One week ago, snowboard pioneer Tom Sims passed away at 61 from a sudden heart attack near his home in Santa Barbara, California. In the days following, an outpouring of gratitude has been issued from the snowboard community, praising Tom’s contribution to the evolution of modern snowboard design, his role in shaping the culture, and giving rise to some of the greatest riders (check the full team list here: enotes.com/topic/Tom_Sims—it’s insane). In celebration of Tom’s life, 250 friends, family members, and former team riders gathered at Hammonds Beach in Montecito, a surf spot Tom frequented, for a memorial paddle out on September 16.
At 1:00 p.m., hula dancers conducted a ceremony in Tom’s honor, setting the tone for the group of 70 people who paddled out and joined in a circle on the calm waters above Hammonds Reef. There they spent the next 40 minutes sharing stories and memories about Tom. Notable among them were ex-Sims snow team riders Chuck Barfoot and Edie Robertson and ex-skate team riders George Orton, Brad Bowman, Don O’Shei, and Marc Hollander. Back on shore, Michael Hess, who was continuing to work with Tom on new skateboard designs watched and waited.
Although he was unable to attend, longtime friend of Tom and founding editor of TransWorld SNOWboaring Kevin Kinnear shares what he would have said during that solemn moment.
An Open Letter to Tom Sims
When Chuck Barfoot called out of the blue with the terrible news that you died of a heart attack, it felt like an avalanche hit me. My heart stopped and my brain froze as I was instantly slammed by a sea of emotions and swept away totally out of control. It resonated far too closely to my own first heart attack 12 years ago.
The last time I felt this blown away was hearing about one of your greatest discoveries, Craig Kelly, being buried alive by tons of raging snow.
After recovering from feeling totally lost and helpless to do anything to help you out, it finally sank in that I’ll never see you again. And that now we can never do your book together.
Long ago, I asked you to start writing down all of your stories and organizing your artifacts because I knew just how important that was going to be in the future from my experience as one of the founders of the California Surf Museum. Unfortunately, neither one of us ever found the funding to pull it off. I feel this loss more than anything I’ve ever attempted to do in my life.
Now I’m suffering from a double-barrel blast of despair—losing you as a friend as well as the true story of your legendary life so the rest of the world can fully comprehend just how vital you were to the creation of snowboarding.
Now how am I ever going to answer all those nagging questions and clarify the critical details that truly define you?
Most of all, I’ll miss sharing your incredibly dynamic and creative personality that inspired so many of us to follow in your tracks.
As we discussed at length many times, accuracy is the most critical factor for any history—which usually ends up being distorted and twisted to fit the ends of the victors. And in the end, you didn’t win the initial three-way race for first place with Burton and Barfoot that I first witnessed at the 1987 World’s in Breckenridge on my first trip after starting up TransWorld SNOWboarding. I wanted so much to prevent this travesty of justice from happening to you—and the sport we both loved—because I’d already seen it happen in surfing.
Being a gifted athlete and natural showman—as well as an expert on how to garner media attention—you were always getting massive coverage, so fortunately there are plenty of great images and stories about you already documented.
As the first superstar of snowboarding, your aggressive and fluid style of riding attracted a lot of attention wherever you visited around the world.
I remember many photo shoots where you rode with supreme grace like the corduroy carving session at Big Sky where you were throwing down the biggest bottom turns since Barry K at Sunset Beach.
Surfstyle superman Serge Vitelli is the greatest tribute to your powerful influence on rail riding, just like you had on freestyle and freeriding with disciples Terry Kidwell, Shaun Palmer, and Craig Kelly among many other rising stars you mentored. No one in the industry had a nose for finding raw talent like you did. And then you treated them like family and made sure they had all the most progressive equipment and personal inspiration necessary to succeed beyond belief.
During the formative years of snowboarding, you were the man to beat for your own team as well as the rest of the world. Everyone wanted to emulate you because of your outstanding riding ability, alluring charisma, and endless sense of adventure.
You always were the boldest Knight of the snowboarding Round Table.
I know how much it hurt when many of the now-famous riders you helped out so much when they were unknown later deserted the world-famous Sims team at its peak when you couldn’t match what your protégés were being offered elsewhere.
And how devastated you were when the overall dominance that you worked so hard to achieve began to crumble and opened the door for those more adept at the business end of snowboarding to take over the industry while standing on your shoulders.
In the formative years, you were one of the original snowboard photographers. Your shots of Terry Kidwell and Allen Arnbrister launching off of Wine Rock are now classics.
Chuck Barfoot told me about an intricate pen and ink psychedelic fantasy drawing you made and gave him as a birthday present.
I remember my last visit to your house overlooking one of your favorite surf spots with a lush vegetable garden that was your pride and joy. Next was a demo of your latest Pro Tools setup in the recording studio that you were trying hard to figure out. Then we jammed on the stage you custom built in the living room overlooking El Capitan. You were playing that really nice Les Paul that Frank Morales sold you to go along with your vintage Martin acoustics.
As a master craftsman, you were extremely good with your hands and highly innovative with anything you touched whether it was surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, or beyond.
You appreciated the finest things in life, especially tools and toys like the beautiful bow and set of arrows handmade out of exotic wood by your former right-hand man, Dave Weaver, that you proudly displayed in a specially built alcove in the wall.
Being a great father and husband became very important as your family expanded and took up more and more of your free time. I never heard you complain, and you were always proudly telling me about their achievements. You were as stoked for them as you were about riding, skating, surfing, playing guitar, and fishing, and that’s saying a lot because I’ve never seen anyone more stoked than you about having fun!
Knowing how much you loved music, I’ve concluded that you are the Jimi Hendrix of snowboarding—a consummate artist who set the bar so high in the beginning of the sport that no one will ever be able to surpass it.
I’ll miss you forever.
Love and respect,