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Stephanie Gilmore is a eight-time world champion surfer. She also believes that striving for perfection can make you happy.
When did you first consider becoming
a professional surfer?
It was around the age of 12. I fell head over heels in love with surfing when I tried it for the first time, although I was actually too young to really understand what was going on. When you first feel the excitement, the challenging nature of the ocean, you realize: this is more than a sport—it's a lifestyle. I started competing when I was 13 and won my first trophy pretty quickly. I thought to myself: this is the greatest feeling ever! I want to completely commit to this lifestyle. I want to be the very best in the world and go from there.
Were there any female role models
back then that you could look to for guidance?
There were definitely some women who were very successful as professional surfers. And although I didn’t pay much attention to the competitive world at the time, the marketing spin around them just made me want to surf. I wanted to be part of a girl gang—not just lie in the sun and watch the boys, but get out in the water myself and do my thing.
Whose style do you admire?
Lisa Anderson has always been an idol of mine because she mixed the competitive vibe with such a beautiful style. By the way: I would say about some of the best male surfers in the world that they surf with a touch of femininity. There's a kind of grace in their movements that is mostly associated with women. And that's what positively sets them apart from the other, more aggressive male surfers. So women don't have to hide at all with their way of surfing—quite the opposite.
You have now won eight world
championships. How do you stay ambitious after all these successes?
Of course, I could win another 20 such titles and still never feel: Now I rule the ocean, thanks and bye. There are still so many challenges waiting out there! And there are so many other incredible female surfers who tackle massive waves or pull off insane aerial maneuvers. They might be a little less successful than me in general terms, but they're still stronger in certain areas, so I always feel spurred on. There are also a lot of great male surfers who I admire and who give me new ideas. You just keep learning, get inspired by other people and new experiences. Most surfers say it just keeps you coming back every day because you don’t know what you're gonna get that next surf. That's the cool thing about it.
What does the perfect wave look like?
It's funny: in wave pools, with artificial wave technology, they've pretty much created the perfect wave and it almost became boring. When you're in the ocean, the most enjoyable part, I think, is the anticipation. You cross a sand dune towards the sea. What are you going to see? The waves are good, but as you paddle towards the surf, you miss one. Will the next one be just as beautiful? So much anticipation, so much excitement! It's not about finding perfection—it's about searching for perfection.
You’re an advocate for ocean health. Can you tell more about that?
I feel it is our duty as surfers to help educate others. Because we experience the damage more directly than people who have no connection to the ocean, or at least think they don’t. We see a lot of trash out there. We try to make people understand that even if you are not near an ocean, your daily choices affect it. No matter where exactly you carelessly throw plastic away, chances are that it will end up in the ocean at some point.
What constitutes a sustainable lifestyle for you? What is your advice to others?
We should all consume more consciously and buy quality products that have a long life span and can be recycled or reused. If you don’t need something anymore, pass it on. Buy from companies that care about sustainability by, for example, using recyclable materials in their packaging or working on ways to make their own products more sustainable. Just be aware of what you are buying and using. For example, for my personal use, I found some great little companies that make shampoo and conditioner soap bars that are just wrapped in a little piece of paper. When you use them up, there’s almost nothing left behind.
What else do you think surfers can teach us?
I think surfers are almost futurists in the way they approach their lives. They are doing something that makes them feel really alive, that makes them happy, rejuvenated and connected to the earth in a way that would be healthy for society as a whole. Also, surfers have this constant mission to discover new things, to challenge themselves, to search for adventures. It’s an admirable quality. And being on an endless quest can definitely make you very happy.