Wisdom: Thomas Campbell

47, Filmmaker, Photographer, Artist

Surf films are better when it’s clear that people are having a really f–king good time surfing. I think that’s why we do this. Jack Coleman nailed it in his latest movie, The Zone. Those guys are just ripping in their own weird way, riding finless boards and soft-tops and having a blast.

You can watch someone surf for two minutes and know whether or not you’re inspired by them. It’s really simple. If I like the way someone surfs, I get really excited about the opportunity to work with them. I feel the same way about artists and musicians. I’m really thankful that I’ve gotten to work with a lot of people who inspire me.

Working redundantly in anything does not breed excitement. I’ll spend six months painting or getting ready for an exhibition, and after that I’ll want to go produce a record, or work on a film. By consistently choosing projects that require a different approach, I find that each project feeds the next one. I put myself fully into each project and then the next thing feels fresh.

When you need to return to the well for inspiration, listen to music. If I need to kick it into overdrive, I’ll listen to Sonic Youth for, like, 12 hours straight. Their music has always been this beacon of creativity and chaos that really aligns me. It just feels like they were boundless and free.

We are in a pretty amazing time for surfboard design. There have been breakthroughs in consciousness in all the different forms of surfing and surfboards. People are progressing and evolving different shapes in seemingly every direction, and people genuinely seem open to it. That really wasn’t the case 10 or 20 years ago.

An asymmetrical surfboard is the most custom surfboard you can get. What you want on your toe edge and what you want on your heel edge are not really the same things. The beauty of an asymmetrical board is that you can really dial in both sides. A lot of people think that asymmetricals are made for going backside or frontside, exclusively. That’s not really the case.

Having a Glider really opens up new possibilities. Where I live in Santa Cruz, there are just a few spots where you can really ride a longboard properly, and they are usually packed. It’s not that fun for me. I’ve been working on a shape with Josh Hall based on the Skip Frye “Eagle.” We call it the “Le Sliviar.” Right now I’m riding a 10’10” version. It opens up different waves in town and it’s good for adventure. You can paddle to distant spots that other people can’t get to.

Ryan Burch is a real gift to surfing. I’m really thankful to have him in my life because he is the premier surfboard geek. If I have any ideas, or anything that I might want to do to a surfboard, he’s the best person to talk to because he just goes off. He puts so much energy into every new shape.

Boards that do a lot for you, rather than boards that require you to manifest all the energy, can help you stay stoked on surfing. As I’ve gotten older, the time and energy I’ve put into my quiver has paid off. I’m not as dexterous as I might have once been, but I’m in a really good place with the boards I’m riding.

A van can be kind of like a golf bag. I’ve had vans consistently for the last 30 years. I keep five or six boards in there, plus a pair of swim fins. It’s kind of like golf in that you get to the place, look at it, and decide how you’re going to approach it.

There are so many options in surfing now and more people are exploring, which wasn’t always the case. I felt like my first movies needed to be educational, in a way. They were meant to inform about different approaches—different ways of surfing and different things that were going on. I don’t think that’s needed anymore. The new movie I’m working on will be much different than what I’ve done in the past. It’s going to be less structured and a bit more abstract.

We all deal with our own follies that we have to work through, or get over, to see a creative project through to completion. It always takes a certain amount of woodshedding to feel comfortable about putting something out there. The important thing is just to keep going. Even if it’s painful, or doesn’t feel very fun at certain moments, just keep trying. Things will work themselves out.

Fatherhood gives you a deeper sense of purpose. My focus feels more decisive now. Maybe because I don’t have as much time to do stuff, so I’m like, “Oh, shit, I better get to it!” But I feel really energized by it. My wife is an awesome lady and I have a healthy baby. I’m really lucky.

[This interview is from our March 2017 Issue, on newsstands and available for download now]

[Photo: Barash]