• Liam Carroll

Zen and the Art of... Surfboard Shaping

In Easter 1981, with the Rip Curl Pro serving up flawless 15foot Bells Beach walls of thunder, Simon Anderson was in the carpark, waxing up the secret weapon he’d crafted himself, poised to show the crowd on the sand, headland, and the entire wave-riding world beyond, precisely what the future of surfing looked like…and it looked divine. The thruster was born. Three fins to provide grace, control, speed and flair, the way no one had ever known before.

Simon with his magic thruster that started it all

Now, with the vagaries of Covid and the agile legwork of the NSW Government, the longest-running professional surfing event on Earth has been shifted from the rugged Victorian fringe of Bass Strait to the beach break treasure chest of Simon’s local, North Narrabeen, the fabled New South Wales patch of Tasman Sea where Simon rode his first ever wave with three fins beneath him. We felt this was as good a time as any to relive what went into the thruster’s creation.

“I was simply looking for a transition board, something to help adjust quickly between a single fin and a twin fin. Those boards feel so different, making it very tricky in a contest to jump from one to the other as the conditions demanded.” Simon’s feeling was, if he had a 3-finned transition board, it wouldn’t have the drive of the single fin or the manoeuvrability of a twin, but he’d be able to catch a couple of waves between heats and transition far more effectively between the staples of single and twin fins and perform at his best the moment he paddled out for his heat. “Well, that was the theory. But that first surf on three fins, I knew instantly I wasn’t going to be riding anything else. I can’t remember the first wave too well, more the first surf in general. 3-5foot Alley rights, connecting turns, keeping speed between turns. With a single fin, you tend to lose speed between turns, in smaller surf at least, but all of a sudden, I was not only maintaining speed, but even accelerating through turns, allowing connection between turns that I’d never felt before.”

While the unleashing of the thruster at pumping Bells Beach is what captured global headlines and became etched into surfing folklore, Simon’s first actual competitive unveiling of his design was months earlier, in January, at the Burleigh Heads Stubbies event. “It was one foot. Maurice Cole knocked me out first heat. No one at all was interested in my new design. No one.” Putting on a Bells masterclass soon after was obviously met with a slightly different degree of interest.

In the 40years since the iconic event, Simon’s commitment to surfboard shaping has never wavered, crafting magic boards for Kelly Slater, Andy Irons and everyday surfers alike. “It’s certainly a legacy, the three fin thing. I guess I get treated with perhaps more respect than I deserve. But to me, I’m still just a board maker, interested in every aspect of the surfboard design and manufacture and ultimately, it’s all about how that board feels in the water.”

Thank you, Simon Anderson, you truly are Northern Beaches Royalty to every surfer.


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