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.