Before Lisa Andersen the only girls on the beach were the thong-sporting, surfer boy-stalking kind. But she soon changed that, ripping it up in the water, winning four straight world titles before injury intervened and blazing a trail for this whole new generation of women surfers. We caught up with her at last week's Roxy Pro
Interview by Sam Haddad, photos by Roxy
What was it like to be a surfer in the 90s?
It wasn’t as glamorous as it is now. I guess you could say it was really hard to gain respect from the males as they were like your heroes and inspiration but it was so important for me to get the respect from those guys, as women’s surfing didn’t have it. The girls obviously have it now so they’re not thinking that way. It was intense back in the 90s, I didn’t have a lot of friends I guess, but it’s different now the girls are so much fun.
When you were in the water back then you were often the only girl out. Did that ever make you not want to surf?
No I felt more comfortable being the only girl and just hanging with the guys. I felt more relaxed and they were nice, the boys always took me under their wing and took care of me. I was very lucky.
So it was easier for you than for some of the other girls?
Yeah but it’s give and take. You’ve got to take a lot of crap to fit in and for the guys to accept you, but some of the girls would be like “This guy’s a jerk!" but you know sometimes people are jerks, whatever, they’ll like you more if you accept them for that. Sometimes I took a lot of abuse from the surfers but it paid off as it just made me stronger and then you realise, “Oh yeah they’re not so bad, they’re just guys."
No all the guys were pretty much on the same programme but some of the girls were jealous at times. I felt like saying you could have this respect too it’s up to you, but girls are girls, stubborn and set in their ways. I had brothers and I had it rough at home so I was used to it. I was never the girlie girl but then a lot of the girls weren’t girlie girls back then. Now they are and that’s hilarious. I mean they’re carrying leather purses [handbags] rather than rucksacks down to the beach now, and wearing make up and tights. It’s great, it's fantastic.
How does the 15-year old scruffy tomboy surfer fit into that scene?
They probably think it’s cool. Things are so fashion forward these days and the girls make you feel comfortable in the skin that you’re in. They’re all different and they all hang out together. It’s competitive in the surf but it’s friendship on the beach. They’re dancing and singing and going shopping for shoes, it’s classic.
In the 90s did you have to wear guys’ wetsuits?
Yeah it was hard, I was wearing guys’ board shorts and t-shirts, I didn’t know how to dress. Maritxu [Darrigrand – Roxy Europe legend] used to always help me pick things out for the parties. I hated wearing dresses and I hated photo shoots.
How did Roxy first come about?
It happened on the North Shore, Hawaii, where Bob McKnight [co-founder of Quiksilver] saw these Hawaiian girl boogie boarders and surfers wearing guys’ shorts but rolled up around their waist with bikinis on and it looked kinda sexy. That’s where the idea came from – let’s make board shorts for girls. There was nothing like it at the time.
I’d just got sponsored by Quiksilver, wearing guys’ stuff, so it was perfect. I was like ok I’ll be the pin up model. They did an ad with Kelly [Slater] in a tube on one side and the other side me standing on the beach in these trunks and that’s how it went.
When girls started having their own product did you notice a lot more girl surfers in the water?
Absolutely, it was instant. Plus there were a couple of surf films at the time and surf camps. The young kids got into it and from that point on they’re in love.
And these are the really good girls we’re seeing on the ASP tour now?
Yeah the Roxy boomers, haha. Carissa Moore, Coco Ho… all these girls got in the water really young.
What do you think about the Surfing magazine article that said female pro surfers today are washed up by 21?
Steph Gilmore has four world titles at 23, and it’s like everyone’s forgotten about her. It’s mind boggling and crazy. She’s got another 20 years. [Steph went on to win the Roxy Pro two days later]
Do you think the ASP tour needs more world-class breaks so we can see the likes of Carissa Moore surf perfect waves?
Who wouldn’t want to see girls like that on perfect waves, as the surfing level would rise even more? But a comp is a comp, ask any of those girls and they want to win, it doesn’t matter where they’re surfing, if there’s a wave they’ll kill it. I’ve been to Fiji and it can be flat there too.
I think it would be interesting to see if someone could create that kind of quality surf in an arena, where people could just buy a ticket and come in and watch it. It sounds like a fantasy but it could totally happen.
Do you think surfing would lose something at such an event?
No because there is always the ocean, you could always have one or two events in pools for people who don’t get to see or ride waves normally, say if they live in the middle of the country. It could bring surfing to millions of people.
Lisa Andersen is a Roxy ambassador
And for even more insight into this surfing legend, check out this clip from backstage the Roxy Pro: