Surfwear Magnate Arrested in Collision

Michael Tomson in an interview last year with Launch LA.
Michael Tomson in an interview last year with Launch LA.

Former professional surfer and groundbreaking beachwear designer  Michael Elliot Tomson was arrested for suspicion of felony drug charges after causing a two-car traffic collision in Laguna Beach on Monday, April 29, police said.

A 65-year-old woman suffered injuries as a result of the 9:17 a.m. rear-end collision, which led to the temporary closure of Glenneyre and Calliope streets due to a traffic investigation, Capt. Jason Kravetz said.

Court records show Tomson pled guilty last year to a previous driving while under the influence charge stemming from arrests in Laguna twice in 2011. Some charges against Tomson were dismissed on the same day he entered a plea, court records show.

Investigators determined Tomson, 58, of Laguna Beach, collided with a vehicle stopped at a stop sign, Kravetz said. He was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence of drugs and possession of cocaine. Tomson posted $100,000 bail and was released the same day, Kravetz said.

Tomson had just returned from an overnight flight from Hawaii, according to Laguna Beach defense attorney Barry Simons.

The injured driver, of Santa Ana, who complained of upper body pain, was transported to the hospital for treatment, Kravetz said. Airbags did not deploy in either of the cars involved, both 2008 vehicles, he said.

South Africa-born Tomson founded Gotcha in 1978 with Joel Cooper, selling swimming trunks from a Laguna Beach garage. He is credited with creating a brand whose visionary marketing and edgy design transformed a cottage industry and became a gateway to the action sports industry, according to author Kevin O’Sullivan in his 2008 book, “Goin Big: Gotcha and the Evolution of Modern Surf Style.”

Gotcha’s founders sold the company in ’97; the brand is now distributed in Sears and Kmart.


“Gotcha was a risk taking idea factory, a creative foundry that took gambles and broke rules. It created a blueprint that action sports brands still follow and its designs, widely considered to be a creative benchmark, are still referenced throughout the industry today,” says’s summary about the book.

“He’s brilliant,” said a surfwear industry colleague, who declined to be named to avoid association with Tomson. “It’s an American tragedy,” he added about Monday’s events.

Though Tomson has continued to work as a surfwear consultant, his substance abuse problems have hurt his career, said the colleague. “Maybe enough cold water thrown in his face will do something.”

In the ‘80s, Tomson established MCD, the More Core Division, a unit of Gotcha. “The MCD brand was built around the very best surfers, those who pushed the limits of sport, attitude, style and behavior,” says the website of the defunct Irvine division.

“That’s what he was selling, an alternative lifestyle,” said the colleague. “Apparently he took it too much too heart.”

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