History Is Not a Rorschach Test
This month of December 2010 marks the 40th birthday of the Bonzer. For Duncan and I to be sitting here having to correct another ‘surf historian’ is both ridiculous and fitting. Fighting revisionism is a long term project in all fields of endeavor. The subject of record this time is Matt Warshaw’s “The History of Surfing.” We have not read the entire book, nor are we likely to. Our point of contention deals specifically with the entry involving the history of three finned surfboards. To be fair to Mr. Warshaw, and to show that we are not taking him out of context, here is the pertinent section in its entirety.
“The most distinctive feature of Anderson’s new board was a stabilizing third fin placed behind the side fins, on the stringer, just a couple of inches from the back end. Three finned boards were not unheard of: Dick Brewer, and Reno Abellira of Hawaii had designed a version in 1970 that featured a regular sized middle fin flanked by a pair of half moon “finlets’’. Two years later Malcolm and Duncan Campbell, teenaged brothers from Ventura, California introduced a design called the “Bonzer”(Aussie Slang) for great, with deep concave channels on the bottom, a regular center fin, and a pair of long keel like side fins. The Brewer-Abellira tri-fin never caught on. The Bonzer was hot for a few months then disappeared. Then eventually came back as niche-market favorite.”
First of all the basic factual errors in this paragraph could have been avoided with a simple Google search and trip to our web site, or better yet a look at the original documents. Surfer Magazine August/September-Vol. 14, No. 3, 1973 (was a cover story), and Surfing Magazine October/November-Vol. 9 No. 5, 1973, both have multi page articles on the Bonzer. The article in Surfing is eight pages. Another readily available source containing all the pertinent information would have been the article Steve Barlotti wrote about us in Surfers Journal in 2004. The corrections are as follows: 1) We lived in Oxnard; 2) the first Bonzers were built in Dec. 1970/Jan. 1971; 3) the definition of Bonzer in the Oxford English Dictionary begins with, extraordinary or unique. That is why we chose the name. Coincidently it was Australian slang. Being that we were heavily influenced by Australian surfers and the surfing going on in Australia, it fit perfectly.
Now for the big magilla. Mr. Warshaw’s statement about the Bonzer disappearing after a few months, and only returning recently, is beyond laughable. It is just plain wrong. He is totally dismissive of the major influence the Bonzer has had in the development of high performance surfboards. And I guess everyone who has been riding Bonzers over the last 40 years, yes there are many, must be wondering what the hell has been under their feet. There was a period from 1979 to 1988 that we didn’t get any media coverage, but we were far from invisible. We continued to refine our designs, which included our three- fin Bonzer, and Thrusters with our single to double concave Bonzer Bottom. We turned Pat Rawson onto the Thruster/Bonzer combination in 1988. Far and away the biggest step we took during that time was designing and developing the Bonzer 5fin, which began in 1983. All of this is chronicled on our website and in many surf publications around the world, from 1989 to the present.
It is absolutely silly that we periodically have to correct various ‘surf historians’ on well established facts concerning the Bonzer. It’s getting old, but the failure to call out and correct erroneous information precipitates a drift into worlds of illusion. In defense of his treatment of the Bonzer, Mr. Warshaw told Duncan that in tackling a subject the size of Surfing, choices have to be made as to what will be left out. An example he gave was that Hulls are not mentioned in the book. It is of no consolation to us that we got a quick mention and Hulls were left out. In fact this seems to demonstrate his general lack of concern for the importance of surfboards within the history of surfing. History is not a Rorschach Test. It is not a collection undefined blobs of information to be subjectively arranged according to ones preconceptions. With this in mind we propose a change in the title of his book, from “The History of Surfing” to “A History of Surfing”
Thanks for listening. Duncan and I would like to leave you with a few things written by guys who know their way around this thing called Surfing.
1) “The Campbell Brothers: Design’s forgotten Men” by Nick Carroll, Tracks Magazine April 1989.
“Wanna hear someone call down some heavy shit on the Thruster? Listen to Duncan Campbell. Duncan is sitting in his studio at Sunset Beach, Oahu, Hawaii, and after 20 minutes or so he is just beginning to warm to the task. ‘I mean,’ he says intensely, ‘there are fundamental problems with Thrusters! It’s not a system that is perfect…They’re stop-start boards. There is a problem with continued drive…’ He talks on about the problems of the Thruster, and I am thinking whew, imagine what three quarters of the world’s surfers will be thinking of this guy from Oxnard, California, laying all this on the Holy Creation of the master himself, big Simon? But Duncan is not saying this in a nasty way—and even if he was, maybe you could give him a bit of leeway on the subject. For this is Duncan Campbell, one of the Campbell brothers, who—a full decade before big Simon came up with his revolutionary weapon—invented the first true three-fin shortboard, the Bonzer.”
This article goes on to cover some Bonzer history and what was happening at that time.
2)”Surf Book” by Joel Tudor and Michael Halsband, published 8-30-2005.
“It would really be nice if Duncan and his brother Malcolm got the credit they deserved. They devised the most far-reaching design in surfing…the three finned surfboard. I don’t know why, but the surf magazines seem to get their facts screwed up. The bottom line is that the Campbell Brothers invented the three-fin. They’re so humble. Talk to any of the pro surfers from the 70’s that rode Bonzers, they know the truth. Brad Gerlach introduced me to them in the 80’s…he was clued into it before me. Duncan always loaned me boards in Hawaii, and I love the way they combine the best of the single-fin feel with that of a typical all-fins-the-same-size Thruster. I’ll say it again—the Campbell Brothers invented the three-fin.”
3) Surfer Magazine, Aug./Sept. Vol. 14, No. 3, 1973, “The Bonzer, 2 Surfers in Search of Speed” interview with Malcolm and Duncan Campbell, Bing Copeland and Mike Eaton, by Steve Pezman. The following quote, which ends the piece, is by Steve Pezman:
“But again, as in all new surfboard ideas, the proof of the Bonzer’s true functional value will come from a wide range of surfers trying them in varying conditions. One thing’s for sure, the Bonzer is definitely worth looking into.”
Well hell, this year is the 40th year for the Bonzer. Let us know what you think. All comments welcome.
Peace, Malcolm and Duncan, December 28, 2010