Want to know how pro surfers maintain their enviable strength and laid back vibes? Seven-time world champ, Stephanie Gilmore tells Abi Jackson how she does it.
Once the preserve of those who lived in such places as Hawaii or Australia, increasing numbers of people in this part of the world are giving surfing a go — and with the sport set to make its Olympic debut in Tokyo next year, its popularity looks set to swell even further.
Little wonder, really. From the top-to-toe strength and awe-inspiring athleticism, to those cool, laid-back vibes and being up close and personal with nature, what’s not to love?
Curious to know more? Aussie surfer Stephanie Gilmore, 31, seven-time world champion and ROXY ambassador, gives us a glimpse into her surfer girl secrets...
"I train specifically for this with my trainer — we do lots of weights, but he also has me doing things like indoor rock climbing, to keep it fun while working lots of muscles. Just spending time in the water on a board will help keep this fitness up. Even if the surf conditions are bad, I go surfing to just paddle around to maintain strength.
“High-performance surfing is about quick bursts of energy on the wave. To develop this, I do running sprints while my trainer rides a bike next to me to keep my pace. And then the most important is leg strength. Good old squats and different forms of leg presses are the best way to develop this. But for more general surfing fitness, I like to mix pilates, hot power yoga and sprints.
“Hot power yoga is my go-to when I’m on the road, as I can do it anywhere and it combines strength with stretching. Wherever I am, before bed, I will stretch for at least 30 minutes. This is crucial to stay injury-free.”
“It’s about listening to your body and mind, and lots of trial and error. We travel so much on the World Surf League (WSL) tour, jet lag and travel fatigue can be brutal, so if I’m feeling like I need a day off, I’ll take it. I’ve never really felt guilty for this,
although I know athletes that do.
“Just recently, at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa during the WSL tour event, we had the best possible waves; I had surfed all morning while the finals were running, and then I drove to Cape Town instead of surfing perfect waves during the afternoon.
“I did feel guilty — driving away from perfect J-Bay is a sin for a surfer — but my body was exhausted and it’s not a wave you can be tired at; it’s gruelling and easy to get hurt if you don’t have the strength or energy to keep up.”
“I live by the motto ‘the beauty of balance’. If I’m somewhere new in the world, I’ll happily go to the best restaurant in town and indulge.
Generally, though, I keep things light and stick to what I know works for my body.
“I take vitamins and supplements to keep a healthy regime and consistent energy levels, especially while travelling to foreign places. I like to ‘eat local and in season’ to make sure things are the best quality. And I also love a nice glass of wine and dessert to keep things balanced.
“If I’m in competition, I keep a more strict regime. Proteins with salad or veggies for dinner. Oats or smoothies in the morning. And I snack lots rather than eating large meals. I love quick bites like hard boiled eggs and bananas with sea salt throughout the day.
“The key is to stay aware but not believe everything you read, and ultimately, listen to your own body. Lots of wheat and dairy don’t work for some people, but just because you read an article about being gluten-free, doesn’t mean it’s for you.
I personally can eat a light pasta the night before competing to feel the best the next day. Whatever you eat, I believe everything in small amounts and eating with variety and balance is best.”
“I am lucky that I’ve always been able to let things go quickly. If I lose an important heat, of course I get frustrated and angry, but I know how to leave it behind. To be a competitor though, you have to feel it intensely, or you will never win, so you need tools to keep it all in check.
“Breath work and meditation help this. I also have other interests to keep things balanced. I play guitar and love music in all forms, I love beating friends at table tennis (ha!), I have curiosities that help me sustain the tour life. I love going to new places off the beaten track, and we are lucky, as surfers get to do that more than other sports.
“And keeping things lighthearted and funny is key to it all. I hang around people who can make me laugh, and that makes all the difference.
“When people ask what I’d be doing if I wasn’t a surfer, I can honestly say I’d be wishing I was a surfer. I’ll always surf, especially after the tour.
“I love that reaction! I think confidence in ocean knowledge is huge. Being a competent swimmer helps to have an understanding of how it works.
“Surfing isn’t for egos, and that’s the best thing about it. It’s about how it feels and the way it makes you feel, not how it looks, and that should be the same approach to everything in life. Especially the pleasurable ones.”
Stephanie Gilmore is a seven-time world surfing champion