Thomas Robinson is one of those household names along the likes of Joe Clarke, Jake Stone, Chris James and a whole bunch more that were up-and-comers in the not too distant past. Those of us that have seen Robinson taming South Coast slabs, sitting pretty in the pocket or boosting high in movies like Kenny Willis’ Visions, or Todd Barnes’ Video or Thrash are well aware of his skills on the sponge. There may, however, be a few young-uns out there wondering just who the hell we’re talking about. While he’s been quiet on the bodyboard scene in recent years, Robinson has made some remarkable contributions to our sport, and for the past five or so years now has swapped reef for concrete, chasing a promising career behind the lens as a skate photographer.
Life gets in the way, even for guys that are lucky enough to paid to ride. It’s one of the easiest clichés out there to throw around and rarely strays far from the mark in the context of surfing. While Robinson was busy shooting photos and skate clips, sadly, we didn’t see much of him in the water until Mitch Rawlins’ Killer Days flick gave us a welcome refresher course in what the man is capable of on the sponge.
First of all, Robinson a stand-up guy. Second, we wanted to get a real idea of exactly what he’s been up to in the past few years and, most importantly, quiz him about how he (seemingly) fell out of love with bodyboarding as his life’s calling.
Grab a pen and paper kids, for there are some important life lessons within: Robinson’s tale is a slice of reality; even a precautionary tale of life’s unexpected changes. The true test is how you cope with them.
MM: For those who don't know, What’s been happening in your world of late?
TR: Of late, not all too much. I’ve been working three part-time jobs, so that adds up to a shitload of time spent working. I’ve been shooting photos of skateboarding for I guess the past five years, that’s what i like to do.
Where did you last find yourself in a scary situation?
I haven’t been so much scared for a while that I can think of, I don’t really find myself in many situations like I have in the ocean. There are a lot of situations that I’ve been on edge like being in heavy areas with camera gear or watching someone skating something where they could get really hurt. This crackhead went nuts at some friends and I the other day and I was scared of him, he was scary.
What are the most important things in life to you?
Not being bored and being able to eat. Being in someway progressive within myself and working towards something. If I can do that I’m all good at the moment.
You've always been pretty driven but remained cool and collected. Where do you find peace in this mad world?
I guess I’m pretty ignorant and tend not to give much time to things I’m not directly interested or involved in. I don’t think that’s a good way to be, but probably helps me not get caught up in how fucked up the world is.
Are you burnt on bodyboarding? A lot of guys still don't know why you stopped.
I was really no good at being motivated unless I was working towards something closely with someone, that’s why all my best surfing was done when I was working with Kenny Willis and Todd Barnes. It all started going downhill for me when they had a big push for there to be a giant fantastic world tour again and I completely hated every last bit of the bullshit they were spinning. The tour employed todd and he didn’t have the time, or really the drive at that time to try make a video on top of what he was doing for them so I lost interest and motivation and ended up just sitting in my room waking up at 2pm most days and being a depressed slob, it was a really bad winter for waves that year to. Somehow I still produced enough footage and photos to keep the people paying me happy enough. At the end of that winter I went on a trip to India for Movement and it was awesome, that trip kinda changed the way I looked at everything and I realised just because I’d basically put my whole life into getting good at riding a bodyboard, didn’t mean I had to hold onto it. When I got home from that trip I moved from the south coast back to Noosa, where my family live. I went to Hawaii a few months later with a friend of mine named Harrison, he’s a stand up surfer and I was there half to boog, and half to shoot some photos of him surfing. At the time 4play was paying me around $30,000 a year to basically just surf and go on whatever trip I wanted which was awesome. One day when i was in Hawaii, I got an email from the team manager who was an absolute legend saying my pay was going to be cut in half but I didn’t have to do anything for it as long as they could use my name for another year. I guess it was kinda my chance to let go completely and disconnect myself. I told him I didn’t want the money, and that was the end of my career. It was actually really hard to let go of something that I’d put a huge chunk of my time on earth into, and the ego that came with being respected for doing that one thing was hard to give up at that age. My back was giving me trouble while filming for my first video part, so six years or so on it wasn’t getting any better.
You went from one of the world’s favourite bodyboarders to a skateboard photographer – what was the transition in between this?
I guess I was just always liked skateboarding and then just playing with cameras hard out for the past few years traveling bodyboarding. I tagged along with my friend Andrew Brophy on a trip to Sydney and met a lot of my friends here through him, got offered a job in a warehouse and had nothing to go back to in Noosa so I just stayed. There would be a pretty long list if I were to thank everyone who helped me out or gave me opportunities but if it wasn’t for Trent who does Pass~Port Skateboards I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in with being able to travel and the initial opportunity to shoot for international magazines, he really has and continues to help me alot.
What’s different about bodyboarding and skateboarding?
Pretty much everything besides the fact you gotta spend shitloads of time doing it to get good at it.
How did the Killer Days video come about?
When I was in Hawaii and quit riding for 4play I swapped a wetsuit with Scott Rigby for a Found board and started riding that, a few days later Mitch rocked up and I guess was stoked I was using his shit out of preference. Nothing really came of it, I think I went to the Gold Coast and we hung out and he got me some boards made, but that was it and I didn’t hear from him until I was already living in Sydney working full time at the warehouse. One day he just rang me up and was like all about making a video and wanted me to be in it; for me it was just an opportunity to go surfing and hang out with Mitch and Todd but it was super hard because I had a full-time job so I didn’t get to surf at all between when we were filming, but it was fun and I did my best to rip. Mitch paid for me to go to Western Australia, South Australia and then he just gave me $5,000 to do whatever I wanted for the video. With that money, I went to India, Ireland and met him in the Canary Islands. Sure to say I lost that job, but I can’t thank Mitch enough for getting me in some amazing waves again. He is one of the most honest, generous people I have ever come across.
To this day, what was your favourite section or session of yourself?
There are a bunch of sessions I can think of that were super special for different reasons but one I always remember was one winter there was this big north east swell. We surfed Supers in the morning and a bunch of people were out, I don’t know if it’s still the same but people were super hungry round that time so it was super competitive and I got a pretty damn big one which was cool because I was never really that guy. I think the only reason I took off was because Glen Thurston was going to if I didn’t, and he kinda stood for a lot of was opposed to at the time. Later that afternoon we surfed a beach break down the coast a few hours and it was like one of those really special winter afternoons, just stunning. Me and Todd got really stoned and even though he was on the beach and I was out in the ocean it was kinda like we were just hanging out. It felt like I could do whatever I wanted on a wave and it would have worked perfectly. At that stage, I felt so sharp on a board and we were chasing waves so much that it was almost boring, so to be out in waves that good, in that form and completely cooked was exciting. I haven’t seen it in years but from memory there is a right hand barrel to reverse and a right hand turn in this sick South Coast montage Todd made in Thrash’d. The wave at Supers is in that same video.
How do you see this sport of bodyboarding growing again?
I remember years ago thinking it had to completely die for it to start over again and that looks to have pretty well happened. I think the main problem is the media outlets – anyone who is talented enough to do it properly gets offered money to leave the industry and has to take that opportunity because if they stick around they won’t be able to afford an average lifestyle. There are kooks in every “sport” and that’s awesome; being shit at something and having fun is what’s it’s all about on a basic level, and that’s me on a skateboard. But the problem is that if those kooks are running the media outlets controlling the image of a culture and making it look like shit, well why the fuck would anyone be attracted to it and decide that it’s for them. Kids are smart; kids have iPhones and they know what’s popping. I don’t keep up with it to heavily but I just typed in Riptidemag on Instagram and the little logo they have in the round display was enough to make me not want to look any further; I don’t even wanna get started on that fucking APB shit.
Favourite bodyboarder of all time?
Alex Bunting, Mitch Rawlins and Mike Stewart before he started wearing Vipers. They all had the best posture, trick selection and natural flow.
Next destination you would love to shoot photos at?
I’m going to Athens in a month on a Pass~Port trip. I’m hyped for that.
Any inspiring words for the young guns out there who do still want to have a future in bodyboarding?
Do it for fun, and because you like doing it. I think Chris James and James Kates are great example of how to go about it, they’re all passion and happy to do what it takes to ride good waves cause that’s what they’re in it for.