Simon Anderson: Three Fins Before The Thruster

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
Design Outline

They're a funny lot, vintage surfboard collectors. Forever looking backwards at the artefacts left by shapers, treasuring them as museum pieces, and putting more store in the past than the future.

I can say this with confidence 'cos I'm one of them. So when a board recently appeared on the Vintage Surfboard Collectors page I, along with many others, thrilled in its appearance. We marvelled as if it was a missing link in a story we thought was complete.

The board, a Bonzer, was shaped by Simon Anderson in approximately 1974. The buzz, of course, is that Bonzers have three fins and seven years after shaping this number, Simon shook the surfing world with his own three-finned board - the Thruster.

Much speculation ensued: Was this a proto-Thruster? Did it influence what came later? And while the conjecture was exciting the only path to the truth was via the touch screen. I called Simon at his factory where he set the record straight.

Swellnet: First of all, Simon, do you recall shaping the board in question?
Simon Anderson: No.

Rightio. Well did you shape many Bonzers?
I'm sure I did a couple, but again, I can't really remember. My memories of that time was that the Campbell Brothers brought out the Bonzer and there was some excitement in the surfing community. There was a guy at North Narrabeen, Sharky. He had a Mike Eaton Bonzer, and he surfed that forever, and he loved it too. So I probably had a wave on his board and it must've been good enough for me to want to shape one.

My take on the Bonzers was that there's a bit too much fin in there, and really, surfing just moved on. Obviously, the Campbell Brothers kept doing them.

A common description is that Bonzers are like a turbocharged single fin, and that they hold better. You're a bigger guy, so theoretically they may have suited you. Do you feel you could've explored the design a bit more?
What year was the board shaped?

'74 I think.
At that stage, I probably wasn't skilled enough as a shaper to take on that sort of complex design and contribute to its development.

In fact, I may as well have discarded it as not the way I wanted to go.

Fifty-years old and in immaculate condition, only the lightest restoration for upkeep, the unlikely Bonzer is now owned by Rod Brown (Rod Brown)

Do you recall what developments you were working on during that mid to late-'70s period?
Mainly developing my shaping skills and being able to put ideas into action. My own personal development programme was the key. I'd have a look in Surfing World and see what I thought was good and then adapt those ideas to my own shaping.

So was I designing anything new..? Not really. I was just taking other people's work and doing my own interpretation of it. I think, generally, that's what most board makers do. Obviously, the Bonzer was a new development.

Assuming that board was shaped in 1974, how long had you been shaping when you made it?
I started shaping in '71.

So still early in the process?
Yeah. And back then we had big giant planers and blanks were fully shaped, so a real high skill level was required. You needed to have a vision of what you wanted to make, and then make that from the blanks that we had back in the day.

Also, the Bonzer includes intricate bottom contours, meaning there's extra work and understanding.
Yeah. Looking now, I can see why that board didn't work that well. I get it. The fins are too clogged up - there's just too much fin.

Before the Energy panel sprays, before the no nose concept, before the flyer rounded-squares, but both ideas share the number of fins (Rod Brown)

OK, now let's jump ahead to late 1980, early 1981, and your great breakthrough with the Thruster. You gave generous recognition to the people who inspired you, yet I don't recall any mention of Bonzers. Were Bonzers irrelevant to your development of the Thruster?
Yeah. The Bonzer had its day, particularly in Australia. People had moved on, there'd even been tri-fin boards: single fins with the little trailer fins on the rail. I don't know when they fit into the timeline.

I've seen photos of Col Smith, Narrabeen Col Smith, with a three-finned board, a single fin with the two trailers all set in a line. They weren't triangulated. They sat in a line. Early-70s I'd say.
Yeah, that was the tri-fin design at that point. That design, like the Bonzer had had its day and we all moved on.

So during that late-1980 period of development, Bonzers didn't cross your mind when you triangulated the fins for the Thruster?
No. Like, I was happy with single fins but the tour was going to more and more small wave venues around the globe, so I had to surf with twin fins. I didn't like twin fins, they were too loose for me. I didn't mind them in one to two foot surf, but three to four foot is another question though - too loose.

Even then, I wasn't good enough to make a good twin fin for myself, so I just had this gap - waves between two to four feet - that I needed to fill. The twin fin was too loose and the single fin was too stiff and slow.

So that was my thought process before the Thruster. I saw my mate Frank Williams surfing one afternoon, and he had a twin fin board with normal-sized twin-fins, but it had this half-moon keel fin-type thing at the back. I later found out that he had a full single fin there but the board was too stiff, so he sanded that single fin down until the twin fin wasn't too stiff. He ended up with an inch deep, half-moon fin.

So I asked him what that thing at the back did and he said it helped make the twin fin more stable, and that's when I had the epiphany. I wasn't thinking about the Bonzers or tri-fins or anything. Just this problem area that I had on the tour.

At left, Kelly Slater 1996, winning Jeffreys Bay on a 6'3" Bonzer-inspired Thruster shaped by Simon. There's irony in Slater winning on a Bonzer/Thruster fusion as the person he beat in the final, Taylor Knox, was a sometime-devotee of the traditional Bonzer (Callahan). At right, Slater riding the same board during a trip to Isla Natividad later in '96 (Hank)

When we think of three fins now it's through the prism of the Thruster. Bonzers might have three fins but they fall more into the single fin category. Would you agree with that statement?
Well, they are a three fin board because they got three fins.

They certainly do...
But the dominant fin was the single fin. So yeah, despite having three fins they designed them like a single fin.

In the conversation that was on Facebook, there was a lot of people saying, "I wish Simon would build one of these Bonzers." Would you ever do that?
In a way I already have. I've done Thrusters that have a similar bottom contour to a Bonzer. They had a shallow double concave, and I called them the Clampett series. So I had a name for it.

They had a forward a Maurice Cole EEV, but it flowed out through a Bonzer-inspired concave, a double concave. It was a fairly shallow double concave, not as a deep as the Bonzer but the curves were similar. So I guess I've done that already. I made one for Kelly Slater* when he won J'Bay in '96 and Adam Robertson had one that he loved.

So rather than a mere reproduction of an old design, you created a modern incarnation of it?
Yeah, I don't feel the need to rake over that design. The Bonzer works, there's nothing wrong with it, it was a step forward in surfboard design development. It's got its place in history.


*In 2005, Kelly won J'Bay, plus four other contests, riding another Simon shape, the later one dubbed 'Brown Beauty' due to its age and complexion - it'd been creased three times.


Reform's picture
Reform's picture
Reform Friday, 23 Feb 2024 at 12:42pm

Thank god for evolution in surfboard design. The Bonzer of the day setup never did inspire me! As Simon says "All clogged up with fin" Hmm...The double concaves however between the fins is creative and inspiring, worthy of discussion. Thanks to the Campbell Bros for having a go, they must have produced a few as I remember those Bonzers popping up every now and again on the NB. Cheers

I focus's picture
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I focus Friday, 23 Feb 2024 at 1:06pm

In the early 80's NW of WA stepped off a single fin onto a thruster a bloke from NSW sold to me mates said watching my surfing improved 300%.

Thanks Simon.

basesix's picture
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basesix Friday, 23 Feb 2024 at 2:38pm

"Swellnet: First of all, Simon, do you recall shaping the board in question?
Simon Anderson: No.
Swellnet: Rightio."

glad it didn't stop there!

Is giving straight-edge grip to contours (in fin form) a precursor to the channel? Did Mike Davis see anything like this in Kiama?
( 'the persistent history of channels' - best work-in-progress shaping-history article on the internet. )

stunet's picture
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stunet Friday, 23 Feb 2024 at 3:58pm

Good question, Basesix...and thanks for the kudos too.

simba's picture
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simba Friday, 23 Feb 2024 at 3:17pm

Thats one ugly looking board above.....sorry simon

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BarbB Friday, 23 Feb 2024 at 4:11pm

I bought & read Simon's glossy bio book years ago (and lent it to someone who disappeared with it). I recall his Thruster had four influences, including the Frank Williams rake fin, MR's twin fin and McCoy's No Nose (later extreme called Lazor Zap). By the shape of the original Thruster, it appears the McCoy was the salient innovative influence. Just prior, Simon himself was shaping & riding similar "no-nose" single fins, with more volume & thickness towards the back of the board. Since Cheyne Horan looked faster & looser than everyone else at Burleigh 1982, obviously it was the area & volume in the tail plus the three fins that differentiated the Thruster from the Bonzer. The Bonzer looks more like a George Greenough spoon. Check out the cut back at 0:53 in this video from Bells 1981; how the speed increases. It is so sick. In fact, Simon won the final in a 3:2 decision, even though Cheyne rode one wave less. While the Thruster reigned supreme on the big day, in the small wave final, Cheyne's surfing was light years ahead of Simon's. Sick pic at Big Bells 1981, with so much board out of the water.


BarbB's picture
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BarbB Friday, 23 Feb 2024 at 4:24pm

memlasurf's picture
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memlasurf Monday, 26 Feb 2024 at 1:25pm

Yep Shane looked on fire even quicker the MR.

Clam's picture
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Clam Friday, 23 Feb 2024 at 6:43pm

Looking at the picture I could imagine reducing the fin area about 40-50% , foil the bonzers a bit and it might just go a lot better...

lostdoggy's picture
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lostdoggy Friday, 23 Feb 2024 at 6:54pm

You'd also completely redraw the tail end and make it a rounded pin or diamond, then reduce the centre fin size and move it a bit forward.

Good interview, Stu.

Clam's picture
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Clam Saturday, 24 Feb 2024 at 10:59am

Yep moved forward , its clearly too far back!
The bonzers look abit towed in...

Reform's picture
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Reform Saturday, 24 Feb 2024 at 11:37am

Hey Barb,
Some Cheyne bias showing through there... However, speculation tells me if Cheyne had ridden one of Simons thrusters (with its logical plan shape) unlike the McCoy slab (with its illogical plan shape) pod hopping craft, he may have improved his performance somewhat instead of (as observed in the footage you provided) bogging in the bulk of all that foam and protruding rail towards the lower half of the board, equally as erroneous as the original experimental bonzer systems. IMO..Cheers

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BarbB Saturday, 24 Feb 2024 at 6:01pm

Well MR is ripping in the Bells 1981 video and Cheyne won that heat over MR therefore Cheyne must have been doing something right; just as Cheyne continued to win for the next two years after the Thruster intro. I recall Cheyne saying about the Thruster in a mag: "You can't lay them up" (in a bottom turn). Recently a video was posted of Tom Carroll's maiden tour win at Sunset at the end of 1982. Tom was riding a single fin, even though the Thruster was around for 18 months. In fact, I recall Tom using single fins at Pipe even later than 1982 and of course Joey Buran won Pipe 1984 on a single fin. Regardless of these realities, Simon said, as I posted, the McCoy was one of the four influences on the development of his Thruster.

From 4:30 in this video there is nothing wrong with Cheyne's board with superior speed. One more wave and he would have won the final over Simon's points-for-maneuvers cutbacks. In today's two scoring wave performance criteria, it would have been no contest.

Reform's picture
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Reform Saturday, 24 Feb 2024 at 11:31pm

Great footage of that Bells final between Simon and Cheyne! Haha! Loved how Simon shared the champers around!
Barb, yeah sure it’s interesting that McCoy’s shapes inspired Simons designs. In which aspect though?
And for what it’s worth… to allude that Cheyne would have won if he got another wave, I estimate this as bias because Simons display of surfing was just pure class! Lovely lines, acute and measured response to the waves energy and opportunities with athleticism and style.
In my opinion, although a brilliant technical surfer, Cheyne was lacking the maturity.

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udo Saturday, 24 Feb 2024 at 11:38am
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velocityjohnno Saturday, 24 Feb 2024 at 2:24pm

Well we have both in the quiver, an early thruster and the Zap, and if you want crazy extreme whippy turns that can be placed anywhere steep and demand you are at your peak performance it's the Zap, and if you want an all round board that will take any drop, hold in, perform and be very stable, it's the early thruster with it's 3/8" thick side fins and 1/2" thick rear fin. Our thruster also has the neat flyers, and surprisingly is edged rails all the way up - another plus. Simon nailed it. Interestingly, I actually prefer this board to almost any thruster since, though I like the AB 6 channels.

I'm not a legend on the Zap, have to work at it, my young fella surfs it better than I do, it likes a hollow wave though the roundness in the rails will bog out on soft shoulders; it is capable of crazy off the tops if you time it just right, it will hold you going in and drop you into the most critical part of the wave so you better be ready, you gotta be up to it.

We also have a bonzer now, I'll let a mate come in for more comments on those but I'd rate them as having the single feel, which I like, but more responsive, so a bridge between the two, with a little lag on takeoff as the fins bite in.

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memlasurf Monday, 26 Feb 2024 at 1:46pm

Stu well done with the conversation with Simon he takes a while to warm up when he does great character. Very dry sense of humour