Shaun Tomson was born in Durban and is an entrepreneur and inspirational speaker living in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife, Carla, and son, Luke. He is a former world surfing champion, and has been listed as one of the 16 greatest surfers of all time (Surfing, 2004). He is the author of Surfer’s Code (2006), and producer of the documentary film Bustin’ Down the Door (2006).

He is in the country to promote his new book, The Code, which is about faith, courage, creativity, determination - but above all it’s about the promises we make to ourselves about the future. It promises to inspire people to believe in themselves and to believe in the power that every one has to shape their lives through the power of “I Will.”

A study by Professor Ralph Keeney at Duke University in the US revealed that 20 000 of the 35 000 people in the 15- to 24-year-old age group who die in the US every year die from poor decisions.

Young people die from motor vehicle accidents, illicit drugs, homicide and suicide, but these deaths do not just happen of their own accord.

Young people put themselves into these situations. Dying young or not dying is not accidental; dying young is a matter of choice.

The deaths of 20 000 people result in an army of brokenhearts - 40 000 parents, 80 000 grandparents, hundreds of thousands of brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, friends - over a short period of a few years, millions are affected with the terrible grief associated with the loss of a loved one, all the deaths ultimately caused by one final bad decision, one poor choice.

I know from personal experience of the terrible grief associated with the death of a child.

In 2006, our beautiful boy Mathew made a rash decision, a terrible mistake that cost him his life at 15.

Kids at his school wore ties, and he tried something called the choking game and it killed him.

One bad decision made on the spur of the moment and my boy was gone. And my life and my wife’s life were destroyed.

The pain of losing a child is beyond awful, indescribably dreadful, an unending sadness that stretches out endlessly with no horizon, no end point, an ongoing journey on a ship to a destination of hopelessness and despair.

When I thought of my loss and wife’s loss and of the other 40 000 parents who are faced with that same hard and painful journey, I knew that I had to do something.

What to do, how can one person help or influence a generation far removed from where I am now in my life?

Several years after my loss I started to tell my story to community groups, corporations, schools and universities - I speak about my journey from the dark back into the light, about finding hope amid despair, about staying together, about the importance of living with the attitude that the sun will rise again.

I think speaking about my loss helped me as much as I hoped it would help others.

To young people I speak about the awesome responsibility they have to make positive choices, to not react instinctively, but to be just a little more contemplative, to be thoughtful.

I tell students and business people, too - write your Code - spend 30 minutes and write 12 lines, each sentence beginning with “I will”.

Write down what you want to do with your life right now.

This is your code and a simple map to guide you into the future with positive purpose and powerful commitment.

This is a tool you can use to assist in making positive decisions.

Once you have envisioned the future, you can realise it - what you will, you will become.

Above all I stress to young people across the country and across the world: a day will come when you are faced with a decision - it might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but that day will come.

You might be by yourself, or you might be with friends, or you might be with people who you think are your friends, but who are not really who you think they are.

Your parents will not be there to protect or guide you, and ultimately it will be you and the decision, you and the choice.

I used to be a pro surfer so by the time I get to this part of the talk, I have shown some video of huge waves and exciting wipeouts, so I usually have a good proportion of the audience’s attention.

I say try to remember that a surfer guy once came to visit you and told you about how his son’s one bad decision, and the pain he had to endure that broke his life, and how easy it is for you to bring the same pain to the people you love.

I say please do this one thing, one thing only, and I ask the kids to repeat it.

Think twice. What you gonna do? Think twice.

As parents, we hope to instil strong moral values in our children - we teach them a code. We try to teach them the difference between right and wrong, between good and bad.

Most of us try to be the best parents we can be - however, there is no instruction manual, no guide book, no course that we might study at school or university.

Perhaps there should be a class at universities across the country - Parenting 101.

Most of us try to teach by being role models, by showing the right way by our own way.

But no matter how much time we give, no matter how much of a positive example we are, it is our children’s peers who can be the difference between life and death.

Maybe the second most important choice for our kids is who to pick as friends.

The right friend can help when they need it, and guide when they need it; and the wrong one - we know that the wrong charismatic friend can take a child down a dark road, on a downward spiral of negativity with sometimes tragic consequences.

So I tell parents to tell their kids, and I tell kids too: stop, think, and think again about the choice.

Think twice

It may save your life.

Saturday Star