Fin Talk Vol. 4 - Malcolm Campbell

Bonzer Surfboards

What's in a name?  Well, if the name is Campbell and we are talking surfboards, then half a century of design theory, innovation, and style.  Malcolm and Duncan Campbell have spent the last 50 years developing, riding, and refining some of the most uniquely functional surf craft ever made. 

It started with an idea in 1970, and it has grown into a global movement that is hard to explain to those uninitiated to the Bonzer tribe. The Campbell Bros. and True Ames have worked together since the early days, so we thought it fitting to talk fins with Malcolm Campbell, and pick his brain as to how and why the Bonzer board and fin set up has worked so well for so long. 

TA: For those who might not know, when did you begin collaborating with True Ames to manufacture Bonzer runners and center fins for your boards?

MC: We have been working with True Ames fins for over 4 decades. Beginning in the days when Chuck Ames was a solo act, to now - as one of the top fin companies on the planet. Chuck has always been an integral part of the Campbell Brothers Bonzer Experience.

TA: What was the catalyst that inspired the Bonzer design? What would you attribute its longevity to?

MC: The catalyst for our development of the Bonzer design was the Shortboard Revolution of the late 1960’s. Board lengths dropped drastically over a short period of time. Duncan and I were heavily influenced by what was going on in Australia at the time. Many of the boards were in the low six foot range and below. We were totally on board with the small boards, but were finding that their range of versatility was lacking. We were interested in riding very short boards but realized that the boards needed more drive and stability than what the existing twin and single fins provided. Long story short; in 1970 - Duncan, my father, and I did some brainstorming and came up with the 3 Fin Bonzer in December of that year. It incorporated two long keel shaped side fins placed forward of an eight inch center fin. The deep center fin was due to the wide tail of this template. The initial testing proved to be a revelation and our mission had begun.

Bonzer Taylor Knox

TA: How do the performance aspects of a Bonzer 5 and Bonzer 3 differ? On the other hand, are there important similarities that cross-over between them?

MC: There are different performance characteristics between the 3 and 5 fin Bonzer fin systems, but it is not a simple case of one being superior to the other. The hydrodynamic principal is the same for each. Therefor the speed, drive, edge control, rail to rail transition and maneuverability are present in both the 3 and 5 fin setups. The differences present themselves in various ways depending on what template they are utilized on. It is a bit tedious to go through, but basically the five fin employs more fin area closer to the rail further up on the board. This provides a bit more hold and edge control in deep critical areas of the wave. Depending on the width of the tail this aspect will be more or less apparent. To be honest we haven’t done a one to one comparison on each of our models. A couple of years ago I shaped Taylor Knox identical (as much as possible) 5’11’’ Wi 5 models, one 3 fin and one 5 fin version. Taylor has been riding Bonzer 5’s periodically for 23 years. He knows them well. This was his first experience riding a Bonzer 3 shaped the same as his Bonzer 5’s. He really enjoyed giving the 3 fin a go. The two things he liked most were the high lines he could draw through critical sections backside and the drive he could initiate coming down the face after carving off the top. This was the case both frontside and backside. In final analysis though, he said that if he were to ride one in a contest he would choose the 5 fin. The Bonzer 5 is a bit quicker off the mark and just suits the modern shortboard style of surfing for this type of template shape. Over the years we have created a general pairing of the 3 and 5 fin systems with particular shapes in our range of boards, but this does not preclude mixing and matching according to a customer’s wish.

TA: Do you have a formula for people to use when sizing a center fin for their Bonzer?

MC: As a general rule we recommend larger fins for wider tailed and longer boards. 'General' is the operative word though; because the size of the person as well as their personal preference also has a barring on center fin size. Sometimes a bit of experimentation is in order to arrive at the optimum combination.

True Ames Bonzer Center Fin

TA: We are all huge fans of your curated music selection. Is there any specific genre that gets you excited to shape and surf? What other forms of art are you inspired by?

MC: The curated music within the Bonzer online universe is provided by my son Jacob. He has a deep awareness of musical roots and he keeps dear ole dad and uncle Duncan up to date as to what shines these days. Jacob has also picked up the Bonzer shaping mantel and is keeping us on our toes there as well. Visual art, photography, film, literature, philosophy and music have all played a part in making us who we are. Music was the predominant driving force for us in the early Bonzer years. The Kinks, Capitan Beefheart, Lou Reed, David Bowie, John Cale, Brian Eno and Roxy Music, to name a few, gave us energy
and inspiration to push ahead as outsiders in the surfboard design world.
We have been asked what we attribute the Bonzer’s longevity too? Plain and simple, they work really freaking well. Bonzer is Australian slang for extra ordinary or unique. Our 52 year Bonzer Experience has been nothing short of that.


Images courtesy of Malcolm Campbell

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