How Steph Got Her Groove Back
By Sam Squiers
Stephanie Gilmore’s triumphant victory at the Roxy Pro on the Gold Coast didn’t just hail the return of a champion, but the arrival of a new era of women’s surfing.
There was something special about seeing the grin spread wide with pride on the girl whose beaming smile had earned her the nickname “Happy”. As the siren went off and the commentators cried out “She’s done it, Stephanie Gilmore is the 2014 Roxy Pro Champion”, the emotion and relief was obvious to all those crowded on the edges of the shore.
“It’s a little bit of a relief definitely and incredible. To look back at the beach, that’s my favourite thing and to see all the people and everyone is cheering was incredible”
It’s the morning after the victory before, Steph and I meet on the same beach that just 16 hours before was packed with thousands of fans screaming, shouting, cheering and chanting her name. A rock star reception for surfing’s girl next door.
Just the Roxy and Quiksilver stand remains now as the beach returns to its usual coastal scene of walkers, sunbakers and surfers in the line up. Steph’s smile hasn’t disappeared though.
“I feel like I’ve been smiling all week, since the start of the event, I feel good I have good boards, I have good people around me, I was singing with Jimmy Buffet earlier in the week, it’s been amazing, I’ve enjoyed the whole week.”
This may have been the 5th time Steph was carried up the beach as champion of the Roxy Pro, but there’s no doubting this one was different. It’s been a rollercoaster few years for the 26 year old.
With four world titles by the end of 2010, Steph was having the time of her life. But a terrifying home invasion saw her assaulted with an iron bar and suffering a broken arm and severe shock. Steph vowed to not let it affect her confidence but the following year she finished with just one final and one win from the season.
It was some fightback we saw from Steph the following year as she climbed to a whole new level claiming her fifth world title. She was inducted into Austrlian Surfing’s Hall of Fame and honoured with the highest sporting accolade in the world, the Laureus Sportswoman of the Year Award. A record sponsorship with Roxy soon followed as the accolades and endorsements flowed.
But the wins didn’t.
Twenty long months had to be endured as the motivation drained in what was the biggest form slump of Steph’s career. There were no finals and no titles.
“I was probably a little uninspired and I think coming off the loss and coming back in 2012 to win the title it took a lot out of me emotionally…It was frustrating, I just couldn’t crack the finals, it was just quarters or semis or round four. I felt like I didn’t score a wave over 7 points all year long”.
The women’s tour and the events the girls were competing in did little to inspire. Forced to surf in small, messy conditions, minimal broadcast coverage and long waits in undesirable surf spots added to the frustrations. It saw Steph drop back to her worst tour ranking since she made her debut back in 2007.
Unlike the men’s competition that finishes on a climatic high at Hawaii’s Pipeline in December, the women’s tour saw three quarters of the events completed by July meaning the World Title race usually lasted just a few months.
The challenge, thrill and excitement had been lost, but change loomed. And it was word of a takeover of the ASP (governing body) that would turn things around.
Two stops were added to the women’s tour and the competition would be spread across most of the year. But best of all, the girls would be surfing in competitive and challenging breaks. They’d be surfing where surfers want to surf.
Cloudbreak Fiji, Maui Hawaii and Trestles California would all be new stamps on their passports and the thought lit a spark back in Steph.
“There’s waves that I’ve been dreaming of about having an event at for the last few years, so that’s all I need to get me excited…Honolua Bay (Maui) is just magical, I’m extremely excited about this event.”
While there’s still no Pipe in the pipeline for the girls, Steph remains optimistic about the future.
“The new ASP are really communicating with the girls on where they want to see us go, where we want to go and perform and a lot of the girls are keen to go back to Hawaii and getting a triple crown again and having a lot of events over there that push us to perform and I’m sure Pipeline is somewhere on the cards, so we’ll wait and see. “
The new stops won’t be without their challenges though and Fiji with its notorious backhand breaks and huge swell will test the surfers on tour.
“It’s definitely a place that’s going to show a lot of flaws in our surfing, it’s going to be a challenge. For myself in particular, I’m definitely not as strong on my backhand, but I think all the girls will rise to the occasion.”
But when you’ve achieved just about everything in the sport it’s these challenges that fire up Steph. A sixth world title could just be her proudest yet.
Check out the TV News Story of Steph in Video Gallery in Galleries