Lisa Andersen surfs like a man. And she isn’t the only female surfer to be compared to a man, but she’s the first case where the likeness is not only a compliment, it’s a crown. While the mainstream populace still clings to adorable visions of Gidget flirting with the fellas, the image of female surfers steadily declined from the mid ’60s as grace was replaced with power as the benchmark of good surfing. Interest in women’s surfing waned as girls were ridiculed for being too male, except where it counted — on a wave.
Lisa Andersen changed all that — and more. Combining natural sex appeal with supernatural talent, Andersen commanded attention both in and out of the water. Add four straight professional world titles, the respect of the entire surfing world and industry, plus the concentrated femininity of a single mom and you have an estrogen-powered Pied Piper. Soon, Andersen was leading young girls over the surfing precipice in lemming-like droves.
But instead of plunging to their deaths, these women soared toward a complete rebirth of women’s surfing.
Born in Ormond Beach, Florida, Andersen first hit the water at 13 — the only girl surfing in her entire hometown. Instead of being intimidated by the local guys, she emulated them, picking up an aggressive, polished style. Unfortunately, while Andersen’s peers were supportive, her parents were strongly opposed to her newfound passion, blaming the sport for her late nights, truancy, bad grades and other teen troubles. The conflict culminated when her father stepped on her board and broke the fins out. Rather than give up surfing, the stubborn 16-year-old abandoned her home for Huntington Beach, California, in hopes of being a world champion — at least, that’s what the note to her mom said.
“That was just a bullshit line I fed my mom,” Andersen later recalled. “I didn’t even know a world champion existed in the sport. But I wanted to make leaving home sound good — that I was doing it for a good reason. And then there was a small part of me that wanted to be the best.”
Clearly that part was larger than she expected. Roaming couches while surfing every day and supporting herself by waiting tables, she made a name for herself in the amateur ranks, taking home 35 National Scholastic Surfing Association trophies in eight months and winning the US Championships at Sebastian Inlet in 1987. She then turned pro, finishing 12th her first season and earning Rookie of the Year. Andersen also was involved in a tumultuous four-year relationship with respected shaping wizard and pro surfer, Dave Parmenter, who she admits taught her plenty about both freesurfing and competing. Despite her obvious raw talent and Parmenter’s direction, Andersen still lacked the concentration required to win contests. However, she moved steadily up the ranks. Though she began winning events as early as 1990, she was unable to maintain focus for a solid season and her results fluctuated wildly.
Focus would come with the birth of her daughter, Erica, who is credited by Andersen and those who know her as being “a distraction from all the distractions.” Renato Hickel, the ASP’s head judge, is the father, a relationship that would force him to stop judging women’s events entirely. Erica was born on August 1, 1993. A month later, Andersen made a final in Japan — a clear indicator of things to come.
Driven by her responsibility as a new mother, she tackled the tour full bore, earning her first world title in 1994, despite back pains that kept her from surfing two late-season events. A healthier Andersen returned in 1995 as she won another three contests and a second championship. In the course of those years, her relationship with Hickel crumbled, but her professional life only got better. Surfer magazine celebrated her second title by placing her on the cover of the April 1996 issue — only the second cover shot of a woman in the publication’s 40-year history. She would also nab a decisive third world title that year, and in 1997, she capped her dominant position with yet another victory — the first surfer to take four consecutive championships since Australian Mark Richards. Andersen wasn’t just the best female surfer in the world; she was one of the best professional surfers ever.
But Andersen’s influence and acclaim extends well beyond competitive accolades. In the early ’90s, Quiksilver, the surfing industry’s clothing giant, picked her up as a sponsored rider for its women’s division, Roxy. It got more than a surfer in the bargain. A brainstorming session with the designing department resulted in women’s boardshorts — shorter more feminine trunks that were also functional in the water. With the most marketable female surfer ever taking point, the ingenious idea exploded instantly. Other companies quickly followed suit and suddenly surfing had a women’s market that went past mere trunks into a full-speed fashion trend. By 1997, 15 percent of the surf market was generated by females, resulting in a series of other women’s companies and several publications, not to mention more girls in the water.
Andersen pulled out of the 1998 tour mid-season, citing her chronic back problems. The following year, she turned her attention to building a life with her daughter and mom in Ormond Beach, where she purchased a home and surfaced only for the occasional photo shoot. In late 1999, Andersen announced her return to the competitive arena, a promise she kept by winning the Billabong Pro in Anglet, France, and finishing the 2000 season ranked fourth after missing the final two events.