Anderson, Simon

Lantern-jawed Australian surfer/board designer from Narrabeen, New South Wales; world-ranked #3 in 1977, and the inventor, three years later, of the tri-fin surfboard design. "With that one startling innovation," surf journalist Sam George later wrote, "Simon reshaped the surfing style of an entire generation—and the next couple of generations to follow, for good measure."

Anderson was born (1954) in Sydney, and spent his first five years in the suburb of Balgowlah, before his father won the lottery and moved the family to a beachfront house at Collaroy, near Narrabeen. Mark Anderson, Simon's older brother, swam for Australia in the 1968 Olympics, and Simon himself swam regularly until his 13th birthday, when he received his first new surfboard. In 1971, as a gangly 6' 3" 17-year-old, he won the juniors division in both the Australian National Titles and the Bells Beach contest; in 1972 he successfully defended both titles and made the Australian team for the World Surfing Championships.

Although not yet filled out to his midcareer weight of 200 pounds, Anderson had already gained a reputation as one of the country's best power surfers, connecting his forceful turns with a graceful and easygoing style. With little or no training ("he likes his snooker, the pub and his mates," surf journalist Phil Jarratt noted, "and can watch television for three or four days at a stretch"), Anderson's natural talent took him to the forefront of national and international competitive surfing. In 1973 he placed third at Bells and sixth in the Coca-Cola Surfabout (held at Narrabeen, Anderson's home break); in 1975 he placed fourth in the Coke; in 1976 he was a finalist in the Australian National Titles; in 1977 he won Bells and the Coke, placed fourth in the Pipeline Masters, and finished the world tour ranked third. Anderson also became known as one of the world's best in larger surf, particularly at Hawaii's Sunset Beach.

In late 1977, Australian pro Mark Richards introduced his version of the twin-fin, a pivoting small-wave board that helped Richards win four world titles, which in turn made the twin-fin the hottest board of the late '70s and early '80s. While Anderson maintained a high position in the world rankings, finishing 15th in 1979 and sixth in 1980, he struggled with the hard-to-control twin-fin, and in 1979 began thinking of ways to modify the design. He'd been shaping surfboards since 1972, had founded his own Energy Surfboards label in 1975, and had developed into one of Australia's most respected board designers. In October 1980, he noticed that fellow Narrabeen surfer/shaper Frank Williams had placed a small half-moon fin near the tail of his twin-fin as a stabilizer. Inspired, Anderson immediately made himself a square-tailed board with three like-sized fins, all smaller than those used on a twin-fin.

He called his new design the Thruster, as a slightly racy play on words and because the third fin in fact added thrust to the board's turning capabilities; he then set out to convince the surf world that the tri-fin was superior to the twin-fin. Anderson scored back-to-back wins at Bells and the Surfabout in 1981, then finished the season by winning the Pipeline Masters. Mark Richards again won the championship—Anderson chose not to compete in about one-third of the scheduled events for 1981, and finished #6—but the shambling, straw-haired surfer from Narrabeen was clearly the breakthrough performer of the year, and twin-fin surfers the world over began converting to tri-fins. He finished 11th in the world in 1982, 19th in 1983, then quit the circuit.

Throughout, Anderson remained a plain Aussie bloke, never veering, as Phil Jarratt phrased it, from "the pursuit of ordinariness." Aside from his wave-riding, Anderson called no attention to himself whatsoever, with the notable exception of his alcohol-fueled postcontest banquet speeches, which consisted mainly of cutting deadpan gibes toward the surf industry, other surfers, and mainly himself. He later joked somewhat bitterly about his failure to patent the tri-fin design, thus missing out on perhaps millions of dollars in licensing fees.

Anderson was named the "Surfer of the Year" by Surfing magazine in 1981, and inducted into the Australian Hall of Fame in 1989. Surfer magazine listed him as the eighth most influential surfer of the 20th century; he was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame in 2001.

He continues to make surfboards on the Gold Coast of Australia under the Simon Anderson Surfboards label. Thrust, his autobiography, written with Aussie surf journalist Tim Baker, came out in 2011.