Artist Interview with Audio: Thomas Campbell

With today’s variety of social and online tools, sharing has reached all-time highs. But with that, attention spans for reading are diminishing, so we have decided to start filtering in some audio tracks to the interviews we conduct to provide a new way to enjoy our blog content. The first of these audio interviews begins with none other then Thomas Campbell.

Thomas Campbell is taking a somewhat temporary departure from surf filmmaking and exploring the print side of things via his beautiful new book “Slide Your Brains Out.” Check out his interview Cyrus recorded with Thomas about his roots in surf and skate cultures, his love for photography and what inspires him today. 

Above photo caption: “This Ford Econoline van had a long illustrious career, some of which was captured in my first two surf film the Seedling and Sprout. For some reason when driving off road, and especially in Baja, I want a cigarette (or clove) in one hand and a beer in the other (and I don’t smoke). And when in those desolate environments, my driving style turns from fairly mellow on asphalt to kind of red lining it on dirt roads. Because of these extremes, there is much lore about my driving, which has turned into heated debates between traveling companions as to whether I am the best or worst driver ever. Baja California, Mexico. 2001.”

“Slide Your Brains Out” is available at at the following surf shops: MolluskThalia Surf ShopPilgrim Surf Supply. Also check out

Tell me, how did you first become fascinated with surf culture, how did that come about?

Well, let’s see, I started surfing when I was about 10. I grew up in Dana Point. At that time,I guess when I was 10, that would be about 1979, people really weren’t riding longboards very much at the time. I worked in the harbor on sport fishing boats, and I would just be going down to the harbor everyday in the summer and there was this super fun logging wave that not a lot of people rode, at Doheny. A few of my friends and I would just borrow old guys’ logs and that is where I started surfing. And during that whole time I was skateboarding, really into skateboarding. I always rode logs and then eventually started riding shortboards at about 17.

Through skateboarding, I started making my own fan zines, through high school, all about skateboarding, like writing and designing them and started taking some pictures. Then I started working for skateboarding magazines, TransWorld Skate. I worked for them on and off for like ten years. It was interesting because during that time, I was shooting a lot of kinda art based pictures and then shooting skateboarding pictures and learning how to use a camera and that kinda translated into making film.

From shooting skating I learned about using light and composition. Probably in the mid-90s is when I started filming some of my friends that I grew up with riding logs. And I wanted to make a movie. I think the name of that movie was going to be called “Blue Fucking Corduroy, Man”. The name came from one day, I was driving over the hill in Dana Point with my friend, The Wookie, and as we crested this hill and the ocean was revealed with stacked up lines to the horizon, Wookie said “Blue fucking corduroy, man” in a totally funny deprecating way. And I just thought that was an awesome way to start the movie. And a good name as well.

Then I met Joel Tutor. He was familiar with my art and work in skateboarding magazines and then he was like “we should make a movie.” I was like, “well, I guess if the best guy ever on a longboard wants to make a movie, I guess I should probably do it.” So that really started the trip to documenting surfing.

Most people associate you with filmmaking. What role has photography and the still capturing of action played a part of the documentation of surf and skate culture?

I’ve just been into taking pictures probably since I was about 15, and I’m 43 now, so I guess that’s 28 years of taking pictures.

And I’m just always shooting pictures. You know, a few days ago I was at France. I was shooting some pictures Robbie Kegel making boards in his factory there. I’m am super into Robby’s trip and maverick approach. I have always just documented the people I find interesting. A lot of times they are not so well known, but sometimes they are.

How do you decide if you’re going to shoot motion? How do you decide if you’re going to shoot just a stills? Does it depend on the phase in your life? Has there been certain times where you’re locked into making a movie? Like, why do you choose one or the other, I guess?

So, when you’re shooting motion picture film, it’s got to kinda offer you a pretty good ride. I like complete rides. I think most people think of things like maneuvers and whatever, but I really like to see a wave from start to finish. And then if for some reason you get somewhere and then the wave is kind of uneventful but has a nice part to shoot stills, I’ll shoot stills.

But, you know, I’m kind of at the moment where I’m not actively pursuing making surfing films. I haven’t been for about the last 3 years. I’ve gone on a few different trips in the last few years just for shooting pictures and kinda in the context of thinking about making some books. I went to Chile, and Morocco, and you know, I like the pace, and I also like not being the boss of the trips. It’s really nice to be the last guy, and be on the trip when everyone’s like “what should we do?” And a lot of times I’ll be with guys who have been on trips with me when I am directing and they’ll look at me and I’m like “I’m not making these decisions. Just tell me where were goin’ and I’ll get in the car. Let’s go.” Hahaha, it’s nice. It’s relaxing just to kind of like be in the background and shoot some photos. I enjoy that.

Do you feel like you’re getting to a point in your life where you’re pretty fulfilled with the surf movie part? Is that why you are kind of not pursuing that and you’re doing more of the stills?

I can’t say that I would never make anymore surf films, I don’t think I would make anymore big ones. I think, for the most part, I documented what I was interested in. And making surf films in 16mm is very satisfying, because you get a product that you’re proud of, but financially it is a steep hill to climb. I climbed that hill for 12 years and I came to the end of it and I feel good about what I documented.

Now I’d probably rather go surfing more than be on the beach. Or maybe go surf and shoot a few pictures. I think this is a natural progression. I’ve been wanting to make these books. I have a pretty large archive that hasn’t really been seen, of the kind of surfing I like documenting, and I came up with the book series idea.

This one is kind of a general overlook of the last 15 years of taking pictures of surfing and surf related culture and the next ones might be more topic oriented, and the next one might be on Morocco. I’ve been going for the last 20 years and I have quite a few pictures from all the different trips there. And then single fin longboarding, maybe books on individual people. You know, there’s quite a few ideas, so it could keep going. They’d just be kind of the same size and format so they could all fit together on the shelf.

Well, I know I’m looking forward to that. You began your work focused on longboard culture, but since your scope has broadened yet you’ve remained true to what resonates with you in surfing, what surfing and surfers inspire you, regardless of it being a longboarder or not?

One thing I really like is when you don’t know what someone else is going to do, and they do it in a way that no one else can do. Craig Anderson is really cool to watch. He could just go straight and you’d be like “oh my God that’s so cool.” Unique characters, people that draw their own line and kinda go in their own way. I think those are the kind of people that I’m interested in.

What gets you stoked today? Generally, surfing or not, art or not?

A warm fall day in Central California is something really nice. Actually, I was just in France and it was similar conditions and it was really nice. Those are the days that you just kind of wait for all year, and they’ve been happening so you’re just kinda “oh, here it is” and hopefully there are some waves, and there have been a few good ones. Just being thankful for being alive and having those moments where it all connects.

Well, that’s awesome. Thanks a lot, Thomas, for spending the time and we look forward to checking out the book and the future books to come.

Ok, man, well you have a good one and I’ll talk to you soon.

A quivering moment — Joel Tudor displays his larger workable quiver that then, and now, changed the perception of what could be ridden, and how. Del Mar, California. 2003.

This was on location in Ceylon during filming for my second surf film Sprout. Dan Malloy caught me mid-directional movement between shooting motion picture and stills of the locals, Dan, Belen Connelly and Alex Knost in the town of Pottville. 2002.

Craig Anderson, tubular times — Craigo is really enjoyable to watch. His style is one part Gerry Lopez, one part Rob Machado, while the rest is hyper-modern wombatness. His approach is very refreshing amidst the current re-push toward competitive jockey styles. Central Chile, 2011. Craig is riding a board he and Hayden messed around with. It’s a combo of two models: The Hypo Crypto and The Psychedelic Germ. It was built with standard polyester resin and polyurethane surfboard materials. 5′ 6″ long x 19.25″ wide x 2.2″ thick.

Danny Hess — Epic human, craftsman, bodywomper, Mav’s charger—the complete package.This is his shaping room in Ocean Beach, San Francisco, California (2003). Danny has become a true leader in both wood and sustainable surfboard construction. His workmanship is very impressive, and he’s developed his completely unique board building technique into functional, beautiful equipment that lasts for decades. Check him out at The Wood Shop in O.B.

Nazal fully crazalled — Dane Peterson is one of my all-time favorite loggers. He went from having a kind of jerky, rad, late teenage Dewey Weberish jive to being one of the smoothest, most precise, flowing stylists in the game. A major influence on other A-players like Al Knost, and, as seen here, still killing it in a heat at the Joel Tudor Duct Tape Invitational logging contest in Santa Cruz, California. 2011.

Lining up — Somewhere in North or South America? The thing about it is, there are actually still a lot of unsurfed, uncrowded waves. Find your own—that’s half the fun, or at least some of it. 1998.

Dave “Rasta” Rastovich lip dance — West Africa, 2008. Rasta is on an Akila Aipa twin-fin that was 5′ 10″ long x 18.5″ wide x 2.5″ thick.

Monica Rose soars through the atmosphere on a little Skip fish. Laguna’s, Northern California. 2002.

“Daner” — I think this two-image sequence really captures Dane Reynold’s approach to surfing, which is like full fucking on—all the time or not. Dane is interesting, I often think of his surfing technique as being similar to how my cat’s hunt for gofer’s in our backyard. He’ll take off and if the wave does not offer up a suitable section, he will idle and wait mid-face, slightly stalling. Then, when its time to pounce, he does—and usually with everything he’s got. Which is why he is so fucking fun to watch. Central Chile, 2011.

Ryan Burch—from Cardiff by the Sea, California—has slipped heavily into the Carl Ekstrom asymmetrical design stream and is currently busy getting lost in his own tributary. If you spend more than three minutes really thinking about it, you don’t really want the same rail line or contours on the heel side of your board that you would want on your toe side. It really begs for something different. And Ry guy is exploring this idea thoroughly. Thank God (whoever that might be for you) for the eccentrics. Oceanside, California. 2012.

Diamond Dave Rastovich, lacerating yet another wide open West African face (2008) — Riding a 5′ 10″ Akila Aipa twin-fin that was  18.5″ wide and 2.5″ thick. Most normal, competent surfers would be riding a 7 to 8 foot board on this kind of wave—not Dave. Also, he’d take off 100 yards further up the point than the rest of us. What a weirdo.

Life Capturing Vessels, Morocco, North Africa, 2011

For some reason I’m better with motion picture water photography than I am with stills, unlike like my water photography sensei Todd Glaser. Man, he blows my mind. Todd works crazy hard, and gets so many amazing shots like that one Surfer magazine cover shot of Greg Long riding that huge, reddish-pink board on that monster glassy wave.That shot freaks me out. Anyway, I got a little lucky here. Doesn’t hurt to have supreme talent in front of the lens either. Dan Malloy, projecting. Morocco, North Africa. 2011.

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