Paying His Dues

Like all surfboard shapers today, Matt Biolas is benefiting from the wisdom of those who preceded him. For nearly a decade, Biolas merely got by with his board building under his San Clemente-based Mayhem label. But he was a partner in a little company called …Lost too, and as the success of …Lost clothing and video sales increased, it allowed him to expand especially with Computer Aided Design (CAD) systems that bring shaping to even higher levels.

Today, …Lost is one of the world’s leading board labels, and Biolas has become one of the most flamboyant, outspoken members of the shaping community by never shying away from sensitive subjects. Amazingly, he achieved all this success without ever claiming ownership of a new design. “It’s pretty easy to grab a planer and scrape by as a shaper, but to make any real money it’s almost a prerequisite to have some other business on the side that pays the bills.” Biolas says. “The sad part is most of us today our making our money off the backs of guys like Simon Anderson, who never got financially rewarded for their contributions. I think that’s one of surfing’s greatest wrongs.

Back in 1980, Simon Anderson, who’s a giant physical specimen, had problems keeping up with the young guns on tour, most of whom were riding Mark Richards’ remarkably loose twin fins. While the “twinny” was fast, it didn’t offer any stability for big, tail crushing blokes like Anderson. So he shaped himself a new board and stuck a larger trailing fin on the back to help solve his spin-out problem. The rest is history. After some successful test runs, which led to refinements of the hull, he came to the States and partnered with Gary McNabb of Nectar surfboards in an effort to bring the three-fin “Thruster” to market. “We brought it to the Florida trade show in late 1980,” remembers McNabb, “and basically got laughed out of the building. Nobody thought it would work. When we were walking out, Simon just looked at me and said, ‘Well, I guess I’m going to have to show them myself that it does.'” A few months later that’s exactly what he did. He won the Rip Curl Pro at Bells in the biggest and best conditions that the event has ever seen, then he backed it up later that year with his win at the Pipe Masters. “After that, there were no more questions.” Says McNabb.

Within months, M.R. and Cheyne Horan were the only pro surfers left on tour who weren’t riding Simon’s three-fin design. M.R. had a good excuse: he was still blazing on his twin-fin en route to his 4th consecutive world title. But Cheyne Horan is still widely criticized for failing to recognize the merits of the Thruster. He’s blamed for failing to capture a title despite numerous opportunities because of his stubborn allegiance to his flawed Lazor-Zap single-fins. The three-fin revolution was the last real one to sweep the shaping world, but Anderson only benefited from the sales of Nectar surfboards. Gary McNabb remembers the attempts they made to patent the design for Simon. “We copyrighted the word ‘Thruster,’ and he made some good money off those royalties alone from Nectar,” McNabb explains. “But then the patent office didn’t give away conceptual patents like they do now. The only kind we could get was one with exact measurements of fin cluster, fin size, toe-in angles, board width, etc. and since anyone else could come along and change one dynamic by a quarter-inch and get away with it, we passed. It just wasn’t worth it.”

Today, 21 years after the revolution, Simon has yet to receive a dime from other shapers who’ve benefited from his innovative design. While he’s not the only victim of this plight, he’s certainly the most notable. “Simon wasn’t the first guy to stick three fins on a board,” says Biolas. “But he went out and proved the basic bump-squash design as functional, and that’s essentially the same one we design today. There’s no debating the fact that his concept has lasted longer than any other in shaping history.” Last year Biolas came across an old interview of Simon in which he poked fun at his own financial misfortune regarding the Thruster.

Feeling a bit of guilt amid his gratitude, Biolas decided then and there to try remedying the problem. So earlier this year, he launched a campaign called “Thanx 4 3.” The premise is simply to reward Simon Anderson some of the finances he’s missed out on. Biolas is pledging one dollar of every 3-fin board he sells in the year 2003 to the big guy. But there’s more to it than that. “I’m also challenging other shapers to do the same,” says Biolas. “I figure it’s the least we can do to pay him back since more than 90 percent of my boards are three-fin.” A buck a board may not seem like much, but that’s exactly why Biolas thinks others will join him, and he’s quick to point out it adds up fast. “He could make $5,000 a year off …Lost alone. That’s a nice trip to Tavarua, at least. Imagine if a handful of other labels step up.” Of course, this whole idea could also open up an entirely new can of worms. “I think it’s a great thing Matt’s doing because nobody deserves it more than Simon,” says McNabb, “But some may argue that the twin-fin was a bigger departure from conventional wisdom than the Thruster, and its effect on performance was even greater. Trust me, Simon’s early Thrusters were refined M.R. twins, which were refined Steve Lis twins. So while we’re at it, why not throw some bones their way?” “Exactly,” says Biolas. “If this opens up a can of worms than it’s mission accomplished.”