Surfer Stephanie Gilmore on Winning Her Fifth World Title


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At work. Photo: Quiksilver

This past July, 24-year-old Australian Stephanie Gilmore clinched her fifth world title when she won the Roxy Pro Biarritz, the penultimate ASP event of the year. The victory signaled a comeback. Gilmore won the world title every year from 2007 to 2010, but lost her crown in 2011. In December of 2010, she was the victim of a brutal attack outside her Coolangatta, New South Wales, apartment that left her with a cut on the back of her head and a broken wrist. She was out of the water for eight weeks, but it took her a bit longer to recover mentally and emotionally. Early in 2012, one brief moment inspired her to go after the world title with everything she had. We called her up to talk about that moment, and whether she thinks she can eclipse the all-time ASP title records held by Layne Beachley and Kelly Slater.

What was the difference between this year and last year?
It was a pretty big transition year for me. I had a lot going on. I got injured. I changed sponsorships. My heart wasn’t 100 percent in it. I think there were a lot of factors. Last year was the first year I didn’t win the title, and to actually experience that, and to experience not having the spotlight on me, as egotistical as that sounds, was pretty heartbreaking. So this year I came out and wanted to surf really strong, and have that confidence back. It took a little bit of time, but I feel like I just had a different frame of mind. I wanted it pretty badly.

You mentioned the injury from the attack in Coolangatta. Was there a mental element to recovering from that?
Yeah, I mean, physically the human body will heal as quick as it can if you’re doing everything right, but it was sort of the emotional journey that was the hardest. I think that even still, I mean, I’ll probably forever, at some level, have to try and get over the attack. I think that it’s part of the journey. It’s embracing it and moving on. But, yeah, I do think that last year there was a lot more of an emotional sort of torrent that I was trying to work my way through, and then compete at the same time. It was probably the biggest hurdle that I had to get over and it was probably why winning the world title back this year was just so much more rewarding than the first one.

Can you pinpoint any moment where things changed for you? A moment where you had a focus to come back and win?
Yeah, in January we had the ASP banquet, which is where they crown the world champions. Carissa Moore was being crowned world champ and I had to give her the trophy and say a few words. I’m getting up there and I really didn’t have anything planned. I kind of came out with some words that were sort of, I don’t know, I don’t like to be that confident or cocky in anything that I talk about, but I kind of put myself on stage and started saying stuff like, Congratulations, I’m just going to lend you this trophy for this year. I don’t know where it came from. As soon as I got off stage everyone was like, Whoa, I can’t believe you just said that. It was kind of heavy. I really feel like that was the moment that I clicked into a focus that I’d missed the entire last year. I feel that it kind of shone through in all of my success this year. Yeah, that was probably the defining moment, just handing the trophy back to Carissa and really wanting it back.

And putting that pressure on yourself?
Exactly. Putting the pressure on. As I was going to my seat, I was thinking, Wow, if I don’t win this year I’m going to look like an idiot. So yeah, it all worked out.

Gilmore with the trophy. Photo: Quiksilver

One thing I’ve heard you say is that the surfers on the women’s tour have gotten better over the last couple of years.
I think that the girls are really coming into our own, in the sense that we’re watching the boys closely, and picking and choosing who is surfing with their own style. We’re not afraid to be powerful, and feminine as well. I just feel like the pressure of trying to surf as good as the guys has been taken off. We’re learning from them, and actually growing with them, which is pretty cool. All of the girls really appreciate how far the sport has come and I think we just realize how much further it can go, especially just surfing with power and innovation, just bringing that progressive element into female surfing. I think we’re just excited to push things and impress the guys as well, because we think its awesome that they are following the women’s tour and seeing if we can surf some big waves and better waves, and surf with power and style. I don’t know. No one has perfected surfing and no one ever can. We’re all about learning. I think all the girls are inspired to have fun and see where it goes.

Aside from just going out and surfing, how else do you train?
I’m keeping limber through stretching, and some breathing. I’ve been doing a little bit more of Pilates stuff lately, just because I’ve been traveling a lot. Wherever I go I try and climb somewhere and get into it. But, yeah, I haven’t really stuck to a routine lately. It has just been surfing and enjoying it. And now the season’s over for us, and, as you can tell, I’m really relaxed about it.

How will your time change in the offseason?
I’ll still be traveling. I love traveling. I’ll be at the men’s events doing some different stuff. I really just want to get a lot of really cool footage from my travels, whether it be from surfing, or in a city, or different places that have nothing to do with surfing. But the beauty of what I do is that I have that flexibility where I can do what I want to do, and go off and just go somewhere. Wherever I want to go. So, the next few months is going to be doing some cool new film projects and going off and doing it.

How much of your time in a year is spent traveling?
I probably only spend, at home, three months of the year. The rest is on the road.

Stephanie Gilmore. Photo: Quiksilver

What do you travel with?
I travel with at least four boards. It depends where I’m going, but my board bag is full of everything from high heels to wetsuits to bikinis to running shoes. It’s a little bit of everything. As long as I have my passport and my iPod, I’m pretty much good to go—and surfboards. Maybe a little bit of makeup, and off we go.

Layne Beachley said she thinks you’re going to break her record of seven titles and come close to Kelly Slater’s record of 11. Are you looking to rack up a bunch of titles?
It’s not my be all, end all. It’s not something that I’ve written down somewhere in my house and I stare at every day to make sure I achieve it. I feel like, whatever I’m doing now seems to be working. And I think Kelly really sets the bar for everyone in the sense that he has everything so well balanced. He can still do a tour and be so peaceful because he just does what he loves to do. That, basically, is the recipe for success. I mean, if I keep going and winning I’m probably not going to stop. It sounds pretty crazy to win 11, 12 world titles—that’s pretty creepy. It’s getting harder and harder every year, so we’ll see what happens.

Well, you’re almost halfway to that number right now.
I know, it’s pretty crazy, actually. After I won four world titles, people were like, are you going to go after Layne’s record? I was like, Oh, that’s so far away. You know five, that’s only two more years and it’s possible to get to that. So mathematically it’s getting easier and easier, but at the same time it’s going to get harder and harder because those girls on tour are going to do whatever they can to make that not happen.

—Joe Spring