Whether it’s Kelly Slater’s experiments with shorter, flatter sticks or Dane Reynolds sawing off the tail of his board and still ripping, today we are obsessed with what’s now and what’s next. Cutting-edge board designs, approaches to improving performance, and the incorporation of the latest ideas into contest surfing feel uniquely 2011. But the truth is that the biggest thing to happen to board design, performance, and progressive contest surfing occurred 30 years ago. The addition of a third fin and the birth of the thruster reshaped the surfing world, and although 30 years of tweaking have left us with a much more evolved descendent, the core concept that Simon Anderson brought us is still the craft of choice for the best surfers in the world.
When Anderson first introduced the tri-fin concept to the masses in 1981, he was met with some resistance. On the state-of-the-art twin-fins popular at the time, Anderson’s large frame and powerful style created problems that smaller surfers simply didn’t have. The twin-fins that Mark Richards was winning world titles on lacked the ability to hold edge under his powerful feet. But Anderson didn’t believe that his design was merely a solution for bigger surfers. He believed that the thruster would be the future of riding waves. Anderson asserted that the trailing fin would act as the perfect rudder for projecting through turns with speed and power. His walk caught up with his talk when he won three events on his new tri-fin design in the 1981 season, including the Pipeline Masters, where driving turns kept him securely under the lip and miles ahead of his competition. The jury was in and the thruster would become the new standard for high-performance surfboards in just a few short years.
Although Anderson had already reached his competitive peak and left the pro circuit after the 1983 season, his contribution to the sport acted as a catalyst that we continue to feel the effects of today. The thruster was a gift from Anderson to the surfing world, but he never really reaped the rewards of his innovation. Anderson never even patented his design, possibly missing out on a fortune in licensing fees. In the end Simon Anderson (intentionally or otherwise) gave something selflessly to the surfing world.
What is happening in surfboard design today is an extension of what Anderson started in 1981. The advent of the tri-fin inspired shapers to experiment with four and five-fin designs. But amid all the experimentation, a look at what the majority of surfers ride today speaks to the longevity of Anderson’s contribution. Three fins have been the fastest route to the lip for the last 30 years, and are still holding their edge.
Check out the 2011 Surfboard Buyer’s Guide here.
To view last year’s Shaper Hall of Fame, click here.