Insomniac, Daydreamer, Seafarer

Getting to know Finisterre founder and RNLI lifeboat volunteer, Tom Kay
October 8, 2018Words by Luis Angel CancelPhotos by Jeff Masamori

Tom Kay’s pager went off. That can happen anytime—deep in the night, at daybreak, smack in the middle of a quarterly sales report for his company Finisterre. A woman was out on a walk when the tide came and trapped her in the corner of one of Cornwall’s countless rocky coves. As a volunteer for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, or RNLI, this is business as usual for Tom.

Tom Kay portrait

“If we need to go and save someone's life, we can do it.”

Tom Kay at the St. Agnes Lifeboat Station

Royal National Lifeboat Institution

Royal National Lifeboat Institution

The RNLI is like a scrappy, rag-tag equivalent to the Coast Guard. Each station is manned by a small volunteer crew from all walks of life—construction workers, accountants, and in Tom’s case, founders of legendary cold-water surf apparel brands. The most critical criteria is that members can drop what they’re doing and get to the lifeboat station within five minutes of the pager’s ring to embark on whatever life-saving rescue mission the day calls for. Tom’s been a crew member for 15 years and now holds the title of Helmsman—a role that calls for organizing the crew and making rapid-fire decisions while in the throes of a rescue.

Tom Kay talking about the Royal National Lifeboat Institution

Tom Kay with his dog

Coincidentally, 15 years is just how long he’s been at the helm of Finisterre. First revered as a best-kept secret for cold-water surfers, over the years his brand has garnered a diehard global fanbase of everyday adventurers thanks to the thoughtful, functional details that make up every Finisterre garment. From a humble workshop in the tiny village of St. Agnes, Tom and his Finisterre team have imbued their clothing with the region’s breathtaking coastal landscape and England’s centuries-old maritime heritage.

Tom Kay surfing

Tom Kay's Land Rover at the beach

There might be no better example than the name Finisterre itself. It’s a name shared with a region of the sea featured in the beloved BBC radio shipping forecast. “Insomniacs listen to it because of its poetic, rhythmic feel. Daydreamers like me listen and imagine being miles out in a tiny boat during a big storm. Seafaring sailors listen because of critical information on weather conditions. It’s sort of romantic. And I think we’re a romantic brand,” says Tom, quickly adding, “but in terms of innovation, fabrics, sustainability, we’re quite serious.”

As serious as the beep of a pager at 3:00 am.

Tom Kay in his Land Rover

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