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 world."
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 veterinarian."
In the gentle breakers off Florida's cast 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 running away."
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," she recalls.
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 here."
"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.