lifestyle

Sport on Saturdays: Meet our next world champion surfer.

Sally Fitzgibbons

In less than a month, one woman will be crowned as surfing’s world champion.

The Association of Surfing Professionals World Championship Tour has been kicking on since March 2014. They’ve travelled across Australia – to the Gold Coast, Victoria and Western Australia – as well as Fiji, California, France, Portugal and Rio de Janeiro.

On the 22nd November, all 18 surfing champs will travel to Maui, Hawaii to determine who will be the world number one.

Currently, Stephanie Gilmore is in first place, with 64,200 points and 30 heat wins. However, fellow Aussie Sally Fitzgibbons is right on her tail, with a total score of 60,700 points and 31 heat wins; Tyler Wright is also chasing each of them with a score of 59,400 and 29 heat wins. Yes, the Aussies are smashing it in the world championships this year.

The rounds are high-pressure events, with each surfer getting the opportunity to prove themselves in a very short period of time. And at this point, it’s all down to the Maui round to see who will take out the world championship.

I got the chance to talk to Sally Fitzgibbons who’s currently feeling the pressure as she sits in second place on the world rankings. We talked about travelling (they spend most weeks out of the year travelling from country to country), the dangers of surfing and how she plans to dominate the world championships…

Nat: So… the world circuit looks pretty full-on!

Sally: I think it looks like quite glamorous sport, which it is – travelling around the world, chasing waves –  it’s my dream job but it can be a bit of a grind. You live out of a suitcase and at times it’s pretty rigorous scheduling – it’s just sort of eat, sleep, train, surf. But I’m really passionate about it and it’s kind of cool being able to change scenery every week, you can be doing that same routine but walking down the streets of France or going down to buy your bread at the local bakery.

Nat: How do you stay sane while you’re travelling so much and changing time zones all the time?

Sally: I think that if you’re having an extended time away, it’s all about finding a routine. Make it feel homely so you have your creature comforts. I always take my training gear, my rollers, my good pillow and my runners – I’ve grown up with these things and I’ve done them every day since I was six years old so that’s what makes me feel most at home. And the ocean makes me feel at home too – just the sounds, the smell and the feel of walking down on the sand. I couldn’t live life without that.

Sally during a surf trip to Jeffreys Bay, South Africa.

Nat: Do you train every day?

Sally: I train every day. There are so many elements to surfing, to me there’s just not enough hours in the day. With surfing, the fitness is quite different, even just learning to paddle or do the duck dives. There’s not only water time, there’s cardio, time in the gym. You can really get adventurous with the training which I love, so I’ll be out on the trails running or mountain biking.

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I’m a big advocate for using your surroundings. If you generally want to keep fit,  you don’t have to do the standard gym or that one run – you can look around the parks and the trails you might run and just really try to be at one with the environment. I think variety is the key to exercise and I try to be pretty creative about it.

Nat: Are there days when you wake up and you just can’t be bothered to train?

Sally: I definitely know the feeling of those hard days when the alarm goes off and you could do with another hour’s sleep, or it’s five in the morning and it’s raining and really cold… but I think I’ve been doing it for so long now that I don’t know any other way. It’s healthy to get into that routine so you’re kind of working towards hating the feeling of missing a session rather than struggling to keep it up.

Nat: What’s the secret to learning how to be a good surfer?

Sally: I think the main thing people will come across when they learn to surf is being able to learn to respect the ocean and learn that it’s more powerful than you. It’s big and stormy and there’s not an obvious point break. It’s a lot of work, non-stop paddling you’re being pulled by currents… that’s my favourite conditions at times, you have to become a bit of an ocean whisperer!

Nat: Have you had any seriously panicky moments in the surf?

Sally: In the recent event in Fiji we actually have jetskis to come in and pick you up after each wave. It’s not as easy as it sounds because the jetskis cant go around the waves, it’s onto shallow reef, so they actually have to drive back up into the take-off zone so there’s like 6ft of white water coming. The jetski drove in to turn around and it whipped me off into the shallows, so I was standing in knee-deep water and there was like 8ft of water coming towards me, and I was stuck on this reef in the middle of my heat. The jetski is saying, “I can’t get to you” and I’m screaming, “Come get me now! Now! Now!”

He actually came in and parked the jets on the reef and stopped on dry reef, and he takes off and there’s bits of reef flying everywhere and my knees were knocking off the reef because I was on the sled, so there’s a few instances where it gets the heart going and it’s a bit scary… but it’s such a big adrenaline rush,

It is a dangerous sport that can go bad quickly, so you try to keep yourself away from that but push it at the same time. And there’s always the point that you’re sharing the ocean with a lot of other creatures, but I try not to think about it and just not be reckless if I’m in a known shark area.

Nat: How are you feeling about Hawaii?

Sally: It’s going to be big power surfing mixed with great barrel riding. I’ve got to prepare equipment because I’ll be dealing with a more powerful swell and ocean. I’ll be trying to get into a good mind set as well. There’s been a few events where I’ve had near-misses and I’d have loved to win there – but I go into the next one knowing I’ve got a good chance at the title.

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Sally surfs during a trip to Nova Scotia, Canada

Nat: You don’t get a lot of time to impress the judges – so how do you prepare yourself for the pressure?

Sally: Being 6 years in, I’ve learned from a number of experiences and situations. I’ve kind of just learned not to overlook that and to appreciate the pressure. But sometimes the judges aren’t easy to please and that can be difficult at times, because you can feel that your approach to the wave is quite good but the scores might not reflect it, or it can be the other way around. I’ll be going into the event to win and I’ll just have to wait and see how the results are.

Nat: How do you handle the disappointment when you don’t win?

Sally: That’s one of the hardest things because I’m so close to what I’m doing. I pour everything into the hard work and training and you can’t predict what emotion you’re going to feel after a defeat. You just want to pick yourself up and go straight back out and do it again, but you can’t really do that in sport. It’s really just about seeing positives of that moment, or thinking about all of the amazing fans that came out to watch you and just knowing you have your support network, whatever the result.

Nat: What’s the camaraderie like on tour? Do all the girls get along?

Sally: I think its about respecting each other’s space. Everyone is going for that title and they’re putting in all their own hard work – so at times you’re going to have some healthy rivalries. But you have to remember that you’re touring the world with those 17 girls and you all have similar interests and similar passions so it’s quite natural to get along and there is some good times, especially when travelling through airports.

Nat: What’s next when you’re done with surfing?

Sally: There are a lot of immediate goals and challenges I want to achieve in surfing. I don’t know how long my career will span but I’m a bit of sports fanatic so maybe in the not-too-distant future I’ll evolve into the journalism world and cover some sports. It’s always been a passion and will continue to be for the rest of my life.

And in other sports news from the week…

– It was announced this week that our Aussie Matildas will be taking part in the Cyprus Cup, a 12-team global invitational tournament held in Cyprus in March. The 12 teams were released this week, and also include England, Canada and South Korea. Stay tuned to see results in March.

– The Asia Pacific World Sport and Women conference was held this week, and saw leaders in the sporting field discussing all kinds of hows and whys about women consuming sport. You can check out some of the insights from the conference here.

– The 2014/2015 W-league season is currently in full force, with several games happening every weekend and many teams seeing some epic victories. To nab tickets to a game near you, go here to check out the schedule.

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