The trademark layback. (Aitionn Courtesy of Thrust: The Simon Anderson Story)

We Speak With Simon Anderson About Relationships, Surfboards And The Future Of The WSL

Take Audience With The Originator Of The Thruster

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Narrabeen… The world’s an increasingly crowded place, the ocean’s no different. Narrabeen’s a premier wave on the Beaches, so it’s hard to keep that a secret. It’s still very similar as far as the surfing attitudes go. The locals are fairly protective of the break, which they need to be, otherwise it’ll be overrun. The characters fade, the Golden era – the Col Smith era – but by the same token, a lot of them are still around and I still have contact with them. I mean, I’m still here. I don’t worry about the place, it’s in good hands, the spirit of Narrabeen is still there. It’s a healthy environment that promotes competition and develops talent and nothing much has changed in that regard. Cooper Chapman, I guess, is the standout there at the moment. He’s a sensible kid, a really good athlete and he’s from a surfing family, he’s got every chance. The look of the beach has changed significantly with people trying to save and protect the Surf Club and artificially manufacturing sand dunes which then leads to erosion down the beach. Sand management is a big topic at Narrabeen.

Big Decisions… I didn’t have to make a big decision and commit like the young guys have to today. I wanted to make boards, I wanted to improve the boards that I was surfing, and be successful as a competitive surfer. Because it was evolving you just turned up at whatever was on. That eventually led to the Pro Tour. I never considered it risky or thought I’d be better off with a trade. I knew it was there and I wanted to be part of it. We had some strong international events – Bells, Stubbies and the Coke in Sydney – there were a lot of opportunities to get your start. Today it’s a lot more difficult and you do have a lot of decisions to make. Most surfers who believe in themselves will be making those decisions pretty early. But it’s easier for surfers to slip through the cracks, it really is. You just have to leave no stone unturned so that when you’re leaning on the stop and go sign on the main road you can feel good about yourself because you gave it everything you had.

Bells 1981… As it turns out it was an important moment in surfing history. The thruster could have had its moment up at the Stubbies prior to Bells but I got knocked in small surf in the first round. Then Bells had epic, 10 to 12 foot surf. It was the like we hadn’t seen for 20 years – probably haven’t seen it since. The way it panned out is really quite extraordinary.

The Limelight… Anonymity is a fabulous thing. But being recognised for something like the thruster is a good legacy to have. I am reminded of it on a regular basis and it keeps my profile up. I make boards for a living and I’ve got Facebook and a website and I’m actively promoting myself so I can’t then turn around and go, “Oh, it’s fucked.” Although, it’d be nice to go about your business without it sometimes. That configuration was always going to happen at some point, I was just the first so I get the fame. Would I prefer not to have it? No. It was what I was working on at the time to improve my boards and my surfing. I wouldn’t give it back.

Relationships… I think relationships are things you have to work on. When you get older, it’s like a Seinfeld episode, you’ve got all the friends you’re going to have, you don’t really make any new friends so you better keep hold of the old ones. Relationships, particularly marriage, is a hard one. I’ve been married for 24 years. Generally you don’t approach it strategically, weighing up the good and the bad in your respective partners. It just evolves and it happens. But, I would say, if you are in the market, which most people are, to find a partner, don’t make a mistake. There’s no formula for guaranteeing that the person you’re going to pick will work. There can be periods in people’s relationships where they’re not super compatible at that moment, it might even be for a decade, but over a lifetime, that may just be a hiccup. Sometimes it doesn’t survive that period. So there you go, there’s nothing that I can tell you that can help you in any way, shape or form – just be careful.

Men And Their Health…  Being unaware of your health and how you’re traveling is pretty silly and Australian men are known for their silliness, aren’t they. It’s our nature. We’re probably not going to change but then again, the good thing about being a surfer is you know where you stand physically, you know how much work you gotta do, and if you don’t put it in you’re going to go out the backdoor and end up on a mal sooner than you want. Or on the rocking chair before you know it.

Growing Old… Most people who make boards are happy to be I don’t like it. If I weren’t a surfer it’d probably be great. But being a surfer, your level of dexterity and ability in the surf just drops away and you have to keep working at it. Other than that it’s alright I suppose. You gotta do it. But that’s the thing I like most about surfing is it lets you knows where you are physically and you know you’ve got to keep working hard otherwise you’re just going to go backwards too quick. I’m trying to keep hold of my fitness so that I can still enjoy my surfing and that’s a real challenge.

“Anonymity is a fabulous thing. But being recognised for something like the thruster is a good legacy to have.”

Collages: Moments from a life less ordinary. Simon Anderson keeps the flame burning. (Swilly/Divine/Channon/Mcleod/Onorati)

Business… My experience is obviously limited to surfboard making. It’s a hard skill but it doesn’t matter what business you are in, the principles are pretty much the same. You have to survive, number one, and make a decent living, number two. Enjoying what you do is a bonus but I think most people who make boards are happy to be involved. That’s partly why it’s so competitive and hard to be successful. It’s been a pretty hard slog and to survive you either have to be very skilled at the bottom line and maintain that or be a bit lucky, like myself. I had the thruster thing in 81 and that gave me a point of difference and makes it a little bit easier. Otherwise, it’s just tough and hard.

Boards For The Masses… In the absence of anything Earth-shatteringly new, yes, board design is an endless circle if you like. We’ve reached a point where changes, if any, are small but in saying that, there are those who take a new direction by rehashing an old design. There’s a lot of people who have an interest in single fins now and twin fins, fishes, alternative boards, people enjoying the feel of a new board that takes them back to the 70s or 80s. I’ve got my opinion on them. I don’t like them. I’m still focused on performance- orientated boards. That’s not to say that the other stuff isn’t valid. A lot of people are riding shorter, wider, fatter crafts. But seeing what the top guys ride reassures my thoughts on the subject. Generally, they’re not the right way to go. I suppose there’s no right and wrong in surfboards. If you are into that style of board and you can make improvements on it with your own surfing, it’s a worthy mission.

Boards For The Top Tier… It’s a highly specialised Tour now. They’re riding boards that are going to get them super high scores on two waves in a 25-minute heat basically. If it’s difficult conditions they’re jet ski assisted, they’re super fit anyway and super talented. They’re definitely riding the right boards for them, maybe not for 99.99 per cent of the surfing population but that’s the pointy end, it’s the Formula One. It’s good to see and it’s evolving – seemingly, somehow. It’s very much changed since I was on Tour. It’s a lot like tennis. They used to go on centre court with a couple of rackets, now they’ve got nine or however many. These guys have access to a lot of boards. They’re super light- weight, super high-performance and right on the edge of capabilities and beyond. You watch guys surfing these days and they can’t do a cutback without holding the rail because they’re just going too fast. They’ve found ways to surf boards that are performing beyond the bounds of all known physics laws, which is very inventive of them.

The Tour’s Future… I feel a kindred spirit to the Tour because I’ve seen it from the start where it needed a lot of work, so I’m bias, really. It’s still evolving as far as I can see and I am a big supporter because you need an outlet for competition in our sport, it can’t all be free-surfing otherwise, to a degree, it’ll just decay. They lead a privileged life, they get paid well – generally. Seemingly, there’s no end in sight but the Global Financial Crisis certainly did slow things up. The brands are trimming away the rest of the fat that surrounds their elite guys, like unnecessary team managers and the bulk of their lower-grade surfing team. But we haven’t seen tennis or golf start to diminish as far as sponsorship dollars go so hopefully it stays the same for surfing.

Young Simon turns the screw on the single fin. (Channon)
Surfing World