Board Builder’s Forum: An Exclusive Interview With Simon Anderson

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If you’ve ever pulled in to a barrel, come hard of the bottom, or smashed the lip on a thruster then you owe Simon Anderson a handshake, at the very least. Born in 1954, the Narrabeen, New South Whales board designer received his first surfboard at the tender age of thirteen. By 1971 the lanky 6’3″ 17-year-old won the juniors division in both the Australian National Titles and The Bells Beach Contest.

In October 1980, Anderson built a square-tailed board with three equal-sized fins, and called it the “Thruster”.In '81 Anderson used his new design to win at Bells, The Coca-Cola Surfabout, and The Pipeline Masters. Surf journalist Sam George later wrote: “With one startling innovation Simon reshaped the surfing style of an entire generation—and the next couple of generations to follow, for good measure.”

Transworld Business met with Anderson on the Gold Coast in late February to hear his take on the current state of the surf hardgoods market. Here’s what we learned.

How many years have you been shaping surfboards?
Since 1970.

How did you finance the business in the early days?
I was shaping and working for Shane Surfboards for 6 years and then used my saved money and some profits I had made from personal shaping to get myself started.

How long did it take for the business to become profitable?
There aren't many over heads as a small surfboard business so I became profitable straight away and it took about 1 or 2 years to make significant profit.

What years have been the best as far as revenue and growth? Why?
1981 and 1982 the years I invented the Thruster. 1996 was a successful year when a multiple world champ won on my boards and 2005 when the same multiple world titleholder won a bunch of WCT's on my boards.

Which have been your worst? Why?
The early 90's, a transitional time for me after the pro tour and it felt a bit like the rise and fall of the roman empire which was the end of the Energy label. At this stage I ended up finish shaping for another label. These years weren't bad by all means but as far as been a successful shaper the weren't my highlight years.

What changes in the market have made the most impact since you first began shaping?
Surfing has gained broader appeal to the market and is more influenced by the surfers rather then the shapers. It is hard to have success as a shaper if you aren't allied with a champion surfer, in the past shapers were more influential.

What was your initial reaction to Grubby closing? How did you cope? Did it affect you guys down in oz like it did here in the US?
I saw it as a bad thing in the short term for the US but a good thing in the long term as it opened up the market place to allow for experimentation with the end of the monopoly.

What tools, machines, materials and technology do you have access to now that you didn't before?
Computer pre-shapes, the technology that has emerged here is amazing. Also easy to use epoxies that once they can be worked into a situation that perform better than what we already have in the water may be a more viable option.

What does that technology allow you to do that you couldn't do already?
It allows me to increase my production levels to access greater market places while still allowing me to control the board's level of integrity and continue to maintain a high quality.

What's the most exciting board development you are working on right now?
Last year it was Quads but this year it is the High Performance single concave thruster for the elite surfer. I am also experimenting with Epoxy, I am riding them sometimes and working with the team and things are really looking promising and that's exciting, once again when we have a board that goes better than what we already have I will be more convinced.

What do you hope to see happen to surfboards in the next ten years?
If we see the same amount of change in the next 10 years as we have had in the last 10 years surfing is going to reach amazing levels. The top end surfing will keep progressing and filter back to surfers all over the world and surfboard design.

How long do you plan to continue shaping?
At least another decade.

What are your thoughts on the current state of surf hardgoods market?
I think it is at a really good point, we are currently at crossroads of all different materials, design ideas and these are now accepted by the marketplace. It will be interesting to see what designs and materials rise to the top after it all settles down.

How do you feel about boards coming in from China, Thailand and other places overseas?

I take a fatalistic view. We are now part of the global economy and a free market place. Consumers take it for what it is and if it is possible for China and the like to produce boards of the same standard and ultimately performance then good luck to them, but I can't see that happening in the near future.