The 2020 Olympics May Be Off, But This Surfer's Still Making History
World Champion Stephanie Gilmore led the charge for pay parity in surfing. Now she is inspiring other young girls to go for the gold.
Aussie icon Stephanie Gilmore has been making waves in the surfing world since 2007, when she made history winning her first world champion title as a rookie on a day off from high school. “I remember sitting at recess with my friends laughing and going, ‘Can you imagine if I won?’ ” she says. “I ended up beating all of my heroes.”
Gilmore went on to snag four consecutive titles. Seven world champion titles and 34 elite World Tour wins later, the athlete is leveraging her fame for good. In 2018 she worked with the World Surf League to secure equal prize money for male and female surfers. And earlier this year she traded her surfboard for an electric guitar to perform at Make It Rain 2020, a benefit concert organized by her friend and neighbor, the comedian Celeste Barber, who raised over A$50 million for Australian bushfire relief.
This month, Gilmore was supposed to be in Japan, where surfing was included as a sport at the Olympics for the first time. But now that the Games have been postponed due to the coronavirus, she is taking the time to recenter and find new ways to inspire the next generation of female athletes. “Growing up, I didn’t see that many girls in the water. But now there are 10 more girls in the lineup every time I surf,” she says. “It’s important for them to realize that it’ll be a challenge. But when you get to the other side, it’s going to be a great story either way.”
Dressing the Part
“I was such a tomboy until I realized that the most powerful thing about a female athlete is that she can be glamorous and fierce at the same time,” says Gilmore, who has been on Roxy’s surf team for the past three years and currently serves as the face of its campaign. She is a big fan of the brand’s sustainably produced collections that reduce waste and save energy. “Even if you don’t see the ocean every day in the middle of a city in the middle of America, your decisions will affect the ocean at some point,” she says. “So, just be conscious.”
Gilmore’s proudest moment came during her 30th tour win last year in Bali, when she earned a perfect 10-point ride on her final wave. “We had just announced equal prize pay. And I realized, world titles are awesome, but what this stood for [that women are just as good as men and deserve to be paid the same] meant more. That was badass,” she says. “Surfing is such a sexy, cool, romantic dance all rolled into one. It needs to be celebrated.”
Gilmore is familiar with unexpected challenges. At the end of 2010 she was attacked by a stranger near her home. She lost the world title that year, but climbing back to the top after recovering from her injuries transformed her outlook on success. “It made me value what it takes to win,” she says. Now, amid the pandemic, Gilmore keeps her spirits up by getting into filming and making music. After perfecting these skills, she hopes to shoot, produce, and score a movie about female surfers. “Surfers have to adapt all the time. I think that’s why a lot of us are quite chilled out; we’re used to being at the mercy of the ocean,” she says. “The main thing now is to understand that the ocean will always be there.”
For more stories like this, pick up the July issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download June 12.