The Bonzer Years
*Bonzer (bon-zer), adj. Australian (NZ) slang; extraordinary. unique.
*Archetype (ar’ki tip), n. The original pattern after which a thing is made; model or first form.
The Bonzer is the archetype of the modern surfboard. It was the first standardized tri-fin surfboard (Dec. 1970). Unbeknownst to us at the time, others were working on a three fin design of there own. There was a big difference however between the two fin setups: while theirs had half moon shaped side fins placed behind the center fin, ours had keel shaped side fins that were placed forward of the center fin. With over four decades of success for the Bonzer, as well as over three for the Thruster, we have demonstrated the archetypal nature of our original design concept.
There are two main characteristics that establish the Bonzer as an archetype.
Our establishment of the triangular arrangement of the three fins, with side fins placed forward of the center fin. The side fins were placed 10 1/2” to 12” from the tail and 1 1/2” to 1 3/8” from the rail. They were also towed in toward the nose at what has become the standard angle
Our design and development of the single to double concave (double through the fin area) bottom. This bottom contour was designed to work in conjunction with the fins to organize the water flow through the tail area.
We hope this peek into the Bonzer archive will be of interest and provide an expanded perspective into the evolution of the shortboard.
The Bonzer Years
In 1970 we were really getting into the super short (5’4 – 5’8) Australian shapes. We quickly realized that these short single fins, and the Corky Carroll and Australian twin fins, had many limitations in terms of speed and control, especially in powerful surf.
We really wanted to be able to ride short boards in good size surf, so we talked it over with our Dad and he suggested we give 3 fins a try. The three of us checked out some information on hull design and hydrodynamics that our Dad had come across over the years. Duncan and I took a little here and a little there, combined it with our intuitive feel for what would work on surfboards and “presto”, the Bonzer entered the third dimension. I still remember my first wave on our first Bonzer. It was shoulder high, a lined up left, and the speed out of the first turn was just crazy. At that moment we knew a quantum leap had occurred, but we had little idea of how big a part it would play in our lives.
In 1971 our boards were still 5’4″ to 5’8″. We narrowed up the tail blocks from the wide twin fin style to the eight to ten inch range. This made the boards much more versatile, especially for quick changes of direction in the critical parts of the wave. These second generation Bonzers still had flat bottoms with some vee through the fin area.
The flat bottoms were working great, but we wanted more speed. We felt that with added speed and drive out of turns, and better carry over the flat spots, we could further increase performance and add range to the size and type of waves that the boards would be effective in.
Again, we brain stormed with our Dad and came up with the single to double concave bottom design. The dramatic increase in speed that the concaves provided was just what those short wide boards (5’4″ to 6’3″ – 20 1⁄2 to 21 1⁄2″) needed. We now had short boards that were fast, positive and ultra maneuverable. It would now just be a matter of refinement.
The boards were working so well that we were confident that the single to double concave 3-fin design was the future of shortboards. The problem was that we were just a couple of kids from Oxnard and totally off the radar screen.
We decided to send a short letter out to some of the larger board manufacturers. The letter stated that we had a design that was seven years ahead of its time. The only company to respond was Bing Surfboards. Bing himself invited us down to show him what we had.
Nervous as hell, we pulled up to the Bing factory with our super 8 movies and our homemade garage Bonzers. We were confident about how well the boards worked. But this was the big time and we just hoped they would take us seriously. Bing and Mike Eaton were renowned shapers, so showing them our handy work was more than a bit nerve racking. After giving the films and the boards a good looking over, both Bing and Mike were pretty intrigued. They decided to make a couple and have their team riders give them a go. This included Jeff Hackman (who also rode for Dick Brewer), Tiger Makin, Dru Harrison, Steve Schlickenmeyer, Mike Stevenson, Jim “wild man” Neece and others.
On the first few boards I shaped the concaves and Mike shaped the rest of the board. After a few anxious weeks we received word that the team guys were stoked. Bing let us know that they were going to launch an ad campaign and begin to get Bonzers out to their dealers. Along with this promotion, Drew Kampion was going to do an article on us for Surfing Magazine and Steve Pezman would do one for Surfer Magazine. Mike shaped Duncan and I each a board, on which I shaped the concaves. We had our first professionally made shortboards and the Bonzer was going to hit the big time. We were on cloud nine.
We had a great year and learned a tremendous amount about the surfboard business. In 1974, Bing sold his company to Gordon and Smith. Mike and the Bonzer were part of the package. Bing personally explained to us his reasons for selling and sincerely hoped that the change would work out well for us. We were impressed with his concern and grateful for the opportunity our relationship with him had provided. Unfortunately, the transition to Gordon and Smith did not work out very well. The combination of idealistic outsiders and seasoned industry big timers didn’t go so well this time. We decided to bail out and head back to the garage. Shortly after that, Mike Kelly of Emotion Surfboards, the inventor of the flow fin, asked us to build some Bonzers for his company. He lent us a power planer. It was the first time we had ever used one. This was the first toward getting ourselves into the ‘surfboard business’.
Then, in 1975 Bill “Blinky” Hubina, of William Dennis Surfboards and Surf Shop, invited us to work with him. Blinky had been building boards in Ventura for quite some time. He worked at Morey Pope Surfboards with Dennis Ryder before he and Dennis went on to form William Dennis surfboards. Blinky had taken over the W.A.V.E. Hollow board factory in the farming town of Saticoy. W.A.V.E. Hollow, owned by Karl Pope, was a pioneer in alternative construction methods for surfboards. They had shut down and Blinky turned it into a traditional surfboard factory and combined it with “Blinky’s Bargain Basement”. He sold all kinds of wild stuff. It was quite a scene. This was our first opportunity to actually work in a real surfboard factory, and it turned into the professional beginnings of Bonzer Vehicles and in turn Campbell Brothers Surfboards.
By 1977, we were still out in Saticoy building boards. Shaper and glasser, Stan Fujii was now running the factory. Working out of the factory at the time were visionary Surf Ski pioneer Merve Larson and ex-Australian Nation Champ Richard Harvey. Duncan and I learned a lot from these guys. Richard had stopped in Ventura in the fall of ’76 and ran into an incredible run of waves. He ended up staying through the winter. We became good friends and he invited us to visit him in Australia. While we were in Sydney, we stopped by the Shane Factory. They were building the Jim Pollard Fluid Foils there. We had seen film of Cole Smith ripping on these radical single fins so we knew that bottom design worked well.
When we returned home we integrated the Fluid Foil design with the Bonzer. We named the new creation the Bonzer Light Vehicle, as in the speed of light. This new aspect of bottom design opened areas of further exploration and experimentation in the evolution of the Bonzer. One extremely successful foray was an MR style twin fin with a Bonzer Light Vehicle bottom. We named it the Alpha-Omega model, and only made one. To this day the secret of the Alpha-Omega lies in suspended animation to be discovered by twin fin lovers around the world.
We were stoked that people were catching on to the idea of three fins, but were extremely disappointed that in all the hoopla, nobody gave the Bonzer it’s due. We built some Thrusters to check them out and found it to be a solid design, but a relatively inefficient fin system compared to the Bonzer. We added our single to double concave Bonzer Bottom to the Thruster set up. This greatly improved their performance, but the system as a whole still had some major drawbacks.
In 1983, with the instigation and inspiration of our friend, we built the first Bonzer 5 fin. The 5-fin design was based on exactly the same principals as the original 3-fin Bonzer. Basically we just displaced the fin area differently. The boards worked unreal. We knew the Thruster was going to dominate the scene for quite awhile, so we decided to keep the Bonzer on the shelf and just make them for friends and ourselves. It was time to sit back and wait for a crack in the seams.
Actually, the timing worked out well because we were not really sitting back at all. Our lives took on a much grander dimension. Duncan and his wife Jaquie were raising their young daughters Noelle and Meagan. In 1983, my wife Lise and I had twin boys, Ian and Jacob, and in 1983 had our daughter Oriana. With the overlap of raising our kids and the manifestation of the second phase of the Bonzer Revolution, it was truly life at the speed of light.
The late 80’s and early 90’s were busy years for the Bonzer. During visits to California in the mid to late 80’s, Davey Miller began riding 5-fin Bonzers. By 1990, he was riding them on the North Shore making major statements at Pipe, Backdoor and Sunset. Together, Davey and Duncan built strong street cred for the Bonzer on the North Shore. Also during this time, I was collaborating with Max McDonald on the development of the Elevated Wing Bonzer 5-fin; a.k.a. the EB5. Max suggested that we incorporate his Elevated Wing design with the Bonzer Five setup. The combination was an absolute winner, a true gem of a design.
In ’88, we heard that Pat Rawson was making some Thrusters with a double barrel concave through the fin area. We heard they were being referred to as Bonzers in Japanese advertisements, so we contacted Pat right away to find out who was using our name without our permission. Pat had no idea we were still making boards and pushing the Bonzer experience. We got together with him and showed him what we were doing with the Bonzer 5-fin and our single to double concave Thrusters. Pat made a couple of 5-fins. He also made Thrusters with Campbell style Bonzer bottoms for Gary Elkerton, Bobby Owens, Richard Schmidt, and Marty Thomas. The boards worked well. Richard won the’89 Xcel Pro and Gary won the first two ASP events in 1990 and ended up second in the world that year. In the mean time, Bobby was killing it at Sunset and Marty was making a strong showing on the tour. The work we did with Pat Rawson during this time is the foundation that led to the dominance of the single to double concave bottom design. In the winter of ’88-89′, Cheyne Horan borrowed Duncan’s 5’11 Bonzer 5 and absolutely ripped on it. This was our first indication that the ‘crack in the seams’ we had been waiting for might be beginning to appear.
In 1990, George Orbelian did an interview with Duncan and I which was then published in Surfer Magazine. It was entitled, “Back to the Future”. It covered basic Bonzer history and focused on the fact that we had been sharing our ideas with many top shapers and were promoting the exchange of ideas.
Around this time I met Mitch Thorsen. He was on the Pro Tour and was periodically spending a bit of time in Ventura. He expressed interest in giving the Bonzer 5 fin a go. We worked together and built a couple of boards that worked really well for him. This led to him riding one in the OP Pro and taking Bonzers on the Pro Tour. Mitch gave the Bonzer 5 its first world wide exposure. To this day he is the only person to ride one in a Pro Tour event.
Also during this time we met Peter St. Pierre of Moonlight Glassing. He came by our booth at the ASR trade show. That meeting has proven to be one of the most important events in the Bonzer journey. Up until that time it was difficult to get glassers to glass on our side fins. Peter said, ‘we’ll do it’. Their history in the industry and legendary top quality work gave the Bonzer an instant rise in credibility.
This period was filled with a frenzy of activity. We shared the Bonzer technology with many big name shapers, as well as many good, but lesser known shapers. This was capped with Rusty inviting me down to his factory. I took some boards, fin templates, etc. and shared all the Bonzer concepts with him and his shapers. A few of the lesser known guys really took to the Bonzer and incorporated it into their repertoire. The big name guys would not touch it with a ten foot pole. Unfortunately, I think the fact that things were going on so swimmingly with Thrusters and removable fin systems, the big boys just did not want to hassle with any new wrinkles. Along with this, I really think we ran up against a wall of ego and a general lack of curiosity about design. Cracking things open was going to require quite a large crowbar.
Davey Miller’s extremely strong showing in the 1992 Excel Pro at Sunset Beach sent a signal that we were by no means going to quietly lay down. Davey masterfully surfed the challenging Sunset conditions all the way to the finals, including winning his heat in the quarters. Unfortunately, with a bit of bad luck he had to settle for third. During the 90’s, Davey was also recognized as one of the top guys at Backdoor and Pipe. He was the first one to really push the Bonzers to the limits at those spots. He showed that the boards were truly something to be reckoned with. In 1998, he made the finals of the H-PAC contest at Pipe. He did it by winning almost every heat and doing it on a Bonzer 5 Fin that he shaped. Then in the year 2000 he headed back to California to pursue raising a family, painting, playing Jazz, and of course, surfing when he gets a chance. To this day there are still sightings of him tearing it up on a Bonzer.
Despite Davey’s Bonzer accomplishments, the stall in the mid 90’s looked like it was going to get serious. Kelly Slater was coming on strong. Duncan saw a few of his North Shore sessions and gave me a call and told me, “it’s not hype, he is going to take surfing to a whole new level.” My first thought was, “well that’s it, if the Bonzer 5 does not make big inroads quickly, we might as well put the project on the shelf for awhile.” That is exactly what happened.
Duncan and his wife Jaquie created and have owned and operated Café Haleiwa since 1982. Over the years they have gotten to know a lot of the top surfers. During the 90’s, Duncan became good friends with Brad Gerlach, Taylor Knox and the Malloy’s. Brad would periodically give the 5-fins a go. He had some great sessions on them, which gave us more visibility and credibility. By the late 90’s, Taylor, Joel Tudor, Donavon Frankenreiter, Rob Machado and others would grab boards from Duncan and take them for recreational spins now and then. Some pretty insane sessions materialized and people began to realize that the Bonzer 5 fin was not some oddball design.
In 1999, Billy Hamilton asked me to make him a 7’10” semi-gun for Hanalei. He was one of my surf heroes and I was a nervous wreck shaping his board. I was more than a bit relieved when he told me that he loved the board and wanted to make some of his own. A couple weeks later he called back and said that on a few waves he found that the board had “a sacred 5th gear”. He also paid us the most gracious and meaningful compliment we could receive. He acknowledged the difficulty of sticking with this for so many years and thanked us for doing it.
Around this same time Rusty announced his C5 contest to promote his ‘new’ 5-fin design. Taylor Knox and Joel Tudor offered to ride for us in the event. Taylor was injured so Dan Malloy volunteered to take his place. Brad wanted to ride a Bonzer style 5-fin to support us, so we showed Doc of Surf Prescriptions how to make one. All three of them ripped and Dan finished 5th over all. They made a major statement for us.
A year later at the second C5 contest at Blacks, Taylor Knox and Donny Stapleton rode for us. They completely tore it up on the first day and were the talk of the event. Unfortunately, on second and final day it was not quite “Bonzer Time”, and they got knocked out before the finals. Donny got a special cash award for highest scoring ride. Do to all these guys stepping up to the plate for us and their shapers allowing them to do it, we were finally back in the game.
The next big break came when the Bonzers were given great visibility in Chris Malloy’s film Shelter. A few waves of Taylor and Donavon ripping it up on the boards had a much bigger effect than I ever expected. In the winter of ’01-’02, more top surfers began to ride the boards with great results. Some of them even ordered a couple. Momentum continued to build that year with the Bonzer being a prominent part of the promo on ESPN2 for the “Kelly Slater Pro Surfer” video game. We had got word back from Derrick Dorner that the Bonzer 5 tow board we made him went great in Tahiti.
In 2003, England opened up to the Bonzer Experience. This was due to the enthusiasm and good graces of well known English surfer, Guy Penwarden. Guy had contacted me a few years before when he was looking for some Bonzer artifacts for Hot Rocks, a restaurant in Bournemouth. When he thought the time was right, he invited me over to do some shaping and we got things going.
2004 was a watershed year. The publication of the Bonzer article, “Belief System,” by Steve Barilotti in The Surfers Journal, became the cornerstone of trans generational recognition of the Bonzer. The ‘Journal’, being somewhat know as the publication of record, put us right back in the thick of it. Our plan of holding off the ‘Journal’ article while momentum built behind the scene had paid off. By the time the article was published, substantial ground work had been laid for the next phase of the project. Many top surfers such as Taylor Knox, Dan Malloy, Brad Gerlach, Donovan Frankenreiter, Joel Tudor and Derek Doerner had been putting in some quality time on the boards. This began to solidify the credibility of the Bonzer as a continuing force at the cutting edge.
A presence in surf/art films such as, Surf Movie, Sprout, and Thread kept the boards visible in an influential segment of the surf media. But far and away the biggest factor in spreading awareness of the Bonzer Experience has been the wild, wonderful, weird, world wide web. It is hard to overstate what having our web site, and Duncan’s Bonzer Front blog has allowed us to do. Then there is the site, Surfy Surfy, which has flown the Bonzer flag high by providing information and pictures of all the new Bonzers coming out of the Moonlight Glassing factory. We have also received tremendous support from the blogs Cabinessence, Daily Bread, and others. All in all, 2004 to 2006 was pretty amazing. The Bonzer buzz had reached around the world.
2007 was a year in which many new film and still images developed that demonstrated the contemporary performance capabilities of the Bonzer. One of the nicer surprises was provided by Rob Machado. He had taken a 5’11’’ five fin we had made him on a trip to Chile. The board was made a couple of years earlier and we weren’t even sure he was using it. Then one day he stopped by and graciously gave Duncan some great footage of him going full tilt at a left point. It was a joy to see the board being put to the test. Additional stoke came from some film of Makala and Daniel Jones. They had been putting in some serious time on their Bonzers, and taking time to fine tune the shapes in order to fit their needs. Mick Fanning and Nathan Hedge ordered a couple of boards, and Mick showed up in the viewfinder for a couple of cool shots a V-land. Both the guys reported back that the boards went well.
In Fall, the Bonzer short film, Mothership, put together by Duncan, premiered at the New York Surf Film Festival. Previously in May the Mendocino Film Festival screened Shaping The Industry, a short documentary about Malcolm, made by Arianna Pilram. The films were well received on both coasts. We were also well represented in Patrick Trefez’s wonderfully interesting film Thread. He used some of our vintage film in a Campbell Brothers section, and some contemporary footage of Taylor Knox on his Bonzer at Sunset Beach, for his section. Tom Carroll, is also seen riding a Bonzer on a couple of waves in Tahiti.
In the midst of the appearance of all this celluloid, I made his annual pilgrimage to England, where he was summarily locked up in Nigel Semens’ Ocean Magic factory. My keeper, and Bonzer cohort, Guy Penwarden does allow for food and drink now and again. Seriously though, the boards are going well in England. The quality is great, and Guy keeps the Bonzer flame burning bright.
2007 culminated with the opening of the Bonzer Front adjacent to Café Haleiwa. The grand opening was a real happening. There was a large crowd, with some North Shore luminaries in attendance, Primo Beer supplied the suds, and Fuel TV covered the whole affair. The strong presence of good will and the prospect of having a Bonzer flagship on the North would surely send waves of energy into the new year.
In May of 2008 we partnered up with Luke Short, of LSD Surfboards in Yamba , to be the Campbell Brothers licensee in Australia. A mutual friend, Jon Patton, linked us up and brought one chapter of the Bonzer full circle. That chapter began with our early Australian influences, Wayne Lynch, Nat Young and others, then naming our new design the Bonzer, and now finally 38 years later building boards in Australia. One of the cool spin offs of the first shaping trip to OZ was that later in the year one of the boards ended up in the hands of Joel Fitzgerald. His dad Terry was also a big influence on us in our younger days. Joel took the board to New Zealand and got some great surf on it. The news through the grapevine was that he really liked the board. Small events keep dreams alive.
In summer I decided to conjure up a bit of energy from the Bonzer days of yore by remaking Duncan’s classic 6’6’’ magenta board for his birthday. It must have worked because at the October Sacred Craft show Duncan had a nice reunion with Bing. It had been a very long time since the three of us were together. Adding to the reunion was the recent release of the Bing book written by Paul Holmes. We were floored as to the amount of pages that were dedicated to covering us and the Bonzer. It was great to catch up a bit, and thank Bing once again for giving us our start in the surf industry.