Five-time ASP Women’s World Surfing Champion Stephanie Gilmore exploded back onto to competitive scene yesterday as she won the 2014 Roxy Pro Gold Coast comp in front of her friends and family at her home break in Snapper Rocks, Australia.
Steph cruised to victory – her first since her last championship win in France in 2012 – in the inaugural event of the tour placing her confidently at the front of the race for the 2014 World Title, which would be her sixth altogether.
Steph, who has done more than any other female surfer in history to bring surfing to wider culture – winning World Action Sportsperson of the Year in 2010 (the Oscar’s of Sport) after a line of legendary champs like Serena Williams and Usain Bolt – makes her victory in a year of regeneration for the Women’s ASP World Tour as an extra three events have been added to the schedule and there is fresh sponsorship from non-surfing brands like Samsung.
To congratulate Steph on her victory, we pulled together some of our favourite Gilmore content from the archives.
The Rookie Cover Story
In 2008 we dedicated our October/November cover story to surfing’s rising queen as she prepared to defend her first World Title the Rip Curl Pro in Seignosse, France. Back then she mused on what it was like for a girl to paddle out in the male-dominated line-up and carve not just a name for herself but a new level of respect for women’s surfing in general.
“There is something invigorating about Gilmore. Even when she is not surfing – not smoking her rivals with a blend of powerful yet elegant, almost casual surfing – she is alert and focused. She also seems open and forthright, the kind of person who doesn’t shy away from difficult questions. And so, almost at the outset of our conversation, I decide to stray into potentially awkward territory. Surfing is an enriching, wonderful activity, I hear myself saying, but it’s also got its fair share of macho types. What’s Gilmore’s take on sexism in surfing, and to what degree has she experienced it?
The 2007 World Champion, who is also showing strongly on the 2008 tour, is unfazed, greeting the question with a maturity beyond her years. “Surfing has been male-dominated for so long that some guys are having trouble adjusting to the arrival of lots more women in the line-up,” she says. “But the fact that more women are getting into it is a good thing.” Gilmore chuckles as she says that “the line-up could do with a little more oestrogen”, but counts her blessings, too: “Sure, Snapper and my home breaks can be aggressive, but I’ve grown up with a lot of the pro guys. I think they’re stoked to see me doing well.”
At just 20 years of age, Gilmore has already pondered the gender imbalance. “It’s crazy how a female athlete has to make a choice at such a young age – to have kids early and carry on competing, or to put all that on hold and have kids later, once you’ve achieved what you want,” she says. “Guys just don’t have to face the same decision. A lot of them are married and their wives and families are at home. It’s different for girls.” While some of her fellow competitors on the Women’s World Tour have had children, Gilmore isn’t sure of her plans. What she does know is that if she is to try and beat Layne Beachley’s record of seven world titles, she has to be implacably single-minded: “To try and win ten titles is such a selfish thing. To win just one was a selfish thing.””
Read the full Rookie Cover story.
The Pro Catch-up
Following another staggering four World Titles (that’s five altogether) we caught again with Steph again in 2012 to see how she’s managed her transition from trailblazing rookie to seasoned pro. Still only twenty-four but the face of a mega-brand (Quiksilver) and her star steadily ascending into the stratosphere, Steph discussed how she’s managed to transcend the core surfing bubble and put the culture on the world stage.
“This year we’ve seen a lot more of Stephanie Gilmore in mainstream media, culminating in June with an article in US Vogue. The two-page feature is dominated by a photograph of Steph in a pair of DKNY bikini bottoms and a sun shirt, standing in an open-top car with a board in the backseat, one hand touching her loose blond hair. As the Quiksilver blog happily exclaimed, the piece “shines light into her personal style and lifestyle.” It certainly succeeds in putting her right under the high-fashion spotlight. The style pages of the New York Times have also opened their pages to Steph. After winning her fifth world title in Biarritz, they ran an interview that quizzed the pro on the beauty products she used, her diet and fashion sense.
“I love that surfing is what has taken me to these places,” she says. “From winning world titles, to ending up in Vogue; it’s kind of a strange dynamic, but at the same time it’s totally fitting. I think it’s cool that I can try and find a medium to take surfing into those different worlds; I enjoy being able to try and link the two together, the lifestyle of what we do and the competitive professionalism of it as a sport.”
[…] “Some guys and girls think, ‘Oh, it’s just surfing and that’s it,’ but there’s so much more to it when you want to create a brand and have that longevity in your career. I learn more about my brand and what I want my brand to be associated with – how I want it to be portrayed, which magazine I believe will portray the image of me in the best way or the right way.”
She continues: “At first, when I was a tomboy and young, I just didn’t care what was going on, I just wanted to surf and that was it. And then moving with more of a vision of a brand that can be appreciated, or appeals to such a much more broad market then the niche of surfing, I love that, I embrace that. I loved that it meant being more of a woman and bringing some glamour into surfing. And just being a more multi-dimensional personality…I think that’s so valuable, for any athlete to have. I think companies see the value of that too, and it’s something they grab on to.””
Read the full Stephanie Gilmore catch-up story.
In 2011 we visited the Swatch Pro in Hossegor and witnessed a new generation of gnarly female surfers inspired by Steph’s meteoric rise to surf stardom in the mid-2000s. Here’s what they had to say about the new role model.
“There was a boom in women’s professional surfing in the nineties. Legends like Layne Beachley, Lisa Anderson and Rochelle Ballard, to name a few, grew up with these powerful role models and took women’s surfing to the next level. Brands soon caught up, launching women’s ranges, and finally sponsorship money started to trickle in. But there were still only a handful of names dominating the World Tour and although women’s pro surfing had evolved, it was still playing catch-up to the men’s in terms of style and tricks.
That is until 2007, when a sparky young Australian surfer called Stephanie Gilmore – then aged just nineteen – trounced long-time contenders like Sofia Mulanovich and Silvana Lima and made history by becoming World Champ in her rookie year. This was a defining moment – a change in consciousness for women’s pro surfing – and the world title is now, quite literally, anyone’s game. As a result, it’s become extremely exciting to watch. “There are a lot of really good women surfers now,” says current champ, eighteen-year-old Carissa Moore. “They’re really pushing the limits of the sport and keeping up with the guys. I like where our sport is going. It’s exciting.”
Seeing Steph Gilmore shake up the status quo made others realise they could do the same and the Tour this year – with four rookies all in their teens – is reflective of that demographic shift. Courtney Conlogue, a natural-footer from California, who has just finished an impressive seventh in her first year, enunciated her respect when we caught up at the Swatch Pro in Hossegor, France. “I definitely look up to Stephanie Gilmore and what she did from her Rookie year on,” says Courtney, a diverse athlete who also competes in track and field. “Getting four world titles back to back is really impressive. You have to have respect for that! And she’s done a lot in the surf industry for women.” Hawaii’s Coco Ho, currently ranked sixth, is quick to agree: “My brother always used to say, ‘Make sure you surf like a boy.’ And when I saw Steph I was like, ‘That’s what he’s talking about! I have to surf like that.’ She’s so strong yet graceful, and so easy to watch. I just love everything about her.”
Read the full Women’s Surfing story.
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