Three is the Magic Number

“I was fortunate to be involved through all levels of modern surfboard development in my time as a surfer growing up,” says shaper Simon Anderson. Many know him as the father of the tri-fin–the building block of the modern surfboard. However, the tri-fin’s only one brainchild in his 30 years of shaping ideas. You see, Simon Anderson has a love, a love of shaping and designing. Not just fins, fin placement, or foils–he’s about the surfer, surfing, and the surfboard as a whole.

 According to Anderson, he’s told the tri-fin story a million times. In 1980, Mark Richards was dominating professional surfing on his trademark twin-fin. A pro surfer with a larger-than-average body frame, Anderson was forced, like everyone else on tour, to adapt to a twin-fin to keep up, particularly in smaller surf. “I just found I was really struggling, not so much in the one-to-two-foot range, but once it got to three and four feet,” he theorizes. “Being a big bloke, the power situation, you couldn’t really surf the twin-fin in particular parts of the wave.”

 One day, while surfing his home break at Narrabeen, he saw his friend Frank Williams coming out of the water carrying a normal twin-fin shape with a little half-moon keel fin at the back. Only an inch high, the early trailer fin was about the width of a normal single fin. Anderson says he remembers thinking, “I’m having trouble with this twin-fin that’s not stable enough and here’s Frank with this little thing back there, saying it’s helping him make it stable. So I just thought, ‘I’m gonna put an entire fin back there.’”

 That was October of 1980. After playing with the surface area and fin placement of the fins–basically, making the idea work–he eventually used his creation to win the prestigious contest at Bells in 1981.

 The inventor downplays his invention. However, as time goes by, more and more people are recognizing the significance of his work. In recognition of Anderson’s achievement, this year Matt Biolas and Lost surfboards will donate one dollar from the sale of every tri-fin they produce to Anderson.

“I’m flattered those guys would recognize my contribution and maybe feel I haven’t been compensated enough for it,” says Anderson. “But it’s opened a lot of doors for me. I didn’t do it for financial gain, I did it in the spirit that all designers and shapers have done over the years and that’s to improve their own enjoyment in the surf–we’re driven to make better surfboards. That’s enough for me.”

  “If you lined up every important board advancement since 1980, you’d see massive change in the shape. Today’s designs are an interesting era. We’re actually just starting to find out what makes boards work, and we’re really fine-tuning the equipment. Surfers are so diverse in their ability, in physical makeup, in their mental approach. It’s a super challenging thing to make them the board that’s gonna most suit them. Boards are so sensitive–if you overcook it here or there, they don’t work. But if you get it just right, they’re just fabulous and they’ll suit you as an individual. Narrowing that down is a difficult assignment. We’re kind of getting to a stage where we can narrow it down more and more. The result is a lot more people having fun and surfing good.”

Label: Simon Anderson Surfboards

Home: Newport, Australia

Years Shaping: 32

Boards Shaped Per Year: 1,500