Chas Smith’s lint-free biopic tells the story of the delinquent Florida that became California on the run, becoming a 4-time world champion.
There was a time when Lisa Andersen was the sexiest surfer in the world.
Keep in mind that this was a time when being sexy was not considered a bad thing – not long after the Women’s Lib and the sexual revolution became uncomfortable bedfellows, but long before cyber spies and the #MeToo movement made everyone aware.
It was a time when a middle-class girl from rural Virginia could have a dream, make every possible mistake along the way and become a world champion and, later, a world icon – always in balance between sport, fashion and folk art in a patriarchal culture without excuse who would not listen to any of this.
Moving to the next logical step in his evolution as a master storyteller, Chas Smith, the world’s most popular surf journalist today, created his first documentary film, Trouble: The Lisa Andersen Story, at the quarterly screenings of the Florida Surf Film Festival in New Smyrna Beach and Jacksonville last week. That’s exactly where Lisa caught the virus, once her family moved to Ormond Beach, between NSB and Jax. From the beginning, Lisa’s alcoholic father and severe mother were fiercely opposed to her new passion. They assumed that all surfers were lazy surfers – and they were right. After all, it was Florida in the early 1980s. But under the pungent clouds of a pot, a breath of innocence spread through the air. It was a time when you could bask in the freedom of imagination, earn the respect of rebellious individualism, and have a lot of fun, for God’s sake. A time when a tomboy could become a sexual symbol simply by falling off a towel or breaking a layback.
As she grew up, Lisa smoked a lot of grass, drank a lot of beer, and very early earned the nickname “Trouble”, which seemed to follow her like a shadow. Problems at home, at school, in justice, with men…. Lisa was, literally, a delinquent. A misadventure caused her to be locked up in a reformatory before she was placed under house arrest. And that’s when she took her big step: Florida bail. Go pro. Manifest fate. She was 16 years old. “I wrote a note to my mother,” she recalls in the film, “and he said, “Someday I’ll be number one.”
She lived in a frightening misery, associated with all those who put a roof over her head or a burrito in her stomach, wrote letter after letter without response to surf companies looking for sponsors, borrowed equipment and suffered sexist reprisals on all fronts.
Then she was raped.
Old camcorder videos can’t reveal much. And although Lisa expresses herself in a few interviews for Trouble, this one is not one of them. Barely a tear is shed for the man named “Ray” and Lisa’s account of the attack is rather impassive, and incredibly brave. The director then applies a disturbing animation to depict his daring escape.
To counterbalance this powerful testimony, Trouble immediately accelerated the pace, echoing Lisa’s meteoric rise to star status. She became a professional after only one year of amateur competition – first under the harsh tutelage of Craig Comen, then under the intellectual and misanthropic spell of her first great love, Dave Parmenter, who gave her a stable and healthy family life while transforming her natural talent into a competitive weapon; and finally, under the irresistible charm of Renato Hickel, Chief Judge at the ASP who set fire to a half secret and totally scandalous romance. But once her ultimate goal was achieved, Lisa became pregnant and, for the first time, resisted her instincts. “I was running away from so many things in my life,” she explains, “I wasn’t going to run away from that.”
Her daughter, Erica, was born on August 1, 1993. Lisa was back in competition two weeks later. She kept her seed and won the world title the following year and the next three years too with her little one in a trailer. In addition to all the psychological trauma she has suffered, considering the few athletes who return to their optimal shape after such a stressful and often permanent anatomical change – and the few CT surfers who have had children during their careers – Lisa’s series was more than extraordinary. In fact, after returning from losing an arm in a shark attack, Lisa Andersen is probably the most heroic story of resilience in the history of women’s surfing.