THE surfing world has all but run out of superlatives to describe the extraordinary cat-like grace and speed of one of the world's most famous "free surfers", Craig Anderson, who calls Newcastle home whenever he is not roaming the planet with photographers in tow to capture an athlete whose movements can truly be called poetry in motion.
Google "Craig Anderson surfer" and you'll find yourself with 1.25 million things to look at. Australian sightings of "Ando" are relatively rare, although COVID has kept the 32-year-old at home at Merewether for longer than is usually the case.
One Saturday afternoon last month, he and his Merewether mate Ryan Callinan were out in solid overhead lefts at Nobbys Wedge, making the impossible look routine, which is, of course, what sets apart the best at any sporting or artistic pursuit from the rest of us!
THE STORY SO FAR:
- Ten point rides: Newcastle's best surfers across the decades
- 'Girls can't surf?' Yes they can. And how
- Boardriding brilliance on the bus from Wallsend: Kelly Bashford
- Longer hair, shorter boards: Peter Cornish
- 'Radical Roger' Clements, with rare 1968 video footage
- Opposite ends: Smooth Belinda Baggs and the frantic Sabre Norris
Both he and Ryan are part of the "aerial generation", where the wave is not only ridden, it's used as a launching pad to get board and rider way up into the air, and to land again. That's the trickiest part of such already high-stakes manoeuvres.
Selecting the Hunter's best surfers led to a debate about how to rank such a freakishly gifted surfer as Anderson, against hardcore competition pros.
His World Surf League biography lists only an unflattering equal last in the 2010 Gold Coast Pro and a ranking of #804 on the second-string World Qualifying Series in 2011.
But this is also a man who, at 32, lived his 20s under a spotlight as "arguably the most influential free surfer of all time".
Anderson and his family moved here from South Africa in 2003, when he was already making a surfing name for himself.
"I love living in Newcastle," Anderson said this week.
"Not that competitive surfing is my thing, but I believe living in Newcastle for my formative surfing years, surfing at Merewether, and competing with the local calibre of talent, definitely got me to where my surfing is today.
"It's exciting to see an event here and I'm really looking forward to watching my sister (Philippa), Ryan, Morgan and Jackson compete.
"The Merewether to Bar Beach stretch can be pretty tricky to surf, so I think the locals are going to have an advantage. And it's really cool for the local up-and-coming surfers to get involved and watch the world's best surfing at their home break."
Anderson has worked for years with innovative Sydney shaper/manufacturer Hayden Cox, refining the magic sticks under Ando's feet, most notably a design called the Hypto Crypto.
It's a Hypto Crypto that Anderson is riding in the accompanying picture from a famed session at Kandui in the Mentawi Islands of Indonesia in 2016.
Anderson told Stab magazine he'd been at G-Land in Java for Newcastle legend Peter McCabe's 60th birthday when that swell hit. Footage shot from boats in the channel ricocheted around the world.
"I don't really like big waves," Anderson told Stab.
"I feel like I'm a bipolar big wave surfer.
"I think it's a good idea and I want to challenge myself, then when there's a 10-footer looking at me I'm like, 'What am I doing this for?'
"But then you pop out the end of the wave, cop a beating, get a crazy hit of adrenaline . . . and it feels pretty insane."
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