This year saw the release of Ava Warbrick’s Stephanie in the Water, a documentary film that captures Stephanie Gilmore speaking unguardedly and unapologetically about various truths, like her mindful separation from the other girls on Tour, her burning desire to win ever since childhood, and her return to form after being assaulted outside her home on the Gold Coast. On screen, Gilmore is much like she is in real life: open and resolute without seeming cocky or disingenuous. After speaking with Gilmore, it’s clear that despite being a world champion and the subject of a documentary, she’s much the same as the little girl in the beginning of the film: just happy to be in the water.
— Michele Lockwood
We’ve watched you change from the lanky girl ruling Snapper to a world-class athlete. If you could look at yourself objectively, what do you think are your greatest strengths and faults?
I think as anyone matures and is exposed to different things, you look at the world with different eyes. One of the most important things I have learned is to continue learning, to keep my eyes open and stay curious. As a touring surfer, I’m constantly on the road chasing waves to random places that most never have a reason to visit, and that exposes you to so much. One of my favorite quotes is from the movie The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: “This world that we live in is full of enchantment for those with eyes to see it.” My strength is having learned the art of resilience through it all. My fault is occasionally taking things for granted—something I try hard to recognize and be aware of.
“Thankfully we’re in a time where the women’s Tour is being supported and leading the charge for women’s surfing. There’s opportunities being taken, locations being secured, money being invested, and it’s so exciting.”
What are you most grateful for when you are on the road?
I’m very grateful for the international extended family I have developed over the years. It makes it feel less like I’m on the road and more like I’m back home. But friends that make you feel that way are hard to come by. When you live in one place all year, you naturally develop this group of “your people,” and I think many take that for granted. When you’re constantly traveling, it’s the most comforting thing to see familiar faces that you can cook dinner with, share a glass of wine and a laugh, even though you might only see them once a year. It makes traveling so much easier and fun, and it helps you remember we’re all human and all in this together.
“As long as I’m still surfing wherever I am, I’ll always be happy.”
In the mid-’90s, I remember one photographer saying he loved the women’s Tour events because it meant he could take an extended lunch break. A lot has changed for women’s surfing since then, but what further changes would you still like to see?
Not taking away from any of the talented women who led the generations before us, but women’s surfing events were a bit of a snooze. It was true, let’s be real. It had nothing to do with the women’s ability and everything to do with the Tour locations, support, production, rewards, and attention being given from the ASP. If you don’t water a plant, it won’t grow. Thankfully we’re in a time where the women’s Tour is being supported and leading the charge for women’s surfing. There’s opportunities being taken, locations being secured, money being invested, and it’s so exciting. I’m so happy to be a part of its revival, and it’s personally helped breathe some fresh air into my career.
When you first discovered the surfing of women like Rell Sunn, Jericho Poppler, Margo Godfrey, Pam Burridge, Wendy Botha, Frieda Zamba, etc., were there particular things you saw that you’ve tried to weave into your own surfing?
Thank God for YouTube, because none of their footage was available for me when I was a grom, but it’s awesome to be able to rediscover this wonderful footage of women who were truly at the forefront of well-respected female surfing. Rell just truly seemed to love it and Jericho saw it more as a performing art. I admire both for the way they could ride those big boards with steeze, because they are difficult to progress on. Pam, Wendy, and Frieda were obviously more driven to achieve something competitively and you can see that in their styles. I’d love to have a mix of both those approaches to find the best style for me and how I surf.
Are there ever moments when you worry about being misconstrued by sponsors, the media, or public opinion?
I used to have fear of that. But in recent times I’ve seen so much opportunity arise in not only surfing, but just from the lifestyle of travel and adventure that we as surfers live. I’m actually just waiting for a free moment on the Tour so I can focus some energy on new projects. I have met so many inspirational people willing to help or be involved in some way over the years that I feel more limitless than limited. We’ll see. As long as I’m still surfing wherever I am, I’ll always be happy.
This is completely premature, but what would you like to be remembered for?
That’s a tough one, but ultimately I’d like people to think of me as a happy person who lived life to the fullest, and perhaps helped inspire them to do the same.