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

14 replies on “History Is Not a Rorschach Test

  • Jared A Muscat

    Hey Bros,

    I work with JP at Surfy Surfy and ever since the shop opened all he has told me is I need to get a Bonzer, it will make me that much better. I have been surfing for a while and in fact just recently began shaping myself single fins that go pretty well. The only thing that kept me from getting a Bonzer earlier was the fact that I love shaping and felt like I might be cheating myself of my skills if I was riding other people’s equipment.

    Then came time for a trip to Central Cal with a good sized swell on the horizon. With just a day left before flying out I was spending my time in the shop studying all the incredible shapes you have produced and saw this beautiful red 6’10” 5 fin semi-gun you had shaped and could not keep my eyes off it. Well, long story short, I ended up grabbing it and on my first session got barreled off my nuts. I couldn’t have been more stoked and now the only thing I can think about is getting myself some more Bonzers for my quiver.

    I knew from the start you were the geniuses behind the Bonzer and thus the geniuses behind the thruster. I write this comment to tell you that your work is absolutely incredible and I am writing up a piece for my friends’ and my company website about how gnarly your boards are. To be blunt, you deserve so much credit that you don’t get, it’s ridiculous…and although I don’t have much power or voice in the surf community, I will do my best to change that.

    Thanks for the innovation and the passion, I will be buying your boards till I figure out how to shape them myself (however they will never be as good as yours).

    Keep it stoked,
    Jared A Muscat

  • Mort

    I think the best measure of history is to ask, “Will this new book still be relevant 40 years from now?” “Will surfers still turn to it to unlock unimagined realms of action and imagination?” I think not.

    And that’s the mark of the true historical contribution that is the bonzer. Relevance and the continued potential for both growth and new discovery after four decades is an immense accomplishment in any human endeavor.

    In that sense, the bonzer speaks for itself. It doesn’t need a surf pundit to speak for it.

  • Vince

    Warshaw could have simply contacted you to check the facts. To make an excuse that some things had to be left out is laughable. This is not the history of the world we’re talking about here. Makes me wonder what other errors are in the book.

    Happy New Year!


  • Al B

    Its sloppy journo work, lazy research.

    Bonzers continue to blow the minds of surfers and thats the cool thing. I surf all types but my Bonzer always puts a smile on my dial.

    Shhhsh dont tell everybody its a secret.

  • Gregory Hall

    I still enjoy your invention, and even after all these years, it is still so fun to ride! It doesn’t surprise me that Mr.Warshaw will never know the best truth about the Bonzer design, only those that actually can ride one will ever appreciate the power they generate, as illustrated in this story.

    Mike Eaton came to our house at Velzyland in 1973 with a new Bing Bonzer. I borrowed it to go surf out back, innocently growing into an slightly altered state due to a cup of magic mushroom kool-aid I drank that I had found in the fridge! Paddling out across FreddieLand, I noticed the purple and gold sunset colors quite brilliant! The board was like nothing I had ridden before, and I found I could go anywhere on the wave with it. I was really enjoying the accelerating cutbacks! A sensation of pure thrust, like the board was creating speed all by itself! With so much momentum and no inhibition, I made a g-force cutback off the very thick ceiling of the doubled up inside section, driving me back to the body of the wave. Another force loaded carving bottom turn pulled me up into level trim way back in there. I came out, and knew I had done “S” turns where I should have been weightless, so I tried another! Thrusted up from a driving bottom turn, but distracted by a hallucinogenic view of now golden diamond shaped water droplets coming off the lip down the line, I launched myself in an aerial out in front of the wave. Nobody ever did that in the ’70’s! Of course, you can’t do that on a Vland reform set wave, where the lip is at least 4′ thick, and breaking over a barely wet, Vana breeding reef at that spot. Bailing midair into a sandy hole in the reef, luckily I had no cuts. But equally unlucky to be suddenly joined in there by the board and the 3 fins at the same time, which pressures that be in the explosion pressed me into them just below the threshold of breaking the skin.

    I was very glad I didn’t hurt that little board, since it wasn’t mine, or that it didn’t hurt me! I was so impressed with the unique thrust the design generates, I still own an old Bonzer to this day. I just did a restoration on it, which you can see here: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1706972794476&set=a.1697164349271.2097307.1242721193#!/photo.php?fbid=1706973114484&set=a.1697164349271.2097307.1242721193&pid=31886537&id=1242721193

  • Beef

    I have to say I never really surfed or tried a Bonzer design until my buddy wanted to sell his Bing Bonzer with the original triangle side fins. I was helping him out financially and he gave me a good price on the board. I live in NJ and it was winter time with the water temp around 40 degrees. I will say that trying out a “new” board in head high conditions in the winter wasn’t the best time to try it but no time better than the present. I had on a 6/5/4 full suit and paddled the 8’0 out through the lineup ducking under a few waves but managed to get out relatively unscathed. I have ridden tri-fins all my life and recently due to age,body type,& general work -life in general moved up to a high performance longboard 2+1 setup. I sat out in the lineup and a good size wave was coming my way. I stroked in and thought I was going to get pitched because of the late dropin. The board completely surprised me with the holding of the edge and gently guided me down the wave. I was blown away it was like I had been riding this board all my life! The wave I caught and the conditions I was in have made me a believer. I now use the bonzer as my “goto” board it has completely surprised me with the holding power and maneuverability. I am going to make a 7’0 model for summer conditions I am a believer.

  • Jon Patton

    If Matt Warshaw was a self-proclaimed idiot, rather than a self-proclaimed ‘authority on surfing’, THAT would at least be true. Piss off Matt, you’re a fool.

  • Billy K.

    Disappeared ?? I had to laff at this guys take on “history”. During the mid 80’s thru the early 90’s all I rode were Malcolm’s five fin Bonzers as did a substantial amount of other surfers around Ventura Co. that I can attest to . I guess Mr Warshaw doesn’t want the FACTS to stand in the way of his lie. The 1st tri fin design did not come from some jamoke in Austrailia. The first tri fin design came from a couple of teen aged kid brothers out of a garage in Oxnard. That IS the truth. Let the truth set ya free !

  • chuck allison

    after reading this i went to Matt Warshaws Encyclopedia of Surfing and found that he has two different stories for the development of the bonzer. Under Bonzer–one set of dates and story and under Campbell Bros another set of dates and story. Got to wonder how much else is wrong in these two so-called major references of our sport?

  • tjo

    i have 2 campbell bonzers, malcolm shaped. the speed off the bottom turn, trim in the tube, long smooth cutbacks, and catching so many more waves…. i love mine and hardly ride anything else. more people should (but i’m glad they dont!!) 🙂

  • Craig Makela

    I’ve had the pleasure of knowing the Campbell’s since I was a young man in the 60’s early 70’s. I first rode my Bonzer at a place in Port Hueneme called Second Street by the pier. I graduated to the Strand moved over to Ocean drive circa 1973. There is no question that these two brothers were building and sharing tri- fin knowledge way ahead of anyone even remotely involved in 3-4-5 fin discovery.
    It does bother me when I read history that is modified to fit certain criteria restraints. History will prevail and truth will prevail and of course the Bonzer has always prevailed.

    Boys don’t be too concerned with these pundits who seem to get the facts wrong or twist history to fit the construction of printed materials. Everyone knows the truth and in the end the truth shall set us all free! Hope to see you both sometime soon.




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