On the day Lisa Andersen ran away from home, the 16-year-old
Floridian packed her bags, bought a one-way plane ticket to
California and left a note under her pillow. "Dear Mom," she
wrote. "Someday, I'm going to be the No. 1 female surfer in the
This is an article from the Nov. 13, 1995 issue
A decade later Andersen has made good on her promise. Last year
she became the first women's world pro champ from the U.S. since
1988. With two events remaining in the Association of Surfing
Professionals World Tour season, the redoubtable runaway is
likely to run away with a second title. "Lisa's pretty, a mother
and the best female surfer on earth," says Mike Kingsbury, a
spokesman for the women's tour. "She's mom, waves and apple pie
rolled into one."
When told she's being hyped as a kind of surfing strudel,
Andersen, 26, smiles bashfully. Though she can carve her board
around in fading bottom turns, off-the-lips and big, arcing
cutbacks, this 5'7", 123-pound surfer is more solid than flashy.
"No other woman has the rhythm to link maneuvers in such a
sophisticated way," says her former mentor, Ian Cairns. "It's
always baffled me that Lisa doesn't win every event. Sometimes I
think she's afraid of who she can be."
For much of Lisa's youth, her mother and father were locked in a
tense, uncommunicative marriage that ended in divorce in 1985.
To escape the tension, the teenage Lisa would hunker down in
surf shops in her hometown of Ormond Beach, Fla., near Daytona.
Her mother, Lorraine, didn't understand. "I thought surfing was
all drinking and drugging," she says. "I was hoping she'd be a
In the gentle breakers off Florida's east coast, Lisa surfed
against boys because the girls couldn't match her aggressive
style. Soon the sledgehammer waves of California beckoned. So
one night while Lorraine was out of town on business, Lisa
gathered all the money she had made busing tables at a pancake
house and hailed a taxi. "To the airport," she said. There were
no planes until morning, so she slept on the terminal floor. "I
was totally paranoid," she says. "I was sure everyone knew I was
She settled with a friend who lived in the surfing mecca of
Huntington Beach, Calif. In a borrowed wet suit four sizes too
big, Lisa would surf in the mornings on the north side of the
pier. Four months after her arrival she entered her first event,
sponsored by the National Scholastic Surfing Association. She
won it and just about every subsequent competition she entered.
In one eight-month stretch she won 35 trophies--"all identical,"
For nearly a year, Lorraine did not know where Lisa was. Then a
jaywalking citation from Huntington Beach arrived in Lorraine's
mailbox. Pressed for an address by a cop, Lisa had blurted out
Lorraine's. Mom remembered Lisa's friend, looked up his number
and rang it. "Is Lisa Andersen there?" she asked.
"Just a minute," he said. Then: "Oh, there's no Lisa Andersen
"Tell Lisa it's her mother. Tell her all is forgiven, and if she
wants to talk, to call collect."
Soon the two reconciled, and in the years since, they have
become very close.
Andersen joined the pro tour in 1987 and began to crest in '89,
cracking the top eight. The next year she won her first tour
event, in Australia at the Bundaberg Rum Surf Masters in
Burleigh Heads, New South Wales. In '92 she climbed to fourth in
the rankings and met her future husband, Renato Hickel, a judge
on the men's tour. She cut him off while riding a wave in South
Africa. "I didn't plan it," she says. "It just sort of happened."
In 1993 Andersen competed into the sixth month of her pregnancy
and returned to the tour two weeks after the birth of daughter
Erica. "Having a baby focused me," says the tour's first mother.
"I felt more responsible." She notched three wins and three
seconds in the first eight events of '94. But back pain undid
her at a tournament in Rio de Janeiro, where she had to be
hauled off the beach in an ambulance. Two herniated disks kept
her in traction for much of the next two months.
Andersen didn't surf again until days before the tour's finale,
in Australia. She needed a victory in her opening heat to clinch
the crown. A victory is what she got. "People compliment Lisa by
telling her she surfs like a man," says Cairns, who thinks
that's an understatement. "The truth is, most men aren't as good
as she is."