Stephanie Gilmore: The surfer with the winning smile on equal pay, motherhood, and Cathy Freeman 

The seven-time surfing world champion talks 2010 attack, Olympics, and her inspirations 

By Ashlee Tulloch

Stephanie Gilmore is a seven-time world champion in surfing and an inspiration to millions around the world.

Nicknamed 'Happy Gilmore', she has a reputation for being kind - in addition to her killer competitive side.

Gilmore is set to represent Australia at Tokyo 2020 when surfing is set to make it's first appearance at the Olympics in 2021.

Her competitive 2020 season was supposed to already be underway but, due to the COVID-19, it's uncertain when the competitive year will begin.

For the time being, she's sitting tight in Australia.

Ashlee Tulloch spoke to Gilmore on the Olympic Channel Podcast before the coronavirus situation became so serious and discussed the Olympic Games, motherhood, pay equality and, being an inspiration.

Surfer Stephanie Gilmore

Olympic Channel: What would you say is your purpose?

Stephanie GIlmore: Well, first and foremost I love surfing. In the beginning, it's like, 'All I want to do is surf and that's all I care about'. You don't really think about the other levels of being a professional athlete and what that means.

Then, you start to realise, 'I don't really want to do all this. I think I can spend my time more wisely.'

And, then you get to another stage, where you start to realise that this is the part that is almost as rewarding as winning because these are the moments where you can give back where you can actually tell your story. That helps build a legacy that can inspire others.

Winning is wonderful and I love it. I love holding the trophy and I'm competitive as hell.

But, in the last few years, I've reached that moment where it's about doing something that's bigger than myself.

It's about doing something that's bigger than myself - Stephanie Gilmore

I still want to win, but how can I use it to actually make a difference in the world or do something that actually has a ripple effect that goes onto something much bigger and better?

OC: How do you cope? How do you balance everything you need to do, to be happy?

SG: I think I can put a lot of balance in my life down to my parents and my family life.

My mum and dad are just the coolest. They still are so supportive. They're still together. They live in the same house we grew up in. Dad is the biggest surf fanatic ever. He surfs more than anyone you've ever met. And he's 65 years old. And my mum is so open and non-judgmental and just very, by the book too.

She's quite conservative and she was a schoolteacher. It was all about working hard and getting your homework done. I think it's just a really nice balance because Dad's like the creative hippie, surf dude.

Stephanie Gilmore has won the WSL title seven times

OC: In terms of the Olympics, does anyone stand out for you? I know you’ve mentioned Cathy Freeman before...

SG: Cathy Freeman is an Australian icon. She won the gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the 400 meters. As a young girl, I was 12 at the time, I remember watching her in her full Lycra suit. She was like a superhero. Like something out of a comic book.

I wasn't paying too much attention to the newspapers because (I was) a young kid but, thinking about it now, I can't imagine all the pressure on her to go out there and win. To see her win was just the greatest sporting moment I'd seen in my life.

I had goosebumps - Gilmore on meeting Cathy Freeman

Surfing Australia got her to come to a pre-Olympic camp that we had and she was so open and honest and warm and funny. I had goosebumps, like this is so cool and crazy and it really gave us a taste of what that Olympic life is like.

OC: The World Surf League have committed to equal pay between men and women. You helped make that happen. Other than the obvious financial benefit, have there been any other changes you've noticed?

SG: There was so many other positive changes that the WSL had made before the actual equal prize pay announcement that were going to go unnoticed.

For probably about 80 percent of my career, it was very much, 'The waves are firing. The men are on'. They had this priority over us because there was more of them. And, recently, since the organisation became the WSL, they decided to really make sure there was a balance in that.

There's been a lot more focus on getting the women in good waves and watching us perform well

OC: Are there developments still to be made?

SG: There's always things to work on of course. I think that growing the numbers of the women on tour, that's probably another step.

But I also think that surfing's quite difficult because we're dealing with the ocean. They (should maybe) lessen the number of men and make it equal with the women.

We can finish a world tour event in a faster fashion (and) we're both getting great waves you know.

Stephanie Gilmore (left) celebrates with Kelly Slater (right) in 2009 

OC: You were attacked in your home 10 years ago. It was obviously a traumatic incident. How did that affect you?

There was an incident in 2010 where I was attacked by a homeless guy. I think he was deranged and not in his right mind. He hit me in the head with a crowbar or something. I had stitches in my head and a broken wrist.

It was a traumatic experience, don't get me wrong. I definitely have learned to, kind of, brush it off. I think the hardest part was, because I'd won four world titles back-to-back, I didn't know what losing was like and to lose that winning streak due to something that was out of my control seemed like such a bummer.

I didn't win the title next year and it was kind of the first moment in my life where I was like, 'Oh, my gosh. I can't trust my intuition. My confidence is missing. I don't feel safe at home'. It was the first really tough moment in my life and I just had to figure it out.

(It) sucked for sure but it also made me realise that, you can't go back in time and change things. So, why dwell on it? If you can't change it, just work towards moving forward. Healing.

Winning a world title a couple of years later after that I was like, 'Okay, this is the greatest win ever' because I had to really persevere through something.

OC: You've mentioned how important your parents are to you. Can I ask you, is motherhood something that you would like to do?

SG: It's never been a dream of mine to have kids, even to get married. You know, I never even really imagined myself doing those things. I'm open to it, for sure. I've had moments in relationships you know where I'm so madly in love with the guy and I'm like, 'Yes, let's do it'. But, then, it doesn't happen. And I'm like, 'Actually, maybe, that's not for me'.

It's an interesting topic for women, for female athletes. Do you do it young and get out of the way or do you just like wait till the end of your career?

If I wait till the end of my career, who knows, I could be 55! That's scary.

They're all interesting things to think about. I'm not stressed about it though. I think it'll happen when it happens and if it doesn't... There are so many other wonderful things I can do in my life.

SUBSCRIBETO THE OLYMPIC CHANNEL PODCAST: Spotify / Apple / PocketCast / Castbox / Overcast / Stitcher


Free live sport events. Unlimited access to series. Unrivalled Olympic news & highlights.