Check out this exclusive interview with the surf super star from our current issue (which is still on sale for another week if you want to indulge in the full printed goodness in all its glory, including surfing tropical Sri Lanka and arctic Scottland brrrr, chasing powder in Kashmir and skate wizard Leticia Bufoni. And if you’ve missed it at the stores, you can still get all the back issues at themagfactory.com)
Interview by Sam Haddad, action shots by Todd Glaser, portraits by Nicole Maria Winkler with styling from Britta Burger
Aged just 23, Stephanie Gilmore is the only surfer to win the ASP World Tour Title four years on the bounce but this year she was out of the running after just five stops. When we shot her exclusively for the cover we asked her how it felt to beaten by the very girls she inspired to greatness, and then moved onto to some nicer topics including how’s she’s super-into fashion, sees the Williams sisters as great role models and how big events aren’t killing the soul of surfing
You love New York, so were you excited to come to London?
Yeah like most Australians, I feel quite at home here, especially compared to other places in Europe. You speak English and drink tea. It’s really fun and I am a big fan of big cities, which is quite a contrast to what people might expect.
Can you envisage a time when you live in a big city and not by the ocean?
Yeah as long as I was close to the airport so I could get to the beach quickly.
So not surfing everyday would be ok for you?
Oh yeah I don’t surf everyday now. I try to get in the water as much as I can but I also try and wait for the waves to be good.
Is it fair to say you’ve found other things, such as fashion and music, that make you feel as good as surfing used to?
I think when you’re young you’re so consumed by one thing but as you get older you’re like, “Oh I really like this and this too and I want to explore this and have an adventure…” and for me I’m so lucky as I get to travel the world all year round and when I’m somewhere for a contest I’ll take the time to travel to the city close by, which is something I definitely didn’t do when I was first on the tour.
What do you like about cities?
I like people watching and going to art and fashion shows. The Quiksilver Pro New York is going to be so cool as the US Open tennis is on at the same time and it’s also Fashion Week, there’s so much going on. There’s not a girls’ event this year but it’s the first year so they need to suss it out. New York isn’t renowned for good waves, and it’s cold so they’ll have to see what it’s like.
The ASP has also added San Francisco to the tour recently, do surfers worry it’s no longer about picking the spots with the best waves?
It’s a hard one. 99.9999 per cent of surfers on the tour are very excited about heading to these cities. And the companies that run these events are really trying hard to make them into big multi-dimensional events by adding huge sideshows such as skateboarding and music to bring in as many people as possible, which I’m very excited about. But then it’s a hard one as we’ve lost a couple of events like Fiji and Tahiti where the waves are world class. If we had both that would be nice as we’d have the balance.
It must be hard to decide who’s the best surfer if the conditions aren’t great?
It’s hard but it’s exciting and maybe it will just be something we can try out and see if it works and see if it raises the awareness and level of surfing professionally.
How does it affect the soul of surfing?
Yeah by taking it away from spots where you can surf the best possible waves… Or is it better just to get as many people as possible into surfing?
That’s so funny. If you could ask every surfer that question they would be like, “Yeah well that’s a reality check as what exactly are we are trying to achieve?” Most surfers are upset that their favourite waves are too crowded now and a lot of people are saying the ASP is a sell out for moving these events to big cities as that’s not really about surfing it’s just about the show but I don’t think we’re killing the soul of surfing. Surfers have always been really good at sharing, at spreading that stoke and to teach someone how to surf is a really cool feeling, to see how happy they are from riding a wave, it’s completely life changing. But then how far do you go?
I read that you’d love to have an event named after you in Madison Square Gardens in a wave pool. Would an ASP event in a wave pool be taking things too far?
I just think that’s part of progression and perhaps that’s just me being envious of the tennis players and the other sports stars who have set schedules for their events. They just show up and have all these people in the stadium watching them. There are many places on the tour that have natural amphitheatres but it’s not the same as you’re not going to show up at 11am on the Sunday and have pumping 6 foot waves. You’ll never be able to recreate what the ocean can deliver but why not try it out?
It’s interesting that you mention tennis, as your interest in fashion reminds me of the Williams sisters.
There are a few powerful women in sport. They’re athletic and they love competing but at the same time they love that they’re women and they want to be glamorous and feminine and show that side to the world too. I think that the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova really mix the two together well and they’re the perfect role models for girls.
But does it not put off the 15-year old surfer who isn’t that good looking or just isn’t into showing themselves off in that way?
If you’re really passionate about something you’re going to succeed, and one of the biggest things I’ve learnt is that you can never underestimate yourself. I’m not a supermodel, I’m lucky that I have a typical beach girl image but look at Serena she’s very solid and strong and the complete opposite of Sharapova but I believe that Serena is screaming far more sex appeal than her.
How did you feel when you knew you weren’t going to win your fifth consecutive ASP title?
I knew extremely early on I wasn’t going to win. I was only really able to be the world champion for half the amount of the year but in a sense if you just kept winning the whole time, I mean you need a challenge so to lose something and then win it again it does make it so much sweeter. I haven’t won an event this year and I really feel like if a win comes the value of it is going to be so much greater than anything I’ve ever had.
Has it been bitter sweet watching the girls who all cite you as an inspiration beat you?
It is bitter sweet but at same time I know how healthy that is for women’s surfing right now. For three years there’s been all this talk of young girls coming through and now we’ve reached that point where they’re all at the top and fighting for the world title. But even after all I’ve achieved, to have these girls come through and take that away from me is like taking me back to square one.
How will you beat them?
The last few years I was always in such a rhythm with the ocean and what I was doing and feeling strong 100 per cent of the time but at the start of this year I lost a bit of that and things take a bit of time to come back on track.
What made you leave Rip Curl [who Steph had been with her whole career] to join Quiksilver Women?
It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, and it was definitely a career decision. I’m not completely consumed by surfing anymore and I felt that when Quik came to me and said we’ve launched a brand for women and we want to fill that market for someone like yourself who has grown up with the sea but really come into her own as a young women who also likes music and fashion, and is passionate to succeed but loves to look good, and wants to be stylish but still inspired by surfing it just seemed to align with the direction I wanted my career to go. Of course I love being World Champion as well so I want to keep trying to do that but it’s a really special opportunity.
Do you have kindred spirits on the tour?
Definitely. For quite a while now the girls on the tour have been cute and they want to dress well and have a lot more input with the companies they represent. In the past the tour struggled to show these personalities in that way but our lifestyles are so appealing to young girls, we do live a dream lifestyle and to share that with the world is cool. Plus there’s so much young talent and all the girls are pushing each other really hard, it’s the perfect mix.
Have you made more money from surfing than any women ever?
The top three girls on the ASP are definitely making more money than any women’s surfer at any time ever. It’s fantastic though some girls on the tour don’t have sponsors at all and still have to travel the world, but we’re getting there.
Do you have any plans to make a surf film?
Definitely. I’ve been filming with a New York film artist called Ava Warwick for the last two years.
When will it be ready?
I’m not sure, we’re not really working to a deadline. There are guys who spend all year searching for perfect waves, and no girl has really done that yet, though it’s difficult if you’re on the tour of course.
Do you enjoy the modelling side of your job?
You definitely learn how to get comfortable at shoots. I used to hate having to do photo shoots as like any girl all your insecurities are screaming at you but it’s kinda cool to see yourself dressed up. I’d recommend it for any girl to just go and get your hair and make up done and be styled and get someone to shoot you just for your own personal collection. It’s really cool and completely confidence-giving.
But it’s definitely surfing over modelling?
Yeah for sure. Modelling on the wave, dancing on the wave.