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Andersen, Lisa


Masterful and enigmatic pro surfer from Ormond Beach, Florida; four-time world champion (1994–97), and the omnipresent public face for female surfing in the mid-'90s. "She's the first woman to cross over into surfing celebrityhood," Outside magazine wrote about Andersen in 1996, "and achieve a dominance that made the pig dudes shut up and take notice."

Andersen was born (1969) in New York, raised in Maryland and Virginia, and began surfing at age 13, after moving with her family to Ormond Beach. Two years later, her father destroyed her surfboard while Andersen watched; at 16, with money saved from summer jobs, she bought a one-way plane ticket to Los Angeles and ran away from home, leaving a note saying that she was going to California to become the women's world surfing champion. Andersen later admitted she "didn't even know if there was such a thing as a surfing world championship."

Landing in Huntington Beach, Andersen worked part-time as a waitress, and slept where she could, sometimes on the beach. A year later, at age 17, she won the girls' division of the United States Surfing Championships, placed third in the World Surfing Championships, and turned professional, earning the world tour's rookie-of-the-year honors. Although Andersen was touted as a future world champion, her surfing talent was consistently undermined by a fragile self-confidence. She was ranked 10th in the world in 1988, seventh in 1989, fourth in 1990, seventh in 1991, and fourth in 1992.

While inspired by fellow Floridian Frieda Zamba (four-time world champion between 1984 and 1988), Andersen often said she wanted to "surf like a guy," and to a degree she did. She directed and focused her speed better than any woman before her, and was therefore able to put maximum power into her turns; she also maintained a balletic line through her head and body. "When you surf with Lisa," Hawaiian tuberiding ace Rochelle Ballard said, "it smooths out your own surfing. Her technique is so refined that it rubs off on everybody around her."

Andersen married Brazilian surfer and world pro tour head judge Renato Hickel in March 1993, and five months later gave birth to their daughter, Erica. Andersen competed while pregnant, missing just the final contest of the year, and finished the season ranked ninth. Motherhood, she later noted, turned her career around. Childbirth had been "the worst, most painful thing ever; everything's easy after having a baby." Andersen made a competition final just five weeks after giving birth; she then won three of eleven world tour events in 1994 to earn her first championship, and continued on a similar pace to win an additional three titles. A low point came in 1995, when she herniated a disk in her back near the end of the season and barely held off Australian Pauline Menczer to retain the championship. While a much steadier competitor than she had been, Andersen still lost routine matches to second-stringers and wildcards, and seemed to ride at full strength only against her biggest rivals.

Personally and professionally, 1996 was the busiest and most chaotic of Andersen's life. She left Hickel, saying she "just wasn't interested in him after Erica was born." Surfer put Andersen on the cover (the first female-surfer cover shot in 15 years), with a sly blurb directed at an overwhelmingly male readership: "Lisa Andersen Surfs Better Than You." She was meanwhile profiled in newspapers and general-interest magazines around the world. In Outside's "Gidget Kicks Ass" feature, Andersen was lauded for her surfing talent, good looks, and determination, but described as "oddly impenetrable [and] closed down, as if the personality of a 17-year-old linebacker had been grafted onto her feminine psyche." 

Three years into her contract with Roxy, a women's spinoff line from surfwear giant Quiksilver, Andersen helped design a new function-over-fashion women's boardshort (which immediately became fashionable), and was the star of a massive promotional campaign that nearly defined the decade's boom in women's surfing. The trim (5' 7", 125 pounds), blond, smiling Andersen was seen in full-page magazine ads, on posters, and in promo videos. As former world champion Pauline Menczer noted in 1996, in an understandably bitter tone, "Women's surfing right now is Lisa Andersen. The rest of us might as well not even be here." Anderson was even the subject of an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot in 1997.

The Andersen juggernaut came to a sudden halt in July 1998, when her back seized up, forcing her to miss the second half of the season; she was virtually unseen in 1999. In 2000, at age 30, she returned to competition and finished the year ranked fifth; in 2001 she skipped the tour and gave birth to a son; she was granted a wildcard seed into all world tour events for 2002, but failed to qualify for the 2003 tour. In 2005 Roxy named Anderson the company's global brand ambassador. 

Andersen is a six-time winner of the Surfer Magazine Readers Poll Award (1992, 1994, 1996–99); in 1998 she was voted "Female Athlete of the Year" by Condé Nast's Sports for Women magazine; in 1999 she was the only female surfer, along with Kathy "Gidget" Kohner, to be listed in Surfer's "25 Most Influential Surfers of the Century" article; in 2000 she was ranked #76 in Sports Illustrated for Women's "Greatest Sportswomen of the Century."

Anderson was inducted into the Surfer's Hall of Fame at Huntington Beach in 2002. The Surf Industry Manufacturers Association named Anderson their Waterman of the Year in 2007. Fearlessness: The Story of Lisa Andersen, a biography written by Nick Carroll, was published in 2007. She's been featured in dozens of surf movies and videos, including Atlantic Crossing (1989), Surfers: The Movie (1990), Triple C (1996), Performers III (1999), and Tropical Madness (2001).