly specialising in Sports Psychology – but from a post-career perspective. But, at the end of the day, I would like to change my focus to giving something back and to helping people through hard times that they may be experiencing.

“Megan and my three children give me all the grounding I need. Megan has always been there for me. She always has my back and is a very special woman.  She is very talented within her own right and I am very grateful for the fact that she has let me chase my dreams. She has her dreams also, has a Degree in Health Science and is now completing her Master’s Degree.

“Nowadays, I also find it such a joy to watch my children’s excitement as they experience growing up and finding new adventures.  My parents have always been an enormous support for me and I would like to provide our children with similar direction and support as they strive to achieve their dreams in life.”

Shaun is pretty proud of what he has achieved in life so far. He acknowledges that there are some goals that he did not achieve but he has no regrets.

“For 10 years, I lived every surfer’s dream of getting paid to travel and surf the world.  That part of my life was all about me chasing my boyhood dreams. Now those great times are behind me and I want to be able to find the way to help others realise their potential in life in their quest to fulfil their dreams.”