Sociable first-generation pro surfer and tuberiding virtuoso from Queensland, Australia; Bells Beach winner in 1971, as well as that year’s Australian National Titles; long-time surf retail magnate. Neilsen was born (1951) and raised on Queensland’s Gold Coast, the son of the first full-time lifeguard in the resort area of Surfer’s Paradise. Neilsen’s debut surfing experience went badly. The 10-year-old, along with older brother Rick and a friend, team-paddled a 19-foot hollow wooden surf-ski into a shorebreak wave, pearled, and broke the board in two.
An aggressive regularfooter, Neilsen peaked as a competitor surfer in 1972 when he won the $5,000 first-place prize in the Smirnoff Pro in Hawaii, by far the richest purse in surfing history up to that point. “What’s your goal in the sport?” Neilsen was asked by Surfing magazine a few weeks later. “Dollar signs on a wave,” he replied. Neilsen was also a finalist in the 1972 Hang Ten Pro and the 1976 Rip Curl Bells. He appeared in a small number of surf movies, including Oceans (1972) and Fluid Drive (1974).
Brothers Neilsen Surfboards, founded by Paul and Rick, opened in Surfer’s Paradise in 1971, and was an instant success; by 2001 there were 27 Brothers Neilsen outlets in Australia, making it the country’s largest surf shop retailer. But by 2008 the company had shuttered its stores, an early victim of the surf industry economic turmoil of the late ’00s and early ’10s.
In 2004, Paul Neilsen was inducted into the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame