Anderson grew up in Collaroy, Sydney, the second oldest of four brothers. All four were surfers and strong swimmers, and competed in Surf Life Saving competitions. The family moved to North Narrabeen when Simon was 16.
Anderson's surfing skill stood out from his brothers, and in 1972 he was a surprise winner of the junior division at the Bells Beach Classic Easter competition. In that year he also started shaping, with Shane Stedman in the Sydney suburb (and surf-factory hotbed) of Brookvale near his home.
(When) Simon was recruited by Shane Surfboards he was given the job of shaping "pop-outs," as they were called. That basically meant that after the foam blank came out of the mold the outer skin had to be taken off and then the board was glassed. They were a mass produced 'affordable' surfboard, but Simon was able to gain a considerable amount of shaping experience in a short time. He now had two things going for him. Simon was a world class surfer and he shaped his own equipment.
The Shane factory at that time was the workplace of quite a few noted Australian shapers. Among them were Terry Fitzgerald (Hot Buttered), Butch Cooney, Ted Spencer (from the films "Evolution" and "Sea Of Joy") and Frank Latta. These shapers contributed to Simon learning his craft, but it would be another local shaper who would have a profound influence on Simon's career and the development of the Thruster.
In 1975 he started his own surfboard factory, Energy Surfboards, in Brookvale.
Simon was an incredible surfer with a smooth, but powerful style. A 'natural footer' (left foot forward), Simon was noted for having exceptional ability on his backhand, no doubt honed in the famous lefts of North Narrabeen. He was and is a true power surfer in the proud lineage of Nat Young, Peter Drouyn, Keith Paull, John Otten, David Humphrey Treloar (the latter are two of Simon's favorites) and the other Australian great's that influenced the time. Anderson's surfing style was powerful and graceful, reflecting his size (over six feet tall, the same as his brothers). His laid-back attitude to life seemed to limit his success in competition though. Still, he was a two-time Australian Junior Champion in 1971 and 1972, and on the World Professional Tour he finished 3rd in 1977 and 6th in both ‘80 and ‘81. Simon has double wins at both Bells and the Coke events, along with a Pipeline Masters victory.
In 1977 he had a burst of professional competitive success, winning first the Bells Beach Classic competition, then the Coke Surfabout in Sydney. Those wins, on single-fin boards, put him into the top 10 on the world championship tour and gave him a chance of taking that title, until the twin-fin intervened. Mark Richards had created a twin-fin design which greatly helped sharp turns on steep waves, by always having one fin deep in the wave. The twin-fin was capable of performing in the poor wave conditions and locations that the WCT events were often held in at that time. Within months surfers on this design were winning all competitions, but it was badly unsuited to Anderson's size and style. He simply overpowered the twin fin and didn't like the idea of having to 'nurse' the board through turns, and he wasn't going to compromise his surfing to adapt to the design.
In October '80, Simon crossed paths with Frank Williams. Frank, a journeyman shaper, had worked with Geoff McCoy, Barry Bennett and other notable Sydney board makers. Simon ran into Frank as he was coming out of the water at Narrabeen with a board that was essentially a twin fin with a strange little 'half moon' shaped fin on the tail. Simon asked him what the 3rd fin was for, and Frank told him, "It helps make it more stable." Simon's instant response was, "I'm going to make it real stable!" In that moment the Thruster was conceived in Simon's mind. Being a shaper, he built his idea right away.
This wasn't the first time three fins had been used on a board, Anderson was aware of the Campbell Brothers Bonzer from December, 1970 and the Tri-fin by Bob McTavish from 1971 The Tri-fin design was essentially a single fin with two small outer fins. The Bonzer had a triangular fin set up with two 'keel' shaped fins with long bases, along with a large center fin But the Thruster was the first with equal size fins. The idea was to have the maneuverability of a twin-fin, but the stability and drive of a single-fin, in particular enough stability to prevent the tail drift found on twin-fins in big waves.
The original Thruster had fins made from single fin 'lay-ups' (layers of fiberglass), which were thicker than what is used on today's multi-fin boards. Simon knew enough about board design to figure that the fins could be smaller as there were more of them. However, the back fin started off slightly bigger than the forward fins, but since that caused the rear fin to hang over the tail, sander Steve Zoeller ground it down at Simon's request so that Simon wouldn't get cut should his foot slip over the tail block. Consequently, all three fins ended up roughly the same size.
Simon noticed some drag due to the thicker fins and corrected that on the 2nd one he made by using thinner fins, at the same time increasing the tail width, also to compensate for the drag. He states he found using the thinner fins alone eliminated the drag issue, but that initially the Thruster was labeled inaccurately as needing a very wide tail to work. That misconception disappeared fairly quickly once a lot of them started being made by shapers all over the world.
Another 'North Narra' surfer named Bill McCausland, who later became one of the founders of Gorilla Grip and FCS, told Simon he should name this new design. Simon explained how the name Thruster came about: "Three fins had been done before. There'd been tri-fins (and) Bonzer's. So just to name it a tri-fin or three fin, people wouldn't know what it was. So "Thruster" is because the water gets pushed through the fins in the turn. The single fin (just) holds that speed through a turn. Whereas with the twin fins, obviously the speed was quickly released and you'd just zip along. But the third fin was controlling it, controlling that thrust through the turn."
He took that first Thruster to Hawaii for that 1980/81 winter on the North Shore, then on to California where he signed on to be sponsored by Gary McNabb at Nectar. McNabb wanted an Australian surfer because they were making a big splash in the world of surfing at the time.
The Thruster was met with skepticism initially, thought perhaps merely a gimmick, or only for Anderson's particular size and style. Back in Sydney in early 1981 Anderson made two more Thrusters at his own factory and using those he won the double of the Bells Beach Classic and the Coke Surfabout in Sydney, for a second time, then later the Pipe Masters at Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii.
Those victories silenced the critics and brought the thruster to everyone's attention. For the rest of 1981 competitions still had single-fins and twin-fins in use, but from 1984 onwards every world champion has used a thruster. Today practically every shortboard made uses the design, and some longboards do too (mainly smaller ones).
Anderson began to sell his new design with Energy Surfboards and it is thought that Philip Briggs from NSW Australia was the first to buy the design. All the thruster boards are now worth about $2500 as they are very rare
Anderson never sought to patent or trademark his design, so despite it becoming ubiquitous he never directly profited. He labeled boards from his factory as "The Original 3 Fin Thruster. Concept and Design by Simon Anderson." He said in later years that he "couldn't be bothered" exploiting the concept commercially. Though Nick Carroll remarks that perhaps his natural generosity meant it was simply not in his nature to deny it to others.
A small kind of homage to his gift to the world of surfing holds that every surfer with a thruster should give Anderson $1 as thanks. Derek Hynd did that circa 1993, $55 for the boards he owned. Lost Surfboards USA did it for every board they sold in 2003, which was about $5000. , Lost Surfboards press release December 2003 (including Derek Hynd)
Today Anderson lives with his wife and two sons in Newport Beach, Sydney, a few suburbs north of where he grew up. He still makes state-of-the-art surfboards at BASE on Australia's Gold Coast under his own name.