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Stephanie Gilmore Interview: Six-time World Champ

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While most of us here in the United States were busy stuffing our faces with turkey and watching football this past Thursday (Nov 27th), Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) was busy claiming her 6th ASP World Champion title. Gilmore was crowned at the final stop of the 2014 ASP Women's World Surfing tour, the Target Maui Pro at Honolua Bay in Hawaii.

Going into the event, Gilmore was sitting on top of the world rankings. After Gilmore was knocked out in the Quarter final by Courtney Conologue (USA), the door was opened for world #2 Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) and world #3 Tyler Wright (AUS) to snag the title. In the following heat, Fitzgibbons was defeated by Bianca Buitendag (ZAF), ending her world title hopes for the year. The title race then fell squarely on the shoulders of Tyler Wright.

If Wright was eliminated, Gilmore would clench the title automatically. If Wright won whole contest, the title race would go to the first ever surf-off in the history of professional surfing… and it almost happened. Wright charged through the Quarterfinal and Semifinal taking down Lakey Peterson (USA) and Bianca Butendag (ZAF), respectively. After exchanging blow-for-blow scores with Carissa Moore (HAW) in the final heat, Moore walked away with the upper hand, granting Gilmore the world title.

We caught up with Steph to see how she got here and what's in store for her next:

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When you were knocked out in the quarter final, Tyler was still charging through the whole contest. Did you have any doubts while you were waiting?

Yeah for sure. As soon as I lost in the quarter final I was so disappointed with myself. I definitely thought that I'd just lost world title. I felt like the girls were really going to step up and take it from me… it definitely built the nerves and made for a wild couple of hours. It was really just a complete emotional roller-coaster!

You're already considered a seasoned veteran in professional surfing, and you're only 26! That's amazing. What's next on the agenda for you?

Yeah I mean, I really don't feel like a veteran at all actually! Its pretty cool to set out and achieve the goal you wanted form the beginning of the year. Its weird because when you win the world title nothing like, physically happens… It makes you think, ‘what's next? How can I use this as an opportunity to do something great with it?' I guess it lets you think with a more broad vision of how you can use what you've done as a platform to go and do some great things in the world.

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You won your first world title when you were only a 17 year old rookie. Has anything about your surfing changed in the past 8 years since then?

Definitely. I've got a better knowledge of different waves around the world now than when I first started out. I have a much better understanding of equipment as well – what works best in which conditions. I'm definitely pushing myself harder and testing my limits to see how far I can push things. I'd say that I'm stronger and more well rounded.

What limits in your surfing do you see yourself pushing in the next 8 years?

Ariels, for sure. Definitely have some room for improvement there! You know just watching the way the guys do it – they really throw themselves into critical situations… they just go for it! And big combos too. I really love the way Jordy Smith surfs because he just throws these crazy airs then mixes them up with big carves and hacks. He just flows in and out of it. That's where I see myself going next I think.

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Is the sixth title as sweet as the first?

Yes, it really is. Could be be sweeter, maybe. At first, you know, you really have nothing to lose and it's kind of a surprise, but when you have more time and more years to go through things, and more experiences, to keep winning is pretty cool. It really makes you appreciate [titles] in a new way. It was definitely the hardest one this year. There's a crazy amount of talent on the girl's tour right now and they're all hungry for world titles… it definitely hasn't gotten any easier!

Since you first appeared on the tour, you've been faced with lots of pressure and high expectations. Nonetheless, you've been able to deliver (six times). How do you handle it? What advice do you have for the next generation of up-and-coming girls?

At the end of the day I really just enjoy it. I really truly love what I do. I've never taken for granted this life that I get to live – traveling the world is the best thing that any human can do. So I guess I've just had a pretty good outlook on what I do, and when you have a good feeling about things you'll really find a way to make it possible to succeed. Advice for the girls… I'd have to say make sure you keep learning. Stay open to the world and all the opportunities that arrive, and never underestimate yourself.

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Layne Beachley's record has just come on to your horizon, and you have a lot of people in your corner rooting for you. What would it mean for you to match her record?

Haha, that's been one of the more popular questions lately. I really admire her and her career. She won six in a row – that's something I can't even imagine. I guess I didn't realize that I'd ever be in this position. When you're out enjoying yourself you tend to just have things work out. I truly love what I do and I'll definitely be staying on the tour, and when I'm on tour I want to win so we'll see what happens!

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If you could add a contest to the tour – anywhere in the world – where would it be?

Oooh. Indonesia. It would be a pretty difficult place to get it happening. But it'd be awesome if we could do this like, boat trip event in the Mentawais where everyone just stayed on the boats and traveled around to wherever the waves were the best for the contest. That'd be pretty sweet.

Did you ever get Carissa Moore the drink you owed her?

Yeah I did! We all went out celebrated together – Tyler and Carissa and everyone. That's something that's really rare and special about surfing I think; you don't really get that in other sports… We went to this Karaoke. Carissa's actually a really good singer so I kept making her go up and sing more! Yeah, it was fun!

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Outside of funding, how has the support of Roxy and your other sponsors helped (or hindered) your career?

It's only helped. It's an incredible thing to have a company want to support you and sponsor you to travel the world to go surfing. It is a career and a job – you want to inspire people and you have to work hard, but it's really awesome. To be able to go to the contests and not have to worry about the financial aspect is a huge relief. I know a lot of the girls on tour don't have sponsors and it makes it a lot harder for them. I'm so grateful to have the support of Roxy and all the companies I've worked with. They really make it possible for me to do what I do.

Who's surfing do you admire the most on tour right now? If you could pick any of the girls to hand a future title to, who would it be?

That's really tough to pick… I really love Carrissa Moore's surfing. She's such a beautiful surfer – she has that grace, you know? But she also has so much power at the same time. She's just so stylish too… Tyler as well she definitely deserves it… And Sally! Sally works soo hard! Haha I don't know, can I pick three? I'd say Tyler is definitely the one pushing the limits the most. The way she approaches things – she goes into it with this like, reckless abandon almost. She cares of course, but say it's the end of a heat and she's like, I need a 7 point ride. Instead of doing three safety turns and heading for the beach or something she'll race on down the line and go for an air… Her mentality on that is something I really admire.

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What do you think your greatest contribution to women's surfing is? What about surfing in general?

That's a tough one. I guess I'd have to say my humility about it? I've always felt like I've been able to keep it all in perspective. I definitely don't take any of this for granted. Wherever I go everyone always comments on how happy I look all the time… I get a lot of, “you just really look like you're enjoying yourself,” and it's true. I get a lot of response from that. I really appreciate the life I'm living and I guess that's contagious. So I'd have to say smiling and sharing the stoke!

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Thanks Steph for chatting with us and enjoy World Title #6!

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