Professional Surfer and Breitling Surfer Squad member Stephanie Gilmore talks watches, sustainability and winning an Olympic medal.
Professional surfer Stephanie Gilmore has won seven world titles on the Women’s WSL World Tour and now she’s setting her sights on an Olympic Gold Medal as she prepares to compete in the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer. As surfing becomes an Olympic sport for the first time in history, it marks a landmark moment of acknowledgement of the sport on a global level.
Gilmore grew up in New South Wales, Australia and like many young Australians started surfing at as young as 10. She immediately knew she wanted to make it into a career and spent her days riding the waves at the beach and perfecting her technique. In 2007 she made her debut on the international scene and won three events at the Foster’s ASP Women’s World Title. In the final, she took the World Title and captured the attention of the global surfing industry.
Stephanie has since gone on to win many more championships but, when she gets to represent her country at The Olympic Games, that will make one of her proudest moments yet. Stephanie is one of three members of the Breitling Surfer Squad, alongside fellow Australian surfers Kelly Slater and Sally Fitzgibbons. The three have worked on many projects with the brand to promote sustainability as well as protecting the world’s oceans from pollution. As she prepares for an exciting summer ahead, we discover more about her ambitions for the future, her dreams of a gold member and what it means to her to be a Breitling Surfer Squad Member.
This past year has been difficult in so many ways, what has been your experience of the pandemic and is there a lesson you’ve learnt or anything you will change moving forward?
We had a really strict lockdown in Australia. There were no tourists and we had to get permission if we wanted to leave. It was a crazy situation. But saying that, we had many luxuries, in the sense that we were able to go about our daily lives normally, we didn’t even have to wear masks. I surfed a lot and it was the first time since I left high school, that I stayed in one place for that length of time and I loved it. I was able to spend quality time with my family and friends which was an amazing experience and it made me appreciate home as well as appreciate the luxury of travel. I was able to completely focus on my health and it felt good to have a routine. It can be quite hard to keep a routine on tour because I’m always travelling and moving to the next place. So after the lockdown, when the tour restarted, I was feeling super strong and ready to go.
Now you’re back to work, what’s in the pipeline for the rest of the year?
We started the season in Hawaii and then we just finished a competition in Australia and an event in California. I’m currently fifth in the world ranking and the focus is to be in the final five for the World Title playoffs in September. Other than that, my main focus is the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. There is less than a month to go and I’m so excited that it is happening because we weren’t sure if it would go ahead. I couldn’t imagine if it had been completely cancelled, especially for athletes who have spent their whole lives training for it, it would have been heart-breaking. So hopefully, it all runs according to plan and I would love to win a gold medal – that would be amazing!
What’s your schedule going to be like over the next month while training for the Olympics?
The waves in Japan are quite small so my training is about focusing on making sure that I’ve got really good light, fast, dynamic equipment. Leading up to the event I’ll be doing a lot more cardio so I feel fit and light. I’m quite tall, so it’s important to make sure that when I get to the sorts of conditions they have in Japan, that even though I’m quite tall, I’m still really fast and dynamic and that I have confidence in myself. Working on my mental game is also important so that I’m not completely overwhelmed by the fact we are at the Olympics!
Going back to the beginning – what first inspired you to become a surfer and how did your journey begin?
My father taught me how to surf. He has always loved surfing and still is today – he still surfs at 68 years old! He has been a great role model and he’s always been fit and healthy. My mother never got into surfing but she was so supportive of me. She would drive me to the beach every day and my two older sisters surf as well. In Australia, surfing is one of the first things they teach you growing up and I fell in love with it straight away. I started competing when I was around 12 years old and I knew then that I wanted to be one of the best surfers in the world and I wanted to win world titles.
Who’s been your biggest supporter along the way?
I have had so much support from all my family even though they’re not always on the road with me. My eldest sister Whitney worked as my manager, and it was great because we are close in age and we’re really close friends (and we haven’t killed each other yet!). But I actually like to do a lot of the events by myself with just my surf coach because I’ve always really thought that less is more, as long as I’m having fun and enjoying it.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced along the way in terms of being accepted as a female surfer in a male-dominated sport and how have you overcome them?
Yes, surfing has been a very male-dominated sport for a long time. I grew up watching the older generations of women fighting for what was rightfully theirs and what they deserved. It was tough to see them making sacrifices that they shouldn’t have had to make. They should have been able to just focus on their performance and getting the results they wanted, but instead, they were fighting for their rights to be equal. It’s so inspiring when I look at it now because they were doing it for future generations. They knew that if they put in the hard work, then people like myself would benefit and I can see that happening now. We are reaping the rewards of their hard work and their dedication to women in sport. As of 2019, surfing was the first sport in the United States to have equal prize pay across all major disciplines in the World Surf League. It’s incredible to be part of a sport that wants to make those changes and to lead the way. And it’s funny because surfing is often seen as a rebellious sport, but here we are leading the way and setting the standard of what should be normal.
Is there any female athlete who you see as a role model or inspiration?
I love Lisa Anderson. She was my favourite! Layne Beachley, she won a lot of world titles – and I’m currently sitting equal with her in that – I’d love to win another one! I love Serena Williams and everything she does. She’s incredible. Naomi Osaka is doing some great things at the moment and I’m a big fan of tennis. The US women’s soccer team, particularly Megan Rapinoe is an inspiration and all of those women are still fighting for equality in sport. I hope that they can look at our sport and see how it’s working.
Is there a moment in your career that you can look back on as a turning point or a key moment that changed the course of your career?
In my first four years on tour, I qualified as a rookie and then I won four straight titles. And then I had a bad assault incident at my home and it rocked my world. After that, I couldn’t find my rhythm for a while and I lost the World Title the next year. That was the first time I had to dig deep to find the motivation to come back and win. It took me two years, but I fought hard and won. So I would say that winning that fifth World Title was a defining moment in my career and was the most rewarding. I’m super proud and I think during the darkest times, and through the most difficult challenges, that’s when you surprise yourself the most and you come out stronger and learn the most about yourself.
What do you think of the new Breitling Superocean Heritage ’57 Pastel Paradise Capsule Collection and which colour would you like to wear?
I live in a Breitling Superocean! I’m wearing one now [the Breitling Superocean Automatic 36 in orange], this is the one I compete in. I’m also a huge fan of vintage surfing and colours so the new Superocean Heritage ’57 Pastel Paradise Capsule Collection is very cool because of the pastel colours. I think because I’m blonde I would go for the mint green – I actually like to call it surf green! They’re really beautiful. I think that watches in general, are usually renowned to be quite strong jewellery pieces that are often gold or silver, but what I love about Breitling is the way it incorporates that fashion aspect at the highest quality using these kinds of materials and colours.
Which watch do you wear from day to night?
When I’m surfing I always wear the Superocean Automatic 36 and for the evening I love the Breitling Premier Automatic 40. It’s a men’s watch but it’s beautiful, simple and classic. When I’m not surfing I live in this watch.
What do you look for in a sports watch when you’re surfing?
Firstly, a really good wristband that you know will stay on and won’t irritate your wrist. Some of the Breitling Superocean watches have a stopwatch, which is handy. Being lightweight is important and just knowing that it will stay on my wrist and be comfortable.
What is a watch that you’d like to own that you don’t have yet?
There are so many but I love the Breitling Navitimer. I love the design; they are really beautiful. I would like to have one of those.
Sustainability is a huge topic now that needs to be addressed and we know it is something Breitling is very passionate about, particularly when it comes to the oceans – what are your thoughts on this and what is something you would like to see happen moving forward?
As a surfer, I believe it’s my duty to educate people from my first-hand experiences and to let them know how our oceans are being damaged on a daily basis, both from the big industries but also by our everyday decisions. I think it’s so important for us as surfers to raise awareness of the issues that people may not think about because they don’t see them first hand. As surfers, we can help people to understand what they should think about when they buy a product. Where it came from, and where it goes when you’re finished with it.
I love working with Sally Fitzgibbons and Kelly Slater in the Breitling Surfer Squad and we’ve done some awesome beach clean-ups. There are a lot of communities that live on the beach, but they may not understand the impact of their lifestyles and the way that what they do can have an impact on the ecosystem around them. So it’s cool that we have the opportunities to educate people on that and it’s amazing that Breitling is a genuine brand that really cares about it and wants to share an authentic message. The work they have done, with Kelly Slater’s company Outerknown is amazing with the ECONYL® straps that are made from recycled fishing nets. I love the colours of those straps. It makes me feel proud to represent a company that wants to work with people who care about the future. There’s a lot of talk out there, but to actually align with people and collaborate with companies who genuinely want to get dirty to actually clean up the beaches and put the work in, is really important.
What would you still like to achieve that you haven’t done yet?
Oh, a gold medal! I always wanted to go to The Olympics when I was a young girl and then when I started surfing I thought ‘okay, it’s never going to happen. And, then in 2018, when they announced that surfing would be part of the Olympic Games it was amazing. And here we are. So I’ll see what I can do, but gold would be awesome!
How did you feel when they announced that surfing was going to be an Olympic sport?
I thought it would happen but I didn’t think it would happen within my career. I think the Olympic Committee is looking to find relevant sports to bring in a younger crowd. They now have sports like surfing, skateboarding, and breakdancing. Personally, it gave me new inspiration, a new goal. Of course, I’ve always wanted to win a world title and to keep winning them, but to have a newfound goal, is a whole new world – it’s amazing.
Where’s your favourite place to surf in the world?
There are so many. I love Hawaii, Indonesia, and Australia. We have incredible waves in Australia.
When you’re off duty and you’re not surfing, how would you describe your style?
Beach chic. Or tomboy chic. I like to feel comfortable because that’s obviously when I’m feeling the most confident. I wear a lot of Roxy clothes and if I could live in a bikini all day I would! I like to wear simple gold jewellery and of course a cool watch. And I love colour!