THOMAS CAMP­BELL

Carve - - CONTENTS - INTERVIEW BY STEVE ENG­LAND PHO­TOS BY VISSLA

A chat with a cre­ator and in­no­va­tor that’s left his mark on mod­ern surf­ing.

THOMAS CAMP­BELL IS A FILM­MAKER, PHO­TOG­RA­PHER, BOOK PUB­LISHER, MU­SI­CIAN AND ARTIST. HE'S ALSO A BOARD BUILDER, SKATER, SURFER AND NOW HAS HIS OWN LINE OF BOARD­IES. VISSLA HAVE JUST USED SOME OF HIS VI­BRANT AIRBRUSH ART FROM A QUIVER OF TRAVIS REYNOLDS SURF­BOARDS. THE WEIRD THING ABOUT THOMAS IS, NO ONE SEEMS TO ASK HIM ABOUT THE THING HE LOVES MOST DEARLY, SURF­ING. STEVE ENG­LAND CAUGHT UP WITH HIM TO FIND OUT MORE.

How did you find surf­ing?

I re­mem­ber I was liv­ing in Dana Point, and I started off rid­ing bor­rowed surf­boards from two guys I saw down the beach. I'd skate­board down the beach on my way to work and I would just ask if I could bor­row the longboard. I worked right in the sports fish­ing place clean­ing the boats, so on the way down I'd stop at the beach see if they’d let me have go. These were the late ‘70s but I was drawn to the re­ally much longer boards these guys had. Ev­ery­one else was kind of re­ally in the mould of the short board­ers, but my friends and I would just ride any­thing. So when the main beach blew out and we couldn’t short­board we’d go down to the point and go long­board­ing. The waves were re­ally un­crowded back then be­cause they weren't re­ally con­sid­ered good short­board waves, and long­board­ing wasn’t re­ally that pop­u­lar. So we had lots of waves to our­selves. We were just short­board­ing, long­board­ing, skim board­ing or skate­board­ing, we're just do­ing what­ever there was to have fun. We’d all hang out to­gether. We would ride any­thing but we were all re­ally drawn to these big old heavy boards, at a time when no one else re­ally both­ered with them.

Have you got a most favourite surf­board ever, a lit­tle magic stick, that you've owned?

Yes I was in Morocco in about ‘93. I went to the same school as Vince De la Pena and he had an Al Mer­rick gun and I bought it off him. It wasn't ideal for me, it was more a Pipe shape, a bit more for Hawai­ian waves. Any­way I took it to Morocco, but while I was there I met a South African guy who had a Peter Daniels 7'3”. It was ac­tu­ally shaped for Tom Cur­ren when he went on The Search in Mozam­bique, but I don't think he got a chance to ride it be­cause it didn't get big enough. Mer­ricks were like the crown jewel of surf­boards at that time so I suck­ered him in and we traded boards. His Peter Daniels was one of the best boards I have ever rid­den. It was so re­spon­sive, it was crazy, and we had a run of per­fect waves. Five days of 20 foot and may be a lit­tle bit big­ger. At that time no­body re­ally surfed re­ally big waves down there. So I got these five days of per­fect big surf. I saw one other guy the whole time I was there, an­other surfer, but I never spoke to him. The waves were so good I only saw him in the wa­ter from a dis­tance or when he was on land get­ting in or out of the waves. The surf was that good and big we never crossed paths even though we were shar­ing the same waves in the same ses­sions. I never spoke to him be­cause we were never near each other. Those ses­sions are def­i­nitely the high­light of my surf­ing life.

The wave was like a chip in, so you could ride a board that big. I was get­ting in on like a six foot wave on top of a way big­ger wave and then there were these big long walls. The me­mories are still res­onat­ing all this time later. It was a dif­fer­ent time, a re­ally wonderful time.

Have you ever had a re­ally ugly surf­board that has gone re­ally well?

In high school my friend David Laws had this big 10’4" red longboard in the cor­ner of his garage with no fin. It was just beat up, a weird shape, prob­a­bly a back­yard shape. So I was like, “Hey, what's that? Can I have it or buy it?" Andy gave it to me and I stuck a fin in it and it was amaz­ing. It was so good I rode it for years. It's in the end of the Seedling…i loved it.. Any­way later when I met Joel Tu­dor in about ‘97 I was still rid­ing that board - I had it from about ‘85-‘86 - and he just laughed. Then he let me try his boards which were far su­pe­rior. I didn't re­ally know, I was just rid­ing a surf­board I loved.

Un­til I met him I was never re­ally in­volved in the longboard world. It didn't seem very in­ter­est­ing to me. Long­board­ing and high-performance long­board­ing never seemed in­ter­est­ing to me. Like a longboard magazine was

on the news­stand in the new store and I'd be like “Why would I want to read that?". My friends and I were just rid­ing old logs, and if we wanted to shred waves we would short­board.

Have you still got that board or is it gone?

I think I burnt it. I think it's in the surf­board burn­ing in Sprout. It might have been in that pile of shitty surf­boards. But that's a pretty heinous thing to do, burn­ing surf­boards is a mor­tal sin.

It does show bit of a dark­side.

It does that but also in an en­vi­ron­men­tal way it's not good. They burn one in the In­ner­most Lim­its of Pure Fun in day­light, and it ... it's not good.

Any other any boards you ever sold that you wished you'd kept for­ever?

The Peter Daniels was the one. But I had no money at all. I think I sold my board and my tent to buy food. It was creased in the mid­dle on one of those five amaz­ing days and I fixed it, but I just had to sell. I just had no money. But that was a re­ally good board. You could re­ally lay down a bot­tom turn on those waves. I could lay down my bot­tom turn and be drag­ging my fore­arm and hand in the wave lay­ing out flat, I'd never been up to do that like that since.

Have you been on the road much when you had no money at all?

I had noth­ing for­ever. I mean I was just out there. I went to Morocco a lot and trav­elled ev­ery­where but I didn't have money. I'd have to sell ev­ery­thing al­most al­ways while I was there. I just get there and surf un­til my money ran out. Then I'd have to phone my mum to wire out the last 60 bucks that were in my bank ac­count... "What, you are in Africa and you need $60?" "Yeah that's fine."

Do you think that ex­pe­ri­ence made you ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery­thing more than later gen­er­a­tions for whom travel is now eas­ier through im­proved in­fra­struc­ture and paths more beaten?

I don't think you can make a gen­er­al­i­sa­tion about what peo­ple take from travel and what the kids are do­ing now. I think some may be real priv­i­leged, but I think is a lot of kids are strug­gling.

I think you learn on the road and be­come re­ally self­suf­fi­cient and you have to adapt. I didn't speak French or Ara­bic re­ally… I went to 55-56 coun­tries around that time and I did a lot on a shoe­string... but ev­ery­one is dif­fer­ent. I don't re­ally like to draw lines across ev­ery­thing. Ev­ery per­son is dif­fer­ent and has dif­fer­ent drives. My horo­scope says "you'll be the per­son that goes off the cliff and peo­ple will fol­low you". But I didn't re­ally travel with peo­ple. I just wanted to go away with noth­ing and move and travel as I felt fit. Some peo­ple are not very com­fort­able liv­ing with noth­ing, liv­ing with­out money. I could move with what ever was hap­pen­ing, but I felt some peo­ple might been un­com­fort­able with a liv­ing at a lower level, and then there may be ten­sion, they'd be scared or what­ever. It was hard. It was six years on the road hitch­hik­ing across Europe, Amer­ica, Africa and all over. It's not for ev­ery­one but that was my thing, and I think I've learnt a lot. Ev­ery­one has a dif­fer­ent edges and bound­aries. I don't wanna be one of those peo­ple who say "do what I do," be­cause that's pretty in­sen­si­tive to the di­ver­sity of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.

What in­spired you to hit the road?

Ini­tially I think it's be­cause I came from a very large fam­ily. I have five sis­ters. And we weren't par­tic­u­larly well off. So we didn't go any­where. My par­ents couldn't af­ford to take us any­where, and I think that they just didn't wanna do it ei­ther. I don't know what the sce­nario was. We just didn't go any­where. The fur­thest we went with the fam­ily was like four hours away. Also where I grew up was quite ru­ral. There wasn't that much there at all and peo­ple were pretty down to earth. I liked it that way. But when I was in my mid-teens all the land movers came in and they started de­vel­op­ing the area. It be­came built up and this per­va­sive 90210 kind of cul­ture started grow­ing. And I was like “Yuck! This is not what I'm used to used to. This is not what I like. I am fu**king out of here.”

I wanted to go some­where I re­ally liked it, where it was more mellow and peo­ple were more con­nected. So I moved to Santa Cruz, which at the time was ideal, and I re­ally liked it and I used it as a base… I was do­ing shitty jobs and was also work­ing for a skate magazine when I was like 17 and even­tu­ally got to travel work­ing for them. I just wanted to ex­plore dif­fer­ent cul­tures to get an idea about what I wanted my life to be. Be­cause the more places I've vis­ited the more I saw how dif­fer­ent peo­ple lived and the dif­fer­ent lev­els of hap­pi­ness or en­joy­ment in their lives, or sad­ness, so I could look at life with that per­spec­tive. I want to see the jux­ta­po­si­tion to the 90210 cul­ture so I could cre­ate my own life go­ing for­ward.

I read that there's sound­track in some­body's head that brings back me­mories from spe­cial times, do you have one?

I spent al­most a year in Morocco. In to­tal I've been there 11 times or some­thing. One time I went to the moun­tains. I'd been there a few months surf­ing, and I sold my boards so I could go to the moun­tains to paint. I swin­dled this ho­tel to let me stay in a room if I painted them a mu­ral. I bull­shit­ted them that I was a re­ally fa­mous artist, which wasn’t true at all, but they let me stay in the room for a month. I painted them a mu­ral. Any­way I stayed in the

I THINK IT'S WEIRD IT'S CALLED A ‘SPORT', BE­CAUSE IT'S MORE LIKE DANC­ING. YOU'RE DANC­ING AND YOU'RE MOV­ING, AND I DON'T KNOW, IT'S SUR­REAL.

room paint­ing, and I got friendly with this English guy who turned up. He would come and hang out with me whilst paint­ing and he let me bor­row this tape. One side was Alice Coltrane “Jour­ney in Satchi­dananda", on the other was African Head Charge. I just su­per duper fell in love with this tape. Alice Coltrane tracks were just so were my head and my heart was at that time and I loved it so much. It was pretty trans­for­ma­tive. When I was leav­ing the guy came back and said I had got to give that tape back. I said “Know what dude, I'm sorry, but you can not have that tape.."

I tried to give him a nice sized piece of art for it, but he was pretty pissed off. I guess my art didn't have a lot of pull at that time, any­way I kept the tape.

Alice Coltrane tracks are still just as im­pact­ful to­day, I was just into it so much at that time of my life, that pe­riod her mu­sic mak­ing was so ex­tra­or­di­nary beautiful.

What's in­ter­est­ing in the surf­ing world right now to you?

Be­ing in the wa­ter. There is noth­ing that new or that in­ter­est­ing to me right now, specif­i­cally in de­sign or not hav­ing fins in your foamy board or what­ever. I think the main thing is enjoying your­self and have a good time.

Are you still as stoked now as you were back when first started?

Yeah, I don't know if I'm stoked as I ever was, but I still love surf­ing. I just came back from Mex­ico with my fam­ily, my wife and I got some very good waves with her fa­ther and step­mother and it was great. I would say that I've been in to de­sign of surf­boards for so long, and de­sign­ing dif­fer­ent things with dif­fer­ent peo­ple, and get­ting my boards re­ally di­alled that I'm a bit lost when I don't have my own boards. But we had fun, surf­ing and trav­el­ling.

Ok so as an ed­u­cated ob­server of surf­ing, name your favourite surfer un­der the fol­low­ing cat­e­gories.

Power

Dane Reynolds. He's the gnarli­est ever as far as putting ev­ery­thing into ev­ery f**king turn, ev­ery f**king time. Ev­ery­thing, and al­ways. If he can’t put ev­ery­thing on the line he doesn't do it. I've seen it in per­son and it is true. It is crazy. He's def­i­nitely, def­i­nitely one of my favourite surfers ever. He's re­ally ex­cit­ing

Flow

Can I give two? Tu­dor def­i­nitely long­board­ing and other things, and then I'll prob­a­bly say Cur­ren.

One thing I think about Cur­ren is that I think he was into re­al­ity. I think why he is so pop­u­lar is that peo­ple can look at all Cur­ren’s surf­ing and they can say "I know I can't do that but I'm go­ing to try.” It is the most ap­peal­ing and ac­ces­si­ble kind of surf­ing that you could try. You won't look like that and you wouldn't do that, but you could try to do it. But with Kelly and for­ward of Kelly, you look at them and say "I can't do that and I'm prob­a­bly not go­ing to try" Un­less you the 5% of the one per­cent of com­pet­i­tive high-level surfers, then it may be re­al­is­tic, but not for other peo­ple. I'm huge Tom fan though. Self-ex­pres­sion

Knost. Alex Knost. He's re­ally free and re­ally ex­pres­sive. And one of my favourite surfers of all time. He's re­ally free at ev­ery as­pect of his life. He's prob­a­bly one of the most con­fi­dent peo­ple I've ever met, but not in a cocky way. He's con­fi­dent and present. What­ever he's do­ing there's not a lot of self-doubt, so he's re­ally close to the mo­ment, and mov­ing with it. And he’s very spon­ta­neous, or­ganic and cre­ative, whether mak­ing mu­sic, mak­ing surf­boards surf­ing or arts, skate­board­ing, what­ever he is do­ing cre­atively. It's pretty wild. I know a lot of cre­ative peo­ple but I don't know any like him.

I think Kelly is also in­ter­est­ing. Alex is a per­former but Kelly is so in­tel­li­gent that he has man­i­fested him­self into what he thinks is go­ing to be the most ex­cit­ing surfer for peo­ple to watch. So he's re­ally a per­former. While the rest of peo­ple are just surf­ing he's on such a higher level, es­pe­cially dur­ing his com­pet­i­tive peak performance time pe­riod. Like when he is surf­ing Chopes, ev­ery other per­son surf­ing that con­test is pad­dling as hard as they can to get into the wave per­fectly to do what they want to do. But not Kelly. Kelly is not pad­dling hard enough on pur­pose al­most all the time be­cause he knows when he drops out of the wave, through the air and sticks that crazy drop and dra­mat­i­cally pulls in and gets a crazy tube and comes out... he knows is go­ing to get a 10. So he's per­form­ing. He's not just do­ing any­thing he has to do to get through the heat. And you know what he has thought of all of that.

I think is so much more to his game and why he won all of those ti­tles, and it's not purely just surf­ing.

Spon­tane­ity

Alex, Kelly and Rasta be­cause you just never know what they go­ing to do next, and that's what I like. Per­son­ally my favourite surfers are the ones you don't know what's go­ing to hap­pen be­cause they're just mov­ing with what's hap­pen­ing and that cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Time­less

I guess I say Phil Ed­wards and Mickey Dora. When I look at the footage I think they are kind of like the cor­ner­stones of style. At least in my life, in my knowl­edge as far back as it goes. Be­cause be­fore then there's not much doc­u­men­ta­tion. I al­ways liked that style of Hen­son, Fry, and Far­relly. I just re­ally like Phil Ed­wards up­right style. It is very unique and in a mo­ment with the equip­ment.

So to round up I'd just like you to fin­ish the fol­low­ing "Surf­ing is…"

A sen­sa­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.

I think it's weird it's called a ‘sport', be­cause it's more like danc­ing. You're danc­ing and you're mov­ing, and I don't know, it's sur­real. I mean what other peo­ple want to do, en­ter com­pe­ti­tions or what­ever, is fine but it's re­ally this thing where we have these sur­faces that are meet­ing each other and you are play­ing with them and on them, and it's a dance. You're do­ing this weird f**king dance on the planet. You are look­ing for those sen­sa­tions to rid­ing cer­tain boards on cer­tain waves and you try to tap into those mo­ments and sen­sa­tions they give you a good feel­ing. It's sen­sa­tional.

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