Gregory “Bonga” Perkins – Biography
Bonga Perkins won the longboard world title in 1996 and 2008. In terms of surfing history, that’s a pretty big deal. However, Perkins has also distinguished himself in an altogether different way that doesn’t come with trophies or cash, in a way that some might say has established his name at a more important level. When it comes to surfing, nothing holds more weight than a North Shore reputation, and no surfer can cement complete island credibility without Pipeline. Sure, you can fluff your resume with Rocky Point and V-Land until the sun sets, but Pipeline is the brass ring; it’s the Harvard of the North Shore education. And you might surmise that, as a longboarder, this would leave someone like Perkins out of contention for true North Shore notoriety, but the fact is that Bonga Perkins rips Pipeline. No, we’re not talking about flapping around on a board that looks like it doesn’t fit the size and contours of the legendary wave. Instead, Perkins air drops into second reef bombs; bottom turns smooth and determined in the pit, and throws extended hacks under the hook. He seems to belong there and leaves little feeling that he should be riding anything else but a 9 foot, full-bodied beauty. Perkins is literally at home at premier breaks like Haleiwa and Pipeline. As the regular foot stylist rose quietly up the ranks of surfing’s longboard elite to eventually take two world titles, Bonga Perkins has proved himself to be a forceful presence across the total Hawaiian experience.
Born in 1972 in Oahu, Hawaii, Gregory Perkins was raised in Honolulu, living life like a new age Waikiki Beach Boy among throngs of party obsessed tourists stacked in concrete hotels shadowing the shoreline and an endless supply of epic reef breaks perfectly suited to longboarding. In fact, Waikiki (and the South Shore for the most part) is ruled by longboards, and it was in this atmosphere “Bonga” first rode a surfboard at age 5. He spent his early years roaming Oahu’s South Shore beaches. Few beach cultures are more rooted in surf history than Waikiki, and this gave Perkins a unique perspective. His goals seemed to focus more on the holistic surfing experience rather than a desire to master one provincial mode of wave riding. Therefore, he gained experience in all manners of surfing. Bonga went on to master everything from bodyboards, canoes, longboards, shortboards, to SUP’s. He would later say that his choice of equipment is always related to his mood. “Sometimes you’re pissed at the world and sometimes you feel like making friends…It’s a mood swing thing,” Perkins said. Portrayed by the press as a genial well spring of Aloha, Bonga does, however, display a competitive sensibility that takes no prisoners in the water. Seemingly, much of this emotion comes from the animosity between the long and short board camps, placing Perkins in a peculiar and sometimes contentious position in the lineup at Pipeline. Perkins explained that he often gets motivation from the negative vibes in the water and those who doubt his approach. So it’s no wonder that some of his greatest performances have been over the shallow reef at Pipe and among its endless supply of egos, aggression, and greed. There is no lineup as hungry or as condensed.
But before he made his name in surfing, Perkins actually spent many years in anonymity just riding waves, presumably as a standout at his local haunts. Perkins first broke the surface in 1989 with a 2nd place showing at the United States Championships, and, according to Matt Warshaw, “lived in Japan for 2 years in the early 90’s as an English language tutor.” Somewhere during this time, Perkins secured his competitive mojo and amassed an impressive list of finishes on the world stage.
Throughout his career, Perkins has finished in the top 5 every season with four 2nd place finishes and two world titles. His first title came in 1996 when he was only 24 years old. There was the expectation that a second title would come quickly, but he continued to slog away in competition without another 1st place finish. Some would blame small surf for his lag. In 2002, The Honolulu Advertiser defended his performance in Mexico:
“During the finals of the World Championships, wave heights had dramatically decreased and some felt that this was a disadvantage for Bonga – known as a power-surfer and big-wave rider.”
This would always be an issue for Perkins since longboards themselves were designed for long, perfect waves, not necessarily the big and powerful bowls that he preferred. However, his second title came in perfect longboard conditions. In 2008 amid San Clemente’s point perfection, Bong had to win the event to move from 3rd to take the title. At 36 years old, Bonga beat France’s Antoine Delpero in the final. Perkins said in an ASP press release, “I’ve been bridesmaids and thirds and fourths so many times now and I was hoping that my second title would come soon before I bow out…I can’t even speak, I’m blown away right now.” But even with a world title win in California, the facts show that the Hawaiian regular footer is best suited for the waves back at home.
And that’s the thing to watch Perkins ride meaty waves; he is at home among the juice and reef, among the crowds and competition. Further, his local peer group boasts an insanely stacked lineup of longboard talent. Names like Dino Miranda, Duane Desoto, Rusty Kealauna and Lance Ho’okano surface with just a cursory glance at Hawaii’s surfing talent. Factoring in the countless fame-hungry travelers that pack the Pipe lineup with the local masters, it seems more impressive that a longboarder could build such a reputation. To watch him ride both Pipe and Backdoor is inspiring. Now living on the North Shore with roots in Waikiki and experience all the over the world, Perkins can rest on his laurels. In fact, he once notoriously left the beach, forfeiting a first place contest showing (and the money that went with it) to pick up his child, saying, “I’m a part-time pro surfer but a full-time dad.” But based on his most recent sessions at Pipe, there ain’t much resting going on. Contests aren’t what drive Bonga Perkins. He says, “I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself.”