Birdwell Blog

The Campbell Bros and the Bonzer
Dazzling Blue #68

“The Bonzer is without doubt surfing’s greatest example of a surfboard design slipping through the cracks,” said longtime surf scribe Nick Carroll. “It was a decade or two ahead of its time—basically a single-to-double concave with three fins. The Bonzer feel is essentially that of an enhanced single-fin, very sure of itself in the pocket and on the rail, and very tail-based. It’s a great design for the power surfer who's looking to carve strong rail turns and ride the tube. For such surfers, it's an excellent alternative to standard thruster design.”

     With renewed interest in the Bonzer, I felt it only right to get in touch with the design’s masterminds, Malcolm and Duncan Campbell, and get their take.

 

 

How did the Bonzer design come about?

 

Malcolm: We started trying to make surfboards in 1968. We were totally into what was happening in Australia with the Shortboard Revolution—Bob McTavish, Midget Farrelly, Nat, Wayne, David Treloar, and the entire crew down there. In 1970 we were going with the really short boards, 5'6 to 6'0'' or so. As single fins and twins, they lacked the speed and control to be good all-around surfboards. Our dad said, “Have you thought about trying three fins?” The three of us researched and brainstormed, and came up with using two keel-shaped side fins forward of the center fin. 

 

Duncan: In 1969 boards started getting shorter and by the 1970 World Contest they had been reduced, in some cases, to sub-six-foot range. We followed the Aussie board movement almost religiously, but found boards that short had little drive and control issues in most waves. So we set out to solve the problem. Two sets of side fins set in front of the center fin, canted out and towed in to just off a line to the nose, with an eight-inch center fin. Sighting the work of R. Buckminster Fuller Synergetics 1 and 2: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” We were 15 and 18 years old at the time. 

 

 

What is the Bonzer's aim? What type of waves does it perform best in, and what style of surfing?

 

Malcolm: The aim of the Bonzer is to have a versatile board with the optimum combination of speed and maneuverability in any situation. The Bonzer three- and five-fin and bottom design works well in any type of surf. One just needs to have a board shaped appropriately for the desired conditions. The Bonzer is most effective when using a bit more back foot pressure.

 

Duncan: Knowing there was no going back to longboards, the refinement of the post-1970 shortboard was the only path. With our clear vision of three fins, we knew that this triangulated fin system would work in all waves. The Bonzer is a fin and bottom design that works on all templates. So it was only a matter of picking the right template for the right waves and conditions.

 

 

What distinguishes the Bonzer from other boards?

 

Malcolm: The combination of speed and maneuverability that is available with much less effort than other designs. This combined with its easy rail-to-rail transition, and the ability to maintain and even gain speed during turns and cutbacks is what sets it apart.

 

Duncan: From 1970 to 1981 it was the simple fact that it had three fins with a single to a double concave bottom. After 1981 it was, again, three fins with a single to a double concave bottom. Also we always used 9.5" x 2 7/8" side fins and a center fin from 6.5" to 7" deep. And, of course, superior performance.

 

 

Can you recall a single wave ridden on a Bonzer where all of the design’s attributes are put to work? Describe that wave? 

 

Malcolm: That is a tough one to answer, considering the 47 years of the Bonzer Experience. I'll let Duncan make that call.

 

Duncan: The first wave in 1970! But there isn’t really one wave, but more a series of sessions in 2004 by Taylor Knox at Velzyland and Rob Machado in Chile that show the speed, control, and versatility of the Bonzer. Both are documented on film and show the boards at their best. The truth be told, these qualities showed themselves very early on and set the way for the three-fin revolution.  

 

 

More Bonzer here: https://bonzer5.com

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